About Philly Friendship Circle

Based on the bedrock foundation of "love your fellow as yourself.”

The Friendship Circle provides organized physical and social structures to support inclusive friendships, connections, respite, and fulfillment for youth with special needs, young adult volunteers, their respective families and the Jewish community at large.

Through fun and interactive experiences, these relationships bring a sense of joy and meaning to the Friendship Circle community and beyond.

Meet Our Team

Rabbi Zev Baram   |  Co-Founder Co-Founder

Rabbi Zev (zev@phillyfriendship.com) is a graduate of the Rabbinical College of America and holds a certificate from the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware. He has been working in the special needs community since his teens and has been trained and certified in various modalities of special needs intervention and support. In his role as executive director, Zev ensures thoughtful oversight of administration and programs and the execution of the strategic plan. He is actively involved as an advisor at all events and at Friends at Home introductory visits. He proudly leads the Friendship Circle’s Birthright Trip to Israel. Zev’s love of people and passion for those with special needs are ever present in all of his work.

Chani Baram   |  Co-Founder Co-Founder

Chani (chani@phillyfriendship.com) is a graduate of Bet Chana Academy in Israel where she augmented her extensive experience in formal and informal Jewish education and programming. As the older sister of three siblings with special needs, Chani brings her unique personal experience and her many years working in the community. While Chani works with Zev to set the strategic direction and provide advice on the on-going operations of Friendship Circle, her primary role is to develop and nurture the personal relationships with our FC youth, parents, families, board members, donors and staff which are the backbone of Friendship Circle and its success.

Alexa Hinds   |  Director of Operations Director of Operations

Alexa (operations@phillyfriendship.com) holds a BA in Anthropology/Sociology from Western Connecticut State University, with minors in Psychology & Conflict Resolution. She has been working at FC since August 2017, and took on the role of Director of Operations in June 2020. As DOO, she oversees, directs and manages the day-to-day operations of the organization, monitoring progress and maintaining quality control. During college, Alexa worked for 3 years as Office Manager for Center for Student Involvement and served as both president of the Student Government Association and Treasurer for the Program Activities Council. In her free time, she volunteers weekly at an area Federal Detention Center, co-facilitating a class on Nonviolent Communication for women who are incarcerated there.

Cait Gilmartin   |  Lead Behavioral Specialist Lead Behavioral Specialist

Cait (cgilmartin@phillyfriendship.com)has worked with children and adults of all ages in different capacities across the Philadelphia area, utilizing skills in relationship building, teaching, behavior strategies, consultation and counseling. She is a graduate of SJU and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Cait holds advanced degrees in clinical psychology and school psychology, receiving a doctorate in school psychology in 2014. Cait has been having fun and meeting new faces at Sunday Circles and other programs since 2009. Cait loves making art and music in her spare time and tries to read a book every week!

Shannon Conway   |  Office Administrator & Executive Assistant Office Administrator & Executive Assistant

Shannon (office@phillyfriendship.com)was born and raised in California with strong ties to the East coast with her family originally from Massachusetts. She graduated from San Francisco State University and made her way to Philadelphia in 2015. After working as an administrative assistant at the Steinberg Conference Center, she embarked on an adventure to teach in South Korea. Her experiences working with youth and interest in the greater Philadelphia community has led her to join our team. In her free time, Shannon enjoys music, sports, traveling, and quality time with friends.

Samantha Holzer   |  Program & Curriculum Coordinator Program & Curriculum Coordinator

Samantha Holzer (programs@phillyfriendship.com) grew up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community, where she was very active in The Friendship Circle there starting from a young age. She went to college at Ohio University and graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in Child and Family Studies. Her program prepared her to work with children and families throughout the lifespan in diverse settings. Samantha has a strong desire to work with and impact the lives of others. She was one of three founders for the Indivisible Appalachian Ohio student organization. She planned and executed community projects and recruited volunteers as well as discussed policy issues that would help better advocate for the people they served. She just recently moved to Philadelphia in August and is so excited to be a part of the Friendship Circle team!

Leah Staub   |  Data Associate Data Associate

Leah (admin@phillyfriendship.com) holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the John Hopkins University and a BA from Earlham College. She has spent nearly 20 years developing support for community resources and services, with experience ranging from grant writing for local direct services to advocating for Federal appropriations to producing the City of Philadelphia’s annual consolidated community application for more than $30 million in Federal funds. She has also served in numerous volunteer leadership roles in the Jewish community, including coordinating events and spearheading fundraising efforts. Leah is working with Philly Friendship Circle to develop broader grant support and to maximize the value of membership and program data.

Amanda Thum   |  Outreach & Engagement Coordinator Outreach & Engagement Coordinator

Amanda (outreach@phillyfriendship.com) was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, spent a few years in Hawaii, and has lived in Philadelphia since 2018. She is a proud graduate of Barnard, the women’s college of Columbia University. Amanda is a certified yoga teacher and founded The Confidence Class: yoga for women and girls’ confidence. She is a high energy people-person, and confident communication is her jam. She loves to facilitate group learning and encourages young people—especially girls—to speak up (and often). Amanda is ecstatic to be a part of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mission and life’s work through Philly Friendship Circle! In her spare time, you can find her teaching class, exercising, jumping out of airplanes, and praying.