April is a very special month for the Samuel Field Y, as it's nationally recognized as Autism Awareness Month. One of our most popular programs is the Basketball Buddies-Soccer Stars program, which is an inclusion based program where children with autism are paired up with mentors - typically volunteer high school and college students - who teach skills for the correlating sports. Not only do participants learn and get to play basketball and soccer, more importantly, they get to learn about teamwork, communicating, sportsmanship, and trying your best.
"He was hesitant in the beginning because he never experienced anything physical like this, then he began to love it," said Song Eun Lee, whose eight-year old son Moses is in his first year in the program. "We noticed him gaining self-confidence and he's really motivated and very happy."
“Soccer Stars builds an inclusive and caring community in which children with autism, as well as their teen volunteer coaches grow, learn, play, socialize and experience success,” said Jeri Mendelsohn, Executive Vice President and CEO of the Samuel Field Y. Currently in its 12th year (the program was started in the Fall of 2005, and has continued yearly thanks to the NYC Autism Initiative and JE + ZB Butler Foundation) with over 60 children enrolled, this program is often one of the first opportunities that these children have to learn about sports. With this in mind, the SPOT Team at PS/MS 200 in Flushing, which holds fundraising events for different charities and takes part in various community service projects throughout the school year, selected our program to benefit from its most recent fundraiser.
"Being a New York City school teacher as well as an employee of the Samuel Field Y, I thought it would be a great idea to combine both positions," said Dina Shmuel, a 6th and 7th grade English teacher at PS/MS 200, who not only is the coordinator of the SPOT Team, but is a long-time, part-time employee at SFY. "After seeing the great impact Basketball Buddies has on children with autism and the fact that April is considered Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to share the effect that this particular program has on the incredible young people that I work with."
While the SPOT team creates incentives to reward Pre-K through 5th grade classes who follow through with appropriate behaviors that support school-wide expectations, and emphasizes what it means to be kind, respectful and responsible in school, it was the 6th-8th grade students at PS/MS 200 who held a bake sale that raised the $500 that were donated to the Samuel Field Y.
"We are incredibly thankful to have received the generous donation from PS/MS 200 for our Basketball Buddies and Soccer Stars programs," said Amanda Smith, the director of the program for the last three years. "With their donation, we will be able to purchase trophies and t-shirts for the children who participate, which enables them to feel as part of a real team. I can't emphasize enough how much this donation has meant to us and how impactful the money will truly be."
Even though Basketball Buddies and Soccer Stars has had such a positive impact on participants and their families, it's incredible that it has now also reached the students at P.S./M.S. 200.
"I feel as if many people take what they have for granted because they cannot see through the eyes of those who are less fortunate," said Gigi, a 14-year old on the SPOT Team. "But if we can work together to give back to our community and others around the world, we can still see how a little help could make a big difference."
"Just knowing that I’m making a difference in someone’s life makes me feel accomplished," added Kyana, 13.
We're so thankful for these thoughtful, future leaders, and we owe a huge thank you to Ms. Shmuel for organizing this fundraiser.
For more information on the Basketball Buddies/Soccer Stars program, or other programs for children with autism, please contact Amanda Smith at 718-423-6111.