For the 12th consecutive year, Rutgers University student athletes volunteered at Saturdays in Motion, a free program for children with autism and their families offered at the Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge.
Twelve athletes representing the Rutgers field hockey, football, women’s rowing and women’s tennis teams spent the afternoon on Saturday, Feb. 25, volunteering with children with special needs.
Saturdays in Motion is a free, volunteer-led program in which children on the autism spectrum and their siblings come to the Y twice monthly for recreational activities that include gymnastics, swimming and games. Teenage volunteers are paired one-on-one to play with the kids while parents receive caregiving respite.
“The Y is here to make sure everyone in our community has access to vital resources and services to help them live healthy, fulfilled lives,” said David M. Carcieri, president and CEO of Somerset County YMCA. “The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is 51 percent more prevalent in New Jersey than in the nation. For 25 years the Saturdays in Motion Program has had an immensely positive impact on the lives of participating families.”
Rutgers Athletic Director Pat Hobbs was on hand to volunteer with the student athletes.
“Saturdays in Motion is a great program for young children and for their parents, who get to spend time with their kids in a patient, loving environment,’’ Hobbs said. “Coming here to volunteer is a tremendous opportunity for our athletes to work with young people and to be a part of really inspiring work.”
This marks the 12th year of support from the Scarlet Knights football team and the first time for the other RU teams. The athletes included: Katie Beilin of Morristown, Jim Brady of Egg Harbor, Micah Clark of Cliffwood, Farris Cunningham of Houston, Texas, Megan Cunningham of Wilton, Conn., Alexandra Edenzon of Belle Mead, Alanna Gollotto of Voorhees, Chloe Lee of Albuquerque, N.M., Giovanni Rescigno of Warren, Mich., Nikki Santore of Voorhees, Jared Smolar of Valparaiso, Ind., and Zach Venesky of Peckville, Pa.
“It’s heartwarming to put a smile on kids’ faces,’’ said Beilin, a junior goal keeper for the field hockey team. “All Rutgers athletes love experiencing the community that so passionately embraces our athletic programs. We enjoy community service and giving back to people who give us so much support. We are excited to return and support this program again next year.”
“I cannot tell you how valuable this program is for our family,’’ said Leeann Bartushak, a Branchburg parent in the program. “Having a child with special needs can become isolating, particularly when you also have typically developing children. There isn’t much you can do as a family because activities are split up. I have one child, Jake, who regularly participates in the program and another, Catherine, who now volunteers for the program. It’s great for siblings because they see the value of giving back and they grow up with those values.”
Basking Ridge resident Art Raynes, a Somerset Hills YMCA board member, began the program in 1993 at a time when there were few services for children with autism. Raynes has a son on the spectrum. He and his wife, Pat, who was captain of the Rutgers track and cross country teams, are both alumni and longtime Rutgers fans.
Bernards Township Committeemen John Malay and Thomas Russo were also on hand to watch the program on Feb. 25.
“It’s great to have long-standing programs like this in our community. The Y is vital to providing important resources like Saturdays in Motion to support families in need,’’ said Russo, who attended Saturdays in Motion for the first time. “I was inspired to see so many young volunteers and to see the Rutgers athletes embrace that spirit of volunteerism.”
For more information on the program, contact Stephanie Jasinski at (908) 766-7898, ext. 503, or at www.somersetcountyymca.org/sim.