“Those who are happiest are those who
do the most for others”

Booker T. Washington

our mission:

To develop and grow programs which enable children with special needs and typical
children to learn from each other and connect as friends; To build the nation’s first, totally inclusive community park. We are committed to raising the funds necessary to support this mission.

our vision:

To break down all barriers, foster understanding and create friendships between
the special needs and typical populations.

The TFI Team

Jeb Niewood

Founder and President

An attorney by profession, Jeb has been providing programs for children and young adults with special needs and their families, as well as providing opportunities for student volunteers since 2002. After first creating sports programs that has served thousands of participants, Jeb organized The Friendship Initiative (formerly known as Tomorrow’s Dreams Today) to provide programs in areas including music, visual arts, health and fitness and other areas.

sAMANTHA NOVICK

Director, Vice President of Operations

Samantha Novick is an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist and the owner of Bridge Therapy, LLC. Samantha works in affiliation with Boca Integrative Health, a comprehensive medical practice offering many diverse services. She has experience treating children and adults with a variety of communication needs including those with aphasia, articulation and phonological disorders, apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, receptive and expressive language delay, pragmatic concerns, fluency disorders and those who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Samantha strongly believes in treating the family as a whole and is a fervent advocate of a team approach to therapy.

Samantha graduated with high honors from the University of Florida with a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She received her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Nova Southeastern University, also receiving high honors and recognized with the NSSLHA Leadership award as well as the Research award. Samantha has worked in a private clinic setting, in a behavioral therapy practice, as a teaching assistant at Baudhuin preschool for children with autism and as a social skills instructor. Samantha has received PROMPT and LAMP trainings, is a certified yoga instructor for children with special needs, knows American Sign Language (ASL) and is listed as a CASANA professional for individuals with childhood apraxia of speech. Samantha is proud to be the Vice President of Operations for The Friendship Initiative as well as the Program Director of Reading With Friends, a program that The Friendship Initiative offers. She is passionate about giving back to her community and believes in breaking down barriers in our increasingly diverse world.

jUAN VELAZQUEZ

Director

Juan is a single widowed father of two boys. Matthew, his oldest, is twenty-one and was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Matthew enjoys participating in The Friendship Initiative’s programs. Christian, his youngest, is a typical thirteen-year old and is a proud volunteer for The Friendship Initiative. Since Matthew was diagnosed, Juan has been involved in numerous autism related charities and was on the board of Reaching Potentials. In that capacity Juan led fundraising efforts that resulted in donations exceeding two million dollars during his fifteen-year affiliation. Currently, Juan works as an Institutional Sales Trader at Bay Crest Securities.

Kelli Yselonia

Director, Vice President of Programming

Kelli has been a Broward County Elementary Public school teacher since 1996. She has a teenage son with autism who participates in the Friendship Initiative programs and a younger typical daughter who likes to help the students in her mom's classes. Kelli has a unique perspective as both a parent and educator of special needs students. She enjoys being involved in the Friendship Initiative to give kids the opportunity to participate in programs they normally would not have the chance to be able to enjoy.

SCOTT BROOK

Director of Strategic Development

Currently a Senior Attorney with Brodzki Jacobs in Coral Springs, Florida specializing in family law, estate planning and workers compensation, Scott has been a lawyer for nearly twenty five years. A graduate of Tulane University, where he additionally received his Master's Degree in Business Administration, having been selected for a two year fellowship focused on Finance, Scott is also a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. As important as his long and distinguished legal career, Scott has spent a lifetime in the service of others. In 2002 he was elected to the Coral Springs City Commission and in 2006 Scott was elected as the Mayor of Coral Springs and subsequently was re-elected to a second term. During his Mayoral term, Scott was instrumental in helping the City to become the first City ever to obtain, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Scott also founded the City’s Customer-Involved Government Committee and served as Chair of the City’s Financial Advisory Committee for many years. 

Scott also served as Chairman of the Coral Springs Parent Education Committee and Citizens’ Government Committee and was a member of the Board of the City’s Charter School throughout his almost nine years of service. He has worked as a motivational speaker for youth and various charities throughout Broward County. Scott has been very active in numerous civic organizations, including mentoring for Take Stock in Children, serving on the Board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of South Florida and working with Keeping Dreams Alive. Since 2003, Scott has helped mentor over 700 teenagers through a Leadership Project led by students under his guidance. Scott has also lectured nationally for Business Week Careers Magazine as a motivational speaker at colleges and universities throughout the country.Most importantly, Scott is a proud father of five children, grandfather of three children and married to Brenda for almost 20 years.

Ann Berg

Director of Community Relations

It has always been my goal to be an educator. In pursuit of this goal, I received my undergraduate and graduate education from Brooklyn College and the BankStreet School in New York City. Upon attaining my New York State license, I embarked upon a teaching career in both public and private schools. Subsequently, I became Educational Director and Principal of Crestwood Country Day School Pre-School, elementary School and Middle School where I remained for over thirty years. Crestwood was and remains a premiere educational institution on Long Island in New York State.

After relocating to Florida in 2004, I received my Advanced Director’s Credential and became the Director of the Cambridge School in Coral Springs where I remained until my retirement in 2012. During my time at Cambridge, I did my utmost to provide a warm, personal and enriched learning environment that is focused on each child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.

Since returning, I have continued my work as an educational advocate for children, typical and atypical. In this regard, my recent association with Friendship Initiative has given me the opportunity to continue my pursuit of educational excellence for all children. I look forward to a long and joyous relationship with this wonderful organization.

Jason Novick

Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations

Jason is the manager of strategic partnerships with TapToBook, Inc., a technology company headquartered in Sunrise, FL. TapToBook allows local service businesses to offer demand-based pricing and provides insights into consumer purchasing patterns with easy to understand recommendations on how to better engage customers. 

Jason graduated from Oswego State University with a degree in Business Administration and a minor in International Affairs. Moving to Florida in 2011, he worked in event marketing for the NHL’s Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center prior to his current role. Jason thoroughly enjoys attending the programs The Friendship Initiative has to offer and is passionate about TFI’s mission of inclusion. As the first employee of TapToBook, Jason has the unique experience of building a concept from the ground up, along with bridging the gap between consumers and technology. Jason will bring these valuable skills to The Friendship Initiative and will never stop “Dreaming Big.”

Karen Wilson

Treasurer

As a CPA in Florida for over 20 years, Karen’s experience has included work in both public accounting and private industry.  Currently, she provides clients with small business and tax services from her home office in Parkland. Working from home gives Karen the flexibility to spend time with her family and support her daughter, Elisabeth, in academics and after school activities. 

Karen enjoys taking an active role in the organizations that have helped her daughter grow. Elisabeth has had difficulty learning to socialize with typical peers, but she has had no trouble connecting with her Friendship Initiative friends. The Friendship Initiative programs have been a place where Elisabeth feels totally loved and accepted.

Jane Kaufman

Blog Writer

Jane is a single mother of two teenage boys. Bryan is a young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Jason is her younger, typical teenage son. Five years ago, a friend suggested that Jane share her autism stories in a blog. She found that using humor and honesty to share her feelings not only provided a much needed outlet but served to educate friends and family about autism. By bringing readers into her family she hopes to show that although autism can be challenging and heartbreaking, there is great joy in the love you have for your child and the respect for their struggle.