Ask An Autism Mom EP. 49

How Mentorship Can Help Kids With Autism?

Mentorship to Life-Long Friendship

"Athletics For Kids Mentorship Program is focused upon building supportive, mentoring relationships between high school athletes and children with special needs."

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Episode Highlights:

Marni Kurtz is with us from Athletics For Kids Mentorship program.

  • AFK works to enhance the lives of children who have special needs with high school athletes who mentor them.
  • They believe that modeling acceptance, inclusion, and respect of all individuals transforms and strengthens our communities
  • Over 93% of the mentored children showed improvement in at least one of the following areas: confidence, self esteem, social skills, happiness, and attitude towards school.

Questions for Marni Kurtz:

  • Who are your mentors?
  • What kind of things do they do together?
  • Why did you start this program?
  • What area do you currently service?
  • What ages are the children you help?
  • Do you do any special events and if so what types and who is welcome to attend?
  • Do you allow therapists and ABA therapists to work with your buddies?
  • Do you push for a team atmosphere?


Speaker 1-


Hi, everyone and welcome back to Ask an Autism mom live I'm Jenn Eggert from and I'm here every Monday live on facebook to share tips meet other parents share insights and learn tips. on today's show we're actually sitting down with Marni who is from a program called AFK mentorship. This program pairs high school students grades 10 and, above with other

students, that have different abilities. To know if, someone who would be interested in today's show, please share on your timeline. Now or tag them in the comments below you all know you're sharing your commenting your likes. Your love all of your support means so much to us and I know it means a lot to Marni and her group.They do amazing things. I cannot wait to talk for you guys to get to know the more you're going to love this program and what they stand for. So I want to welcome those of you watching live on facebook or listening to the podcast on itunes or youtube. If you want to get alerts to join us, live or ask questions live, go to

So welcome to viewers Jamie. I see Jason here today Jason doesn't always make it on, but I know he likes to try when we have different especially special guest. This one is one that Jason and I have been excited about for some time,now until since he told me about it so if you're, just joining us you're, listening to ask an autism mom live with Jenn Eggert and today I'm talking to Marni from AFK mentorship and we are going to discuss everything, youth mentorship, but before we go on with today's topic, I wanna give a huge shoutout to our sponsor our sponsor of course, is where you can get quality three products for your special needs, child. This is one of our favorites. The wiggle seats it's got porcupine bumps on top soft nodules on

the bottom. You can inflate it as much or as little as you want for that deeper sensory input now. I have some exciting news. I was just announced this morning Jason is doing for this week only again, for this week, only 25% OFF of all active seating to get that same visit as S A L E again, that's 25% OFF. All of our active seating. The new ball pit chairs the fidget bands, the wiggle seats check it out folks. I know some of our favorite products are included in this sale. Also just wanna kinda show off what I did today, you all know how much I love the I love someone with autism stickers. I decided to put my yeti cup arctic up sorry, I was just told by my sick daughter that I am doing that to her cup after the show so Marni welcome to the show I can't wait to talk to you.


Speaker 2  


Good morning, happy to be here now.


Speaker 1


First, I want to bring, I know I told you to start with the questions but I really wanna bring that poster you have behind your head out because that stands for so much of what your program means so if you wanna. What that poster behind you says?

Speaker 2


Sure, it says be a buddy, not a bully and so we really our program is based on being inclusive and accepting everybody and so many of the kids in our program have been marginalized. Have been bullied at school. Uh. You know really excluded bullied at school. Uh. You know really excluded and so um we throughout all of our the program really focus on this concept of you know being a female body being friendly and that's really what the program is based on is

his friendship and was meant young mentors come in and offer their friendship to these kids and

and and we really uh have found that it works.


Speaker 1


Now, I'm just gonna explain a little bit about what, AFK in what they do, um AFK works to enhance the lives of children with special needs by pairing them with a high school athlete to

mentor them. It also gives the parents an amazing opportunity to have a friend that their child can count on. We all know our kids so many of our kids my daughter included just want a friend,

they just want that person that says, I care about you, you mean something to me. You all

know we built this community because we care. We didn't want anyone to feel the way Jason and I felt which was alone and lonely and this program is based on so many of the same thought processes that these children don't deserve to be alone. These parents don't need to

be alone. They need to feel the love and support of this community.

