This guest blog post is by 17-year-old Autism Speaks St. Louis chapter volunteer Jake Bernstein. He is one of NASCAR’s 4 finalists for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. If Jake wins, Autism Speaks will receive $100,000. To vote for him, visit: http://foundation.nascar.com/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1414
You cannot pick your neighbors. We got lucky. Max and Charlie are my adorable neighbors. They are seven-year old identical twin boys on the autism spectrum. Charlie and Max often stop over our house to visit. We all look forward to seeing them. Max likes to use our iPad. Charlie is more interested in helping us with household tasks. One day he decided to try to help clean up my bedroom. My bedroom is quite messy. Charlie entered my room and started picking up papers. I was touched.
Max and Charlie would see me carrying my tennis racket to school each morning during the high school tennis season. They would ask me questions about tennis. Since both boys were intrigued by my tennis racket, I asked their parents if I could provide them with tennis lessons. The boys’ parents welcomed the idea and shared that there were limited physical, social and recreational opportunities for autistic youth. Their interest in my racket was the motivation to create a social and recreational opportunity for my neighbors and other children on the autism spectrum who often lack extracurricular outlets.
Planning a weekly tennis clinic is similar to arranging a game of tennis just on a much grander scale. Tennis supplies and court space were graciously donated by our local Parks and Recreation Department. I contacted the local chapter of Autism Speaks for guidance and suggestions on promoting the free tennis clinic. Barbara Goode from the St Louis chapter of Autism Speaks graciously offered to promote the free clinic on Facebook, Twitter and with email blasts. I also posted the request for volunteers in our local newspaper, my volunteer Facebook page and Twitter postings @stlvolunteen. There was tremendous outpouring of interest from area high school students to volunteer which allowed us to provide individualized instruction for each child. Each week the children and volunteers returned eager and enthusiastic for another tennis lesson.
My grandmother spotted the information online about the Betty Jane France award for volunteer service. She nominated me for the award. I was truly surprised and honored to be selected as a finalist for the award. Each finalist is given the opportunity to donate $25,000 with the potential for an additional $75,000 to the organization of their choice: I chose Autism Speaks. I know that this monetary donation to Autism Speaks has the opportunity to better many kids’ lives. The time I spend with Max and Charlie has changed the way I see the world. The boys can find joy in the smallest object. They have taught me to do the same. It is wonderful to learn from these two little boys.
We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Jake for his support of the autism community, and we encourage everyone to vote for him to win the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award by visiting:http://foundation.nascar.com/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1414