Rabbi Yossi Harlig
Executive Director
Nechama Harlig
Co- Director

In August, 1995, Nechama and her husband, Rabbi Yossi Harlig, moved from New York, to Kendall/Pinecrest to establish Chabad Center of Kendall/Pinecrest, a Jewish Outreach Center. Nechama and Rabbi Yossi spent years reaching out to the community with many social, educational and religious programs, when, they heard about the first Friendship Circle initiated in Michigan. They were excited to bring this incredible program to Miami. Thus, in 2003 they established the Friendship Circle in Miami, the first Friendship Circle founded in Florida. Starting slowly, with only a handful of children and one program, they have grown and cultivated the breadth and scope of the Friendship Circle to include hundreds and hundreds of families and offering more than 21 different social and recreational programs.

Nechama’s background in education and psychology, as well as her early career in teaching children of various ages has been instrumental in developing and growing all of the Friendship Circle programs as well as catering to the hundreds of teens who volunteer regularly in the Friendship Circle. Nechama’s passion is helping others and making a difference in our community.

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Rolando Rodriguez, CFRE
Campaign Advisor

Rolando Damian Rodriguez has been leading fundraising campaigns for over 30 years. As President/CEO of the Jackson Memorial Foundation, Rolando established the most successful public hospital foundation in the country, raising over $200 million for programs. As the founder of the International Kids Fund, Rolando led global fundraising programs that raised millions for seriously ill children. Most recently, Rolando helped create the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Miami Foundation and has helped launch campaigns for both the Friendship Circle of Miami and Breakthrough Collaborative, based in San Francisco. Rolando holds a Masters degrees in Community Psychology from Florida International University and has served in various leadership roles with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) as well as with various local civic organizations. Rolando grew up on Miami Beach, where he still resides with his wife Patricia.

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Russell Eckert, J.D.
Chief Development Officer

Russell is a proud native of South Florida, where he developed his passion for service. He graduated from the Florida State University College of Law and afterward carried over his zeal and pursuit for equality, justice, and advocacy to the nonprofit sector. His professional life began at a youth center for disadvantaged children in Boca Raton, where he oversaw a rapid transformation of the center through a rebranding and revitalization effort which raised significant capital for the organization's growth, and which resulted in a two-fold increase in the number of families benefitting from critical resources and care.

In his role as the Chief Development Officer at Friendship Circle, Russell is responsible for directing all fundraising activities including a $9.5 million capital campaign to build the new Friendship Circle Campus – a 20,000 square foot community center for individuals with special needs. He manages government relations, grant writing, corporate relations, and special events, as well as other strategic partnerships and initiatives which strengthen and support Friendship Circle's mission. Russell's work involves collaborating closely with the Friendship Circle Board of Directors and other key stakeholders in the community.

In his free time Russell enjoys connecting with nature, traveling and exploring new places. He is a bit of a foodie, enjoying eclectic foods throughout town while cooking his favorite vegetarian dishes for his family.

Heidi Rutland
Program and Family Manager

Heidi began working at the Friendship Circle in September 2016, bringing 15+ years of experience in administrative support. Feeling inspired to meet the needs of our community, Heidi transitioned to the role of Program and Family Manager in 2019. Born and raised in Kendall, Heidi has a soft spot for the community she loves and calls home. Heidi met her husband while studying in Gainesville and they later moved to Orlando, where they started their family. Heidi and her family moved back to Kendall in 2015 and enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Cristina Rodriguez, Mind&Melody
Band Director

Cristina Rodríguez is dedicated to improving the quality of life for those experiencing neurological impairments through music. Cristina is fascinated by the possibilities that come with the intersection of art and science. She has played the cello for over 10 years and graduated from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College with a degree in Biochemistry. While volunteering at a hospital when she was 14 years old, the concept behind Mind&Melody came to mind - to create a music program that would go beyond listening to music. She dreamt of making music accessible to people that would greatly benefit from it.

Mind&Melody integrates individuals experiencing dementia, Alzheimer’s and related neurological impairments in the music creation process. From their first partnership with the FAU Memory & Wellness Center in 2014, the program has served over 90 healthcare facilities in Florida impacting 2,000 lives.

Christina's interest in the sciences led her to take part in research internships at Max Planck, Music Dynamics Lab, Scripps, and Jackson Health. In addition to her science background, Cristina holds a certificate in Nonprofit Management and has been part of professional development programs like the Radical Partners Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, which have helped her develop as an entrepreneur. In 2018, Cristina was named Coors Light Líder of The Year, a national award.