The Power Of Friendships

children in the back of a car
For her 11th birthday, Lauren Harris decided to have a small sleepover party with 14 of her closest friends.

It was the kind of night that was full of laughter, silliness and moments of quiet intimacy. In other words, it was a time when life-long friendships are born.

"I think because friendship is the work of childhood ... that it just has to have a very special place in your life," sociologist Jan Yager says. "Just because it was so primary."

Yager studied friendship for more than 20 years. She's written a number of books on the subject, including "Friendshifts."

"The title 'Friendshifts' comes from a word I coined, meaning not only who our friends are may change, but even with the friends who stay the same, our lives change," she explains. "The place of friendship in our lives change."

She believes that while the blueprints of friendship are drawn in childhood, as we grow older, we should become more, not less, mindful of the importance of friendship in our lives.

"It's a role … it's a responsibility, and the public's gotten more interested in friendship because they've realized that it's not just an 'extra,'" Yager says. "You really do need it for a fulfilled, happy life."

Dan Klores is a man who makes friends for a living. As head of Dan Klores Communications in Manhattan, he's a public relations powerhouse with a Rolodex full of A-list celebrity clients.

Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous has its rewards, but having found professional fulfillment, personally, something was missing for Klores.

"The older you get and the more involved you get in business and work and family, you find the less true friendships you have," he says. "It's relationships, but not real friendships."

Like many Baby Boomers confronting middle-age, Dan Klores found himself looking back and wondering whatever became of his childhood friends who, over time, had drifted away.

"You would hear, 'Oh, this happened to Satin, and Frankie's a school teacher, and Bobby Feld is living in North Carolina, and, you know, this guy is still 55 and playing with baseball cards,'" Klores laughs.

But unlike most people, Dan Klores didn't just wonder what happened to his old friends. He tracked them down. He says it was part detective work, but it was fun.

He also hired a camera crew to record his old friend's stories. The interviews were so compelling, Klores turned them into a full-length documentary, "The Boys of Second Street Park."

It is about the inseparable gang of kids who used to hang out all day, every day, playing basketball in their neighborhood park in Brighton Beach in New York City.

"The first thing that happened is you look at guys and you say, 'Wow,' in terms of the physical changes," Klores chuckles. "You remember them as 15, and now, all of the sudden, you're 55 … It's funny at first."

But one problem with digging up the past is that while friends in memory never change, in real life, nothing stays the same.

Klores says Steve Satin had a rough time. In the documentary, Satin was handsome, glib and smart. But he struggles with drugs; his son, who suffered from leukemia, died in his father's arms.

After the death of his son, his marriage fell apart and Steve Satin, one of Dan Klores' best childhood friends, was living on the streets.

"'[Satin] was desperate," Klores says. "[He] was living in the Port Authority and he said he was ready to go to jail for writing bad checks."

Making the film brought the old teammates together. Despite the years, the bond was strong enough to save one of their own.

They gave Satin money and housing, medical care and got him working again.

"[They] saved my life!" Satin says. "I don't know where I'd be … I don't know if I'd be here right now."

One Thursday night a month, Dotty Ivy, her friend Jeanine Fitzpatrick and a dozen fellow teachers and friends in Lakeland, Fla., get together for a ladies night "in."

"We started getting together once a month outside of school … just to have a good time and let your hair down, because you don't want to do that much at school," Fitzpatrick laughs. "Because you have an audience at school."

They call themselves "The Pink Flamingo Queens."

And for four years, they've shared food, drink and more food. In between, the food and gossip, they play a dice game called Bunko.

"As stressful as teaching is these days, if you don't have your built-in support group where you are, it makes it really tough," says Ivy.

It was all fun and games, or so they thought. Then last year, something happened that made them rethink what they were all about.

"Jeanine has been there since the beginning," says Chris Wolfgang. "She stayed in the hospital with me … she let everybody know what was going on."

What was going on was one of the core members of the group, Wolfgang, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer.

That is when the fun-loving "Pink Flamingo Ladies" found out just what good friends they really were.

"They've been real patient with me," says Wolfgang. "It's enough to get me out of the house and to keep going. And the outpouring of love that I see from everybody when I come is just overwhelming."

When it comes to treasuring your friends, no one has to remind Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins.

From the moment they met at the University High School in Newark, N.J., they knew their friendship was their greatest treasure.

All three grew up poor in a rough part of town. And each, in his own way, came dangerously close to becoming a statistic.

But they were always together. One day, fate lent a hand. They cut class as students, running the hallways and security started to chase the friends. As a last-ditch effort not to surrender, they dodged into the library.

They had stumbled into a recruitment seminar about careers in medicine. George Jenkins, who always dreamed of a career in dentistry, took the hint.

At that moment, what came to be known as "The Pact" was born. The three friends promised to help each other make something of their lives.

Together, they graduated high school and they helped each other apply and graduate from Seton Hall University. Later, they became doctors.

Today, Sampson Davis is an emergency room physician in Newark — the same city where he once spent time in a juvenile detention center for armed robbery.

Rameck Hunt is a pediatrician in Newark, and George Davis fulfilled his dream of becoming a dentist — also in New Jersey.

They've written a book about "The Pact" and about the transforming power of friendship.

And they've started "The Three Doctors Foundation" to spread the word to other underprivileged kids that the friends they choose can make a difference.

While it is tempting to look back to the good old days of sleepover parties and basketball in the park as the golden age of friendship, the experts say the most rewarding friendships are the ones you make time for today.

"When we started playing Bunko, [my friend] gave me a page off of her calendar and it says, 'My friends are my estate,' and it's a quote from Emily Dickinson and it's been on my refrigerator ever since we started Bunko," Jeanine Fitzpatrick says. "It doesn't matter what you do. Your friends are your estate."

Sociologist Jan Yager explains no man is an island because people need to be validated.

"We need friends in addition to having close relationships with our parents, our children, our spouses," she says. "We choose our friends. How much more reinforcing then out of the entire world, [your friend] takes the time to call you. This person enjoys your company."