On November 9, twins Samantha and Lucy Krasker brought their teen outreach program, Make A Burger, Make A Friend, to selected cities in Georgia, Florida, New York and Illinois. Hosted by BurgerFi, a new all-natural burger restaurant, the event gave teens with autism the opportunity to make burgers and friends with typical teens from nearby towns and do what teenagers do: eat, talk, engage. Samantha and Lucy shared their experience with Autism Speaks:
Last year, we attended an Autism Speaks event in Palm Beach County, Florida and had the honor of listening to Sam Gelfand, a 16 year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, candidly speak about his struggles in high school. He explained with great passion and courage, and even a sense of humor at times, how difficult it is to be a “normal” teenager. It brought tears to our eyes as he recounted the many times he had been bullied and teased for being different. As he spoke, we recalled our sixth grade classroom where we were bullied and taunted on a daily basis; so badly, we eventually had to change schools. We understood how he felt when he told us about being ignored, humiliated and admonished. He explained how he had learned to engage in conversation instead of barraging someone with a list of questions, and that he has to constantly remind himself to make eye contact. He has taken physical therapy to condition himself to have better balance so he won't fall in gym class or the cafeteria. He has engaged in speech classes, art lessons, and music therapy, all to improve his communication skills and interaction with others. He made us think of the magnitude of his effort just to socialize with teens like us. That made us evaluate our efforts to reach out to someone like him.
As a freshman in high school, we co-founded the Suncoast Culinary Club. As International Baccalaureate students, we wanted to create a way for teens to connect with world cultures using culinary experiences and community service. We quickly learned those culinary experiences, like cooking and eating, brought people together. As we listened to Sam that night, we knew we could do the same for teens with Autism: use cooking and eating as way to encourage kindness and engage teens to embrace others who are different.
We partnered with a national hamburger chain, BurgerFi, to help us create a venue for high school teens and Autistic teens to come together to socialize. We enlisted the help of Autism Speaks to reach out to families with teens on the spectrum. Then we created an event, Make a Burger, Make a Friend, using gourmet hamburgers as the ice breaker and enjoying them together as the bridge. On November 9, Make a Burger, Make a Friend was held in 11 cities across the country at BurgerFi locations. We attended the Manhattan BurgerFi event with our good friend Sam Gelfand. The culmination was an incredible day that not only fostered Autism awareness among teens on a national scale, but one-one-one changed a lot of lives. Teens, some for the first time ever, were interacting with teens with autism. Teens on the spectrum were able to enjoy a social experience with their peers. Everyone wearing t-shirts, eating hamburgers and having fun. The message that day was clear - being kind is cool. While we cannot possibly track the intangible impact of those individual experiences, we have to believe the awareness will be apparent in both big and small jesters back in school: a simple hello in the hallway, partnering on a class project, an invitation to join a table for lunch. On a personal level, the words of an Autistic 14 year-old girl who attended the event touches us the most. We discovered we liked the exact same toppings and made identical burgers. As we were eating them together, she whispered with a large smile, “We’re just like each other.” Yes, indeed, we are.
Thank you to BurgerFi and Autism Speaks, and all the participants of Make a Burger, Make a Friend!
Samantha & Lucy Krasker