The Friendship Foundation was established 15 years ago with the goal of creating gathering places for people with special needs and helping them join the workforce and improve their lives on many levels.
To achieve this goal, more than $40 million has been raised for the Friendship Campus, which celebrates its grand opening in Redondo Beach on Wednesday, August 10.
The campus, which is expected to be completed in 2024, is a 64,000 square foot facility on 3.25 acres. It was the dream of Yossi Mintz, one of the founders of the Friendship Foundation, which attracted financial support from local individuals and businesses, including Skechers. While the foundation raised $42 million during the pandemic, Mintz said it’s about $12 million short. Construction costs have skyrocketed and their initial cost estimates have increased, thanks to inflation and COVID-19.
“This building is going to be a shining example for our community and probably for the world,” Mintz said.
The Friendship Campus will include a Creative Center that will focus on life skills and provide students with a state-of-the-art studio that offers training in digital media, visual arts including painting, and songwriting. The campus’ culinary arts center will train students for careers in the hospitality and culinary industries, and a financial empowerment academy will teach students about financial literacy. The campus will also include a recreation center. The campus will emphasize multi-generational mentoring.
Mintz said many of the young adults they work with “don’t have the opportunity to be part of society,” and aren’t graduating from school, and most of them are unemployed.
“Many of them are able to leave their mark and have an impact on the world that changes themselves and changes their families and society as a whole,” Mintz said. “But there was never a vehicle to really showcase their unique gifts and match them to their abilities with the right fit.”
Michael Greenberg, President of Skechers and Skechers Foundation, has supported the Friendship Foundation since its inception. As one of its biggest donors, it is honored with a “subtitle” Friendship Campus – The Greenberg Family/Skechers Center.
The Skechers Pier to Pier Friendship Walk was founded in 2009 and has since raised over $13 million for the Friendship Foundation and for public education. More than 15,000 people are expected to participate in the Pier to Pier Friendship Walk on October 30, walking from the Manhattan Beach Pier to the Hermosa Beach Pier and back.
Greenberg said Friendship Foundation programs have helped break down the barrier between people with special needs and other members of the community.
“It shows you that if you have a vision and you have passion and commitment, and you have the right supports throughout the community, it can be accomplished,” Greenberg said.
Another big boost to Campus de l’Amitié came from Michael Zislis, founder of the Zislis Group. Zislis is a South Bay restaurateur who owns and operates Shade Hotel in Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, and The Strand House, and is a partner in The Brews Hall.
Zislis enlisted its award-winning chefs to help build a state-of-the-art kitchen to train people with special needs at the Friendship Campus Culinary Arts Center, a kitchen that was commercially inspired but designed for home cooking.
“You had to do it to make it feel like home,” Zislis said. “But also that you could see an instructor and you had to design it to be safe so kids wouldn’t cross paths with other kids.”
The Friendship Campus will focus on vocational training and offer a transition program for the Redondo Beach Unified School District (RBUSD), and will host more than 50 programs catering to a wide range of ages, as young as 8 years old. and over 30 years.
The Friendship Foundation will also match students with special needs with their general education peers through the Friendship Club, which began at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. According to its website, the program is now offered in 40 schools in 14 school districts in the South Bay and Los Angeles area. The goal is to create friendships between students through fun events like pizza nights or dance lessons.
Mintz said thousands of volunteers help people with special needs, but those volunteers also benefit from themselves.
“They become better people through the process, and it’s really amazing,” Mintz said.
Mintz said credit union Kinecta has partnered with them to develop the Financial Empowerment Academy, which will offer a curriculum that will “teach hands-on life experience” in understanding and managing money.
“If we’re going to work on their work placement in the community, they also need to know how to manage their money,” Mintz said.
Kelly Stroman, chief executive of the Friendship Foundation, said she would work with business partners to develop a “360-degree curriculum, training, coaching, job placement and coaching model”.
“You can train your employees for certain jobs – data entry, security, surveillance, whatever – but once they’re onboarded into a company, the company needs to know how to work with those individuals once they’re there. “, says Stroman.
The grand opening of the Friendship Campus takes place at 5 p.m. on August 10 at 850 S. Inglewood Ave. at Redondo Beach – the former site of the Franklin School. The ceremony, which will end at 6 p.m., will be followed by a community summer festival from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The ceremony will feature music and performances by students and volunteers from the Friendship Foundation and RBUSD, as well as a preview of the new campus. The following festival will take place at Franklin Park, 807 S. Inglewood Ave., and will include food, entertainment, magicians and children’s activities.