So I'll love that now they believe that by modeling acceptance, inclusion and respect of all

individuals,it transforms and strengthens our communities now their success rate, listen to these numbers folks or were 93% of the mentor children showed improvement in at least one of the following areas. Confidence, self esteem, social skills,happiness and attitude towards schools. Now Marni I bet you can probably tell me that most of your children see improvement in more than just one of these areas.


Speaker 2


Oh absolutely I, I would say um social skills and self esteem or probably the most prevalent that we hear back from. But in general, we we offer these surveys twice a year. We ask parents for that feedback and they'd choose multiple options when when doing that and then they see sort of an overall uptick in a lot of different areas for the, for the kid for their child.


Speaker 1


Perfect. and hi Everybody sorry. I didn't get to say hi to you yet um. Jason of course hello,Jamie

Shannon hi from Las Vegas, Oh, were wish, thanks to warm their I hope

um Jason agrees. Be a buddy but not a bully. Is an amazing phrase. I wish every student would like to know. Jack Eggert and learn how to spell hello before you type. Its mom will get on you sorry that is my teenage son. and athletes of case stands for athletes for kids. Yes now these are teenage athletes that they use but the does not have to have an athletic background and

I'll explain to get Marni to explain more about that in one moment. now Marni you want to explain more about who your mentors are and how you select them.

Speaker 2


Absolutely so. Um mentors in our program are sophomores or Juniors in high school in order to be part of our program, not only do they have to apply but they go through a very rigorous interview uh provides letters of reference um and uh must play a sport at their high school or uh in the community. Um after they come into the program. We are initially have a four hour training and then monthly. We meet myself and my mentorship coordinator meet with the mentors at their local high school to offer training topics provide support um and just uh share and share ideas with other mentors and uh and there's offer some support.


Speaker 1


Now are your mentors trained in how to deal with, say their child starts breaking down into a meltdown. Do you give them the skills to learn how to help with that.


Speaker 2


We do,but I would tell you in death the one perfect but one thing that we really stress is it the mentor has a relationship with their buddies parents as well. Those those parents know their child the best and so before a mentor, even walks into a home with their buddy. They meet with the alone, first, so that they can really learn and um they always are asking for feedback. Uh so

that the parents can share. We also, as a group, will go through training topics. Um you know

communication strategies with nonverbal children.How to how to work with your buddy when um you know they just plain don't want to do anything or perhaps are having a tough time uh so we have constant you know, training on that and then, as I said, we really ask the mentors to reach out they're there, but they're Parents, as well, because they really can't offer the best tips on the best feedback


Speaker 1


Perfect now I know I mentioned briefly that the child does not have to be athletic. What kinds of

things do you find your buddies do a lot together?


Speaker 2


What we love to say is um for our mentors were awesome report back to us. It's their opportunity once a week to be a kid again, uh we're here everything from building legos nerf

gun wars baking cookies playing board games going to the Park riding a scooter um. They just have a great time Doing doing good things and really have have fun doing it and for the mentors uh and often is the bet is offer them. There. One hour a week or two hours a week where they can just let go of all their stress and be a kid again and have fun doing things that they did when they grew up with growing up.


Speaker 1


That's amazing now. Why did this program start and what was its original idea base?


Speaker 2


Sure, So we started in samantha Washington there was a family 16 years ago who

had a young boy uh who had a quirky and apparent disability and and what I mean by that is that many of the kids in the neighborhood were starting to realize he was different. They wouldn't play with him. They were teasing him. They were bullying him. He was

isolated. Uh mom and dad have tried therapy they've tried going to um you know any any sort

of outside support and really not found anything that works and so on a whim dad went up to the

local high school uh stop by the football team which, at the time, was uh a state winning football team and dissent to the coach do you have anybody that will spend time with my son and

he said I do I have a young man here who will love to come over and hang out and uh. This uh land was named Sammy Reynolds. He was a star running back at the time and spending started to go to this young man's House and they'd be out in the in the coldest at plain or um taking a walk and then the other kids started to say hey you know hey can we play and and send me that you can only play if you play with my friend as well, and immediately that young man started to feel accepted, started to know that I had a friend that was over on a consistent basis and dad and mom realized, we have a uh, a model that works and went back to the high school and and they recruited three more athletes and it started there and in two thousand and two with 44 athletes. Uh and today that chapter has over 44 alone just in that high school. So uh the word has spread and um and it's really uh taken off so that we now have 11 high school chapters on the East side here in Washington well.


