Photo courtesy of SNAP
By Steve Sears
SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Programs) of Morristown has been doing good for 15 years.
“We may be in Morristown, but we have never turned anyone down. We have participants and mentors that come from all over Morris County,” says Kimberlee Strasser, SNAP program coordinator. “Which kind of goes along with our theme that we are very inclusive, and accepting, and we would never turn anybody down.”
SNAP was created in 2006 by brothers Matt and Zach Certner when they were in high school. It enables special needs kids to enjoy the camaraderie of sports. Matt was a sophomore in high school, was athletic, knew someone who had special needs, and realized that even though he himself personally had athletic programs to engage in, the other individual had no place to turn to after school. Rounding up some of his basketball buddies, they got together with the special needs person, who then got his own friends involved. “SNAP was basically born as a result of him wanting to make this equal,” says Strasser.
In the beginning, SNAP was a nightly occurrence. Many volunteers took part in yoga, arts & crafts, swimming, and more, and then Matt went off to college and his brother, Zach, took the reins, and he brought on an educational piece focusing on awareness of special needs. When Zach when off to college, Matt and Zach’s mom, Sandy, asked Kimberlee is she’d like to take over the program, which is now a once-a-week event. Strasser, who is fond of the awareness portion of the program especially because she is a mom to a 24-year-old son with severe autism, but also taught special education and first grade, hopped on board. “Getting out into the schools,” she says, “and teaching the kids what autism is, teaching the kids what different disabilities are.” The latter is started in third grade, where there are four different stations at which students are taught about the different disabilities. “They (the kids) get to feel what it’s like to be different.”
Strasser cites outstanding student mentors that take part in the program, one of which is junior Alex Grayzel of Morristown Beard High School. “I’ve been with the program for four years, and I’m now one of the head mentors of the program,” he says. “The reason why I love SNAP is because I get to play and bond with kids who have special needs who might not get that chance outside of SNAP. Seeing all the kids laughing and smiling while playing makes me really happy and that’s why I participate in the program. I dedicate my time to help set up and run the program and I can say that it’s well worth it. Not only has Mrs. Strasser taught me valuable lessons and skills during my time with the program, but SNAP as a whole has taught me so much. Giving back to the community is something I love doing and I think SNAP is a great way to do that.”
Parents who take their special needs kids to SNAP clinics also enjoy a little down time in the “Peace for Parents” room, which was devised by Strasser’s daughter, Kylee. “That particular program was created by my daughter,” says Strasser, “and she created it probably because of me. She realizes that parents like me get very little down time, and she wanted these parents that were bringing their kids to have a more quality down time. Instead of sitting on the gym floor watching their kids play sports, she wanted to give them comfortable seating in their own space and soft music and snacks – let them really relax during this very short period of time during the week.”
For now, SNAP has gone virtual, which Strasser says often excludes the severely handicapped. “It’s not the same with the ZOOM sessions,” says Strasser. “Playing bingo and charades on a screen is really for the more able children; those are the ones signing up.” She is attempting to develop a way to do ZOOM session that could include physical activity for the kids that are looking for that.
“I love this program,” says Strasser. “I love what it’s doing for our community. Just to have the community rallying for SNAP and talking about it is all I could really ask for.”