Freida Hecht, of Norwalk, Connecticut, is the mother of 11 children, an educator, speaker and founding director of Circle of Friends program for children, teens and young adults with special needs. She has made extraordinary contributions towards enhancing the quality of life and increasing inclusion and knowledge of individuals with disabilities.
In 1985, Hecht initiated Mommy and Me, a parent and child participatory class fostering socialization and beginning independence for young children. At the time, few mothers in the United States had such a program available as a developmentally appropriate learning resource. Today, Mommy and Me programs exist throughout Fairfield County, Connecticut and in fact, are popular domestic and international programs.
In the frenzied pace of today’s world, people often worry more about over-scheduled children than the fragility of the future. In 2002, Hecht created a women’s discussion group designed to pave pathways from discovery to understanding, and to accelerate the translation from conceptual understanding to action. The group, comprised of women of all backgrounds, meets monthly in different homes. Study, analysis, hands-on activities, laughter and camaraderie provide insight to family, children, personal happiness, juggling work and home, world affairs and a more enlightened and meaningful life.
Additionally, Hecht’s newest project is Circle of Friends, a volunteer service program designed to reach out to families with children and teenagers with special needs in Fairfield County. The program assists individuals of all ages with developmental and mental challenges and is free to participant families, involving them in a full spectrum of social experiences, home visits and play dates. In addition to helping those in need, Circle of Friends empowers and enriches its network of volunteers by enabling them to reap the vast rewards of participating in a program that strengthens their personal connections to the community by giving back to that community.
The direct beneficiaries of the program are the children with special needs and their families as well as the teens and adults who participate as volunteers. In the first year of launching this program in 2004, Hecht began with eight families, 16 teenage volunteers and five adult volunteers. In 2013, she engaged over 100 families and more than 130 teenage and adult volunteers.
Hecht’s passion is to better the world. To this end, she has spoken eloquently about the driving force of in fueling her passion for the community, particularly young people. Through her intelligence, hard work, persistence and example, Hecht serves as a wonderful role model for students, colleagues, and the community. More importantly, she embodies this commitment through innovative program design.