Speaker 1


I know currently, you only service a certain area. What area do you currently work with.


Speaker 2


So we're in Washington state on the East side. So we're about 20 to 25 miles outside of Seattle. and we have uh high schools that range anywhere down from uh Mercer Island area. All the way up through buffalo and uh we're slowly growing and that is our um. Obviously, our opportunity and work with what we like to be doing uh we'd love to be statewide we'd love to be a nationwide one day, so small now 11 chapters but um that's a little bit. We hope to. We hope to really continue to grow


Speaker 1


Now. Gretchen. I see you have a question and I'll answer. It right now. Instead of waiting to the

end. No. They're not National at this point that is her dream someday, but we all know dreams take a lot of time to push in to work on um I'm going to look at this week and see if I can find any

information on similar programs across the And if I do find any programs also country similar to AFK okay don't worry you know. I will post that in group.Now Marni what are the ages of the children that are included in this program?


Speaker 2


So children in the program must be in at least first grade and then they can stay all the way through uh seniors in high school so that range of the ballot you

know, six or so all the way up. We actually have some buddies currently that are eighteen and

seniors in high school that are also being mentored so that school age range from first to

twelfth grade.


Speaker 1


Now, if you this is something I didn't ask but it just came to me now say I put my child

Then, when she was in first grade as she is now her high school buddy is a tenth grader right

where, in her high school buddy graduates that she get a new high school but

Speaker 2


Absolutely which we actually have uh one young girl in the program that started at first grade she's. Now on her fourth mentor, so they can families can always re apply again and many, many do.


Speaker 1


Now do you have any special events and if so, what type of events do you hold and who is

welcome to attend these events.


Speaker 2


Great great question. We offer events once a month. Um for

parents and mentors and buddies and siblings and other family members, community members are allowed to come uh and just have an opportunity in a safe and inclusive in the environment, to just hang out and do different things, so for example, uh I have a picture here. One of the things that we often do it's. We will reserve space and a library and um mentors and buddies come and they play board games. They play thing though uh they build with legos. That we usually have a snack uh. We also do things many of our local high schools, one in particular where we started. We have an event um yearly where the football team comes out

and all of the kids get to come and and um, whether they wanna do non sports related

activities. We have legos and games on the side,but a lot of a lot of the kids, even though

they're not interested in sports love the idea they get to put on a Jersey. They get to go. Do

some of the drills um so we offer something once a month and it really is a great way. Um for

mentors and buddies to meet one another to socialize and also for the parents as well uh

many of them either meet with one another and make a connection or they get that hour and a

half just to go, get a cup of coffee and and uh get a little respite which is certainly well deserved and needed.


Speaker 1


Now,I know a lot of stuff is um allowing an ABA therapist to work with your body telling us to benefit your student the best.


Speaker 2


We absolutely encourage that um. I have several mentors that have spent time when they go over to their buddies House. The ABA therapist is there uh and this is fantastic because it really allows the mentor and an opportunity to see first hand um the best way to work with the body. I am often times I've had a couple of the fence where some of the bodies have come with a therapist with and again, we're just looking any resource just support the mentor to offer um different ways that they can interact uh and he was their buddy is highly encouraged and we definitely um. We definitely look and encourage the families to do that.

Speaker 1


Now you just briefly brought it up, but you really push for a team atmosphere in this program. Do you not?


Speaker 2


Absolutely uh it's. You know when we do our training with our mentors. We say the mentors have a team which is their their chapter meeting and uh as well as any and the athletes for kids staff and we also talk about the buddies team, uh their schoolmates, their classmates, their doctors, their therapist and we all work together to um. You know established, create that vision that we talked about, which is the community where everybody is celebrated and accepted.


Speaker 1


Now can you share one of your examples of one of your buddies with us.

