Penn-Mar Human Services

Learning Side by Side: The Measure of Friendship

 

Friendship has often been described as two bodies with one mind. This could be said of two young men, who over the past year have become fast friends through Penn-Mar’s Community Learning Services (CLS) program.

Mike Gallo, 22, and Michael Orsulak, 24, were teamed up last March to participate in CLS, giving them the opportunity to access and participate in their community through connected and authentic learning, and real-world experiences. As friendships often start out, neither one was sure of the other, but over time their friendship has blossomed– to the extent that they now frequently finish each other’s sentences, or repeat what the other has said, especially if it involves a joke, which Mike, the comedian, often cracks.

Mark Rivera-Junkins, Community Learning Coordinator, who oversees CLS, notes that like the “best” friendships, Mike and Michael bring out the best in each other. “We have found that because of their friendship, they have become each other’s greatest motivator. If there’s something that Mike isn’t excited about, or vice versa, they’ll do it because the other is doing it. They are encouraging one another along the way.”

Mark sees the power of peer influence as playing an important role in the program, particularly as individuals are being exposed to things that they would not readily choose for themselves. Working with their CLS support professional She-Ra Pettiford, the two friends, engage in daily community activities that include volunteering at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore, and Meals on Wheels; various occupational therapy-based workshops through Studio One at Towson University; and recreational activities, like working out at their local YMCA. Recently, they had the opportunity to experience screen printing t-shirts alongside the staff at Charm City Tees in Baltimore.

Their shared interest in video games and computers has opened up learning opportunities for them to work independently. Their skills made it very easy for them to focus on the use of the computer lab at Towson University and the functions of the computer outside of just watching YouTube or playing games.

As their friendship has blossomed, so have their social interactions. Although socially reserved, because they’re interacting with people all day, every day, they’ve become more confident and outgoing. They recently went on a double date to dinner and a movie with two young women in another CLS group. The night was a hit, and CLS staff is trying to figure out how to foster more social engagement outside of the program.

What’s the measure of friendship? In their words, “We have fun and like to be goofy,” says Mike. “And we love to play video games,” adds Michael.