Kids Helping Kids | Teen Ink

Kids Helping Kids

April 12, 2012
By Zachary Certner BRONZE, Morristown, New Jersey
Zachary Certner BRONZE, Morristown, New Jersey
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

At some moments I can’t help but to think they are just normal kids. Although they scream continuously and never sit still, there are many qualities in these children I relate to. Through the shouting and noise, I see frustration. I see children who want to jump out of their bodies, fettered by devastating condition autism. Autism is a mysterious puzzle, an unpredictable disorder. Growing at abnormal rates, particularly in New Jersey, 1 out of 91 children will be diagnosed with autism this year. Imagine you are a child with autism, aspiring to play recreational sports like the other kids, but you are stopped due to insensitive coaches and players. Autistic children are usually not the right matches for local teams, and cannot participate regularly. In my community, and neighboring ones as well, there are absolutely no programs for special needs children. Over the years it became apparent to families with special needs children that the traditional methods of inclusion have not met their needs. Constantly isolated and ostracized, the special needs community is greatly mistreated. It is my goal to bring this awareness to a national level.

When I was very young a family friend was diagnosed with autism, and over the years our relationship made me aware of the difficulties autistic children face. My brother and started a sports clinic for children with special needs in our community five years ago. Using volunteers from local high schools, we grew the program under the motto of 'kids helping kids' with a focus on high school athletes teaching special needs children not only basic sports skills, but lessons in teamwork and communication. As the clinics grew, we encouraged younger mentors from elementary schools to get involved. We now help over 150 special needs families and have around 700 mentors who volunteer through our program. As this organization has flourished so quickly, we applied for and were granted non-profit status over the summer of 2009.
In preparation for my brother leaving for college, I was excited to implement my vision for the future of SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Program). Under my leadership I hoped to expand the educational component of SNAP, supporting these children in even more ways. My goal is to create an educational component in our community to heighten the awareness and acceptance in Morristown’s students as they interact with these special children. I have engaged SNAP in a pilot program at a school in Morristown to conduct training for all fourth and fifth grade students. The goal of the training is to bring awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of special needs children, finding ways to build a more inclusive social environment at the school. My ultimate goal for SNAP is to help create a more empathetic, compassionate and accepting world for future generations. In January I applied for a grant from Autism Speaks to help me reach my goal of training my peers in the Morristown School District, and I was thrilled to learn our cause received the 2011 grant for $13,000.

I designed an interactive training module centered on kids helping kids. It is meant to help prepare future mentors on the challenges they may experience with a special needs child. It helps our mentors to focus on the abilities that every child has to offer. More importantly, it consists of hands-on modules, which simulate various physical and mental disabilities, immersing the students into the world of special needs. These children gain an appreciation for how difficult it is to function day to day with a disability. Teachers have commented on the significant impact this training had on the students involved. They immediately invited the special needs children to have lunch with them, as well as picked these children as buddies in our school sports and social activities. Overwhelmingly, the students in our district voted for SNAP as part of the “2010 Coins for a Cause” fund-raiser that collected over $10,000 for my organization.

This award enabled me to train the gym teachers at my high school on an adaptive Physical Education program, Girl Scout troops on acceptance of these children, and the Millburn Police, Fire and EMS officers on how to handle various situations with special needs people. The training has expanded to teachers, supervisors, and government workers, as well as continuing with my peers.

This past summer for one full week, in cooperation with the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and the New Jersey Golf Association (NJGA), I was able to bring golf into the world of these children. I provided a week of instruction with top golf professionals, and enabled the kids to attend the Barclay’s Golf Tournament in order for them to experience a fun day with their families.

I wanted to contribute at a higher level. I was not satisfied with only helping special needs children in my community, so I decided to unite with Sibusiso, a foundation located in Tanzania, Africa that teaches disabled children to help themselves. Through SNAP, I raised over $2,500 in sports equipment, T-shirts, and school supplies. I traveled to their headquarters in Africa to donate the equipment, but unfortunately, due to travel delays, was unable to work one-on-one with these children. I prepared a training module to foster skills associated with sports, and hopefully through the help of the leaders, my goals will come to fruition. I am l in contact with them, and am hoping to receive a video from the children using the equipment and knowledge we provided. Since then we have grown to China and Guatemala.

Autism… I have watched the faces of the children from the first day they entered the clinic doors. Scared, apprehensive, unsure of who we were and what we were going to do. A soccer ball meant nothing and how to dribble was even less important. Their eyes gazed past me to the floor and then further away. How was I going to engage them, and more importantly fit into their world? It was magic to see their faces light up when they received their first trophy. Five years later, I have taken these kids from one basic sports clinic, and expanded programs for them into Art, Music, Tae Kwon Do, Yoga, Golf and Swimming lessons. What used to be a twice a month event transformed into programs five days a week. Never before have I truly known what it feels like to touch someone’s life in such a positive manner. The magic that is created between mentors, families, siblings, and children is unimaginable. Do my programs benefit these children, mentors, and their families? I would be ecstatic to know that I have affected their lives half as much as they have affected mine.

The author's comments:
Bullying is a real hot button issue in our school systems today. Part of the problem is that kids are more likely to respond to peer pressure than to the anti-bullying efforts of teachers and administrators. For this reason, I am stepping up to make kindness cool. Inspired by a family friend I am the Founder and President of SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Programs) for children with autism and other special needs. I realized that the best way to get through to students was through a unique "kids helping kids" approach. I have launched an initiative in New Jersey to start visiting schools to lead sensitivity training workshops for the students, and they have already been highly successful in combating bullying and ignorance toward special needs kids.

What makes my vision for SNAP exceptional is ways SNAP can expand, both in terms of programming and trainings. I have created a replicable model that can continue to grow through innovation and collaboration. I look to expand SNAP’s anti-bullying sensitivity workshops to schools all over New Jersey, and eventually the country. SNAP’s missions is that all schools should have mandatory programs in place to give students the education and awareness they need to prevent bullying and to create a safe, harmonious environment. With SNAP’s mentor training and workshops, I wants to teach children to become understanding and responsible adults who will advocate, educate, and/or employ people with disabilities. Education is key to sustainability for SNAP’s goals. I have trained High School gym teachers on an adaptive physical education program, and the Millburn Police, Fire, and EMC officers on how to handle various situations involving individuals with special needs. With this article I hope to gain National Attention and encourage others to start programs in their town and I will get them started. I am a sophomore in high school.

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This article has 4 comments.

on Dec. 20 2023 at 1:32 pm
Shorthairdontcare SILVER, Houston Area, Texas
6 articles 0 photos 76 comments
i have autism and i wish more poeple were like you

on May. 24 2019 at 12:37 pm
WILLYSUCKS, Orlando, Florida
0 articles 0 photos 2 comments
I feel very moved...I also have a friend that has autisum and i know how you feel. Keep up the good work

on Apr. 10 2014 at 11:15 am
lil_faith BRONZE, United States, California
1 article 0 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
" not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything" Muhammad Ali

I feel very moved...I also have a friend that has autisum and i know how you feel. Keep up the good work 

SEes said...
on Apr. 16 2012 at 7:48 pm
Great job... what an inspiration