Speaker 2


Absolutely. Um you know an one of the things um I would highly encourage anybody to go to

our website. Um at the end of the week we're up um starting a new website where we're gonna be featuring our impact stories cuz.We talk a lot about each month. We will feature a mentor buddy story where we've really seen some growth uh. We have a young gal uh who uh named

Lauren who has been working with her buddy now for over two years when Lauren and her buddy first started meeting um and it was sort of silo they didn't do a lot of different things um

He was very set on exactly what she like to do. Uh but through the time that they've spent

together the trust that's been developed. Um.This young uh girl now um, feels feel safe and

accepted and in willing to do different things and that's really something we push a lot of

these mentors come in and help these children to sort of get out of their comfort zone. Many of

our children are so sigh load and what they do and I only wanna do this, and that's the story. I

love to hear which is oh my gosh. I got my buddy today. We we got off the you know lining up

For 30 minutes to I got him to go outside and we went that we you know. We went into the walk or we actually baked something or we try to board game that she's never he's never tried before and um that's really a success story for us because we want the kids to feel empowered and feel, like they can do different things.

Speaker 1


That's amazing. Now. I'm going to open it up to questions. I have seen a couple of questions come through. Let me go through um if you ff a program in your area that does something

similar. Please please, please. Post it in our parent support group posted in the comment

section here. PM (personal message) me with it. We wanna know we want to see how many of these programs exist and we want every child to have someone who loves them and who cares about them and I know Marni made the fact that she's so limited but she really wants every child to feel that love that she is able to witness every day.

Speaker 2




Speaker 1


So we have Melissa, I was wondering about you and where you've been a hope you're Okay. You have been around lately. Gretchen. Unfortunately, we do not know of any National programs any programs that we do find out about. We will post in our group don't worry I will start looking into this more today and Yes, Melissa, starting in different States,

would be amazing as Shannon here's one in Nevada can you please, send me the

Information or Jason or share it somewhere that we can see it now. He did unfortunately, your

child does fall in the age range, but Virginia is not a state currently um in their scope right now. Gretchen. I have not heard of anything in Chicago but I will look for you Um as Jason said, unfortunately, their program is currently only available in Washington state but you can learn more on at their learn more on their website. we will have that

link available for you don't worry.

Shannon, if you do find out the program name, please let me know Melissa I'm Super, a spin, a hard couple of weeks trust me. I have two sick kids home today, so I get it. Hi Chris welcome today now, as we're wrapping up the show, I want to focus on a couple of important things that Marni said.Marni is biggest takeaway from this. I think it was we need more buddies in this world, not bullies. If you grew up in the air a, I grew up in um Mr. Rogers neighborhood with huge and Mr. Rogers, has always had a saying be a good neighbor and he also said in times of pain look for the helpers, so this program really does that. They pare these

children who are emotionally withdrawn with a friend with a helper to bring them through this

difficult time and show them that someone cares.

Um Marni. I bet a lot of your students are bullied and the bullying kind of cut back as the

mentorship goes on.

Speaker 2


Absolutely I mean you know we the whole goal is is that spreading kindness. We talk about that with the mentors and we do we hear stories all the time that .That's the kids, um at least at least for that time, that they're spending with their mentor have an opportunity to really feel what

friendship is like and oftentimes many of them through the mentoring by their buddy feel

empowered enough to you know to stand up for themselves or talk to somebody, you know, we have mentors are really good and encouraging their body to talk to people at school. If it's

happening it's full so uh in general um it's just you know that concept of kindness, which

unfortunately lacks. today and some some of uh what we hear in the news and it's so so important and you know one thing just really quickly to mention that I think that is important. Is the mentors in this program. Um you know they get so much out of this as well and I can't tell you when they graduate how many of them will turn and say to me this is the friends that I've made for life I'm many of them decide to go into the field of special education. Many of them go on to other leadership opportunities because this time that they have spent um is just so precious to them and it it really really is empowering to see that and um that's, what I think is so unique about the program to is that it's dual. I will often have a meant or see my buddies taught me way more than I ever could have taught them and uh that gift is really really special.


Speaker 1


Now I do wanna say, for the mentors this is also a great opportunity for those College letters.

Speaker 2




Speaker 1


Those letter ask,What did you do in high school.


