SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- A non-profit organization is adding more high school athlete mentors who will spend quality time with kids with disabilities.
“Athletes for Kids” is adding another 30 mentors next year. Currently there are about 100 mentors on the Eastside, said Athletes for Kids executive director Melissa King.
King noted she saw a recent picture that shows a Florida State University football player eating lunch with a middle school boy who has autism. The boy’s mom wrote on Facebook her son normally eats lunch alone and was touched by the gesture.
“We hang out every Sunday,” said Ben Wolters, a 17-year-old mentor. He’s a varsity baseball player at Skyline High School in Sammamish.
He’s paired with 14-year-old Brayden, who’s on the Autism spectrum. The two have been paired for two years.
Brayden’s mom, Bea Lewis, said at first the two had a tough time hitting it off.
“It took a while at first because Brayden takes a while to warm up,” she said.
King stated sometimes this is the children’s first opportunity to have a friend. Like the child in Florida, she noted, many times the kids in the program eat lunch by themselves.
Instead, once a week for about 90 minutes, they get to hang out with a high school athlete. It’s someone who’s close to their age, but someone who is also viewed in a favorable light.
“They look at their high school mentor as if they’re a rock star,” said King.
Brayden’s mom agreed.
“He’s got a little bit more street cred with the other kids,” said Lewis.
The goal is for the kids to gain confidence.
Lewis said she’s noticed Brayden is more outgoing and confident.
“So proud of him, because he’s come such a long way,” she said.
King added just because the high school athletes are mentors does not mean that the pairs must do sports. She said the most popular activity is getting frozen yogurt.
“A lot of volunteer programs you kind of just go for a day,” said Ben, the mentor. “I wanted to connect with someone on a deep more personal level and I’ve become great friends with Brayden in the meantime.”
This weekend Athletes for Kids and Skyline High School will pair up for an event that will bring together the football team with the children who are being mentored. The event will take place Saturday afternoon at the high school.