Friendly Connections is the name of a local nonprofit, and you might think with a name like that, its mission is self-explanatory.

Of course you would be correct, but president and CEO David Kaiserman said there's a bit more detail behind the reasons why he and his fiancée decided to start the company.

Both of them had prior experience assisting people with disabilities — David through his work as an EMT. In addition to providing needed services in emergency situations, he began to ponder how he could impact New Jersey's disabled population long-term.

Through the gift of two New Jersey philanthropists, Friendly Connections launched with a goal to get people out of their homes and into the community to experience the world around them, taking them to malls, movies, parks, and to go shopping. In other words, activities many were not previously able to do on their own.

"What we do is we try and accommodate everybody and what they need," Kaiserman said. "Some people might need help grocery shopping, some people might need help walking. We help people with physical and intellectual disabilities."

In his travels throughout all 21 counties in the Garden State (which he called a "fun time"), Kaiserman helps these people to feel pride in who they are.

"We're there helping them, holding their hands, sometimes just being their guidance, being emotional support, and definitely bringing them out so they can understand that there's a great world out there they can be a part of," he said.

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Many Friendly Connections volunteers have their own family connections to residents with disabilities, which provides an added layer of experience.

As of now, a Dance Social Night at the Headliner Night Club in Neptune is still planned as scheduled on Saturday, April 4. Given the recommended restrictions on public gatherings put in place by Gov. Phil Murphy due to the novel coronavirus, Kaiserman said extra precautions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of all who attend.

When the event happens, Kaiserman said it will provide a unique opportunity for disabled residents to go out to a real nightclub and be comfortable, with lower lighting and music levels.

There is another dance at the same venue in the works for later in 2020, and the group is working on a farm-based music festival for next year already.

Friendly Connections is contracted through the state Department of Developmental Disabilities and works with Walmart on a series of educational events throughout Monmouth County. Funding comes from special events like the Dance Social Night, community donations, and through Medicaid, if those helped are enrolled in the program.

For more, visit friendlyconnections.net.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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