Speaker 2



Speaker 1


Is leadership. Skills. They are learning. This basic leadership skills


Speaker 2


Yeah and you know there's very rare that you can say these kids when they come in there. They are matched with the buddy. They meet with their buddy weekly for an hour and a half to two hours until they graduate. There are very few high schoolers that can graduate and say they did that on a consistent basis and uh so I it's my pleasure every year to really White some

wonderful letters of recommendation for these young men and women because of the dedication and commitment that they've made to the the program in their and their buddy.


Speaker 1


Now I get to ask you now and I wanna ask now um, does this program only run during the school year or do you run in the summer as well.


Speaker 2


Great question.It is a year round program. Many families you

know, travel in the summer and so often times the visits in the summer time might be a bit more

sporadic, but it definitely doesn't stop in June and we start in September um and we say that

because friendships don't do that hey, there year round, they continue their continuous and so is the mentorship.

Speaker 1


Well in so many our children can't handle, stop start, stop start

Speaker 2


Tackling that they having that schedule and knowing that they've got there. But their mentor,

there every week, is very, very important. Um that we really stress that.


Speaker 1


And one thing I wanna say, um just reiterate a little bit more. You are saying that you actually

have buddies that are now in College and still have contact with their friends.

Speaker 2


They sure do they absolutely do they can keep that connection. I hear stories all the time mentors that comeback that go from College and stop by their buddies house. Uh we have a member on our board who is a former mentor who still is in contact with his buddy family. So um these are friendships that end at the you know upon graduations for many, many of them their lifelong lifelong friendships.


Speaker 1


And I wanna say I was thinking a little bit of research when I was looking into this and I actually was surprised, you think, with the time constraints, spending extra I'm doing the training we're doing the mentorship that their grades would stay. The same or slide actually realized in research that a lot of the mentors and mentor them and tease their grades actually improve because of everything they are doing.


Speaker 2


Absolutely for the. For the. For the children being mentored its date. They start to feel better about themselves and often times that translates into being. You know feeling better and more uh excited to go to school and and that sort of thing and then for the mentors many of them poor and advance classes and and have a lot that opportunity. That they have scheduled in their week to spend with their buddy for that fun time translates itself into you know, keeping up with their grades and and and succeeding in that front. As well.

Speaker 1


Perfect, Gretchen is saying that older students and instructors would be great mentors

also, gretchen is tagging a friend to let them know about the program and see if maybe they

could do something similar in their area.


Speaker 2




Speaker 1


Remember folks. This program started with one parent who wanted to change the life of their

child. It is not a possible she told the story of the dad who went to the football team and said

can someone help my child so don't feel like we're stuck I know I am actually considering reaching out to my son's high school and seeing if they can do something because these children they excel my son, does something um in high school called reach. It is an after school

program where they get help with homework. They do special activities and one of my favorite

events that they do about every other month is they go. The elementary school and they read to their after school daycare children and my son said that the days he comes home from that she's broke.He says it. You know, coming story. Oh I had this one today and rightly, they know you and they were your friends and we're so excited. He made me read this book about parts and it was so funny and so really look into it. If you're in talk to your schools. I know I am, I wanna thank all of you for watching. I especially want to thank Marni for sitting down with us today and discussing this program. If you have any questions about this program, please leave them for me group. I will make sure that if there is a question for Marni, I will get it to her

immediately and get her response her website is put up on the screen so if you have any questions for her and are in the Washington area, you can ask her directly, should be more than happy to help any one from the Washington area find a buddy.

Now, thanks for joining us. I'm Jenn Eggert, Oh before I said that I wanted to remind you

because some of you missed it in the beginning.Jason is doing a one week only sale on our

active sitting all active sitting.Is 25% off this week alone to get 25% off any

of our active seating thanks for joining us today. I'm Jenn Eggert and you can join me live every Monday at 1 PM eastern for more parenting tips. Remember you can join our parent support group at and do not forget to check out our newly page, where you can post your questions for me to answer live on an upcoming show.

Thank you everyone for coming. Thank you, Marni so much. I appreciate all of you. You know, I

love you all and so thankful that we were able to build a community of love and support and find

another community that has the same um thought processes. We do so that hopefully we can work together and have a great partnership and, hopefully someday we can see some of our lucky kid families in AFK program. Thank you so much. Everyone I'm next time remember every child brings good luck.

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