July: Zachary Certner
As a young boy, Zachary Certner was deeply affected by the hardships of a close family friend who was diagnosed with autism. He decided, along with his older brother, to organize sports clinics in his hometown of Morristown, N.J., to help autistic children and other kids with special needs feel like part of a team and learn fundamental athletic and social skills. He found that the clinics empowered the children, who are often ostracized from recreational leagues, and enriched the lives of everyone in their support system, including their parents, siblings and mentors.
After recognizing the need for an expanded program, based on the positive affect it was having on its participants, Certner and his brother created SNAP, Inc. (Special Needs Athletic Programs), a non-profit organization designed to continue and broaden the mission of the sports clinics. The program conducts free or low-cost programs five days a week for over 150 families with special needs children, introducing these kids to basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming, music and art.
Certner's most recent program endeavor was to implement a special needs education and anti-bullying initiative, called Empathy Training, which he has shared with over 3,000 students throughout New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida. By integrating props such as blindfolds, glasses, and balance balls, the program helps kids experience what it's like for their peers with disabilities to accomplish day-to-day tasks. He has also trained local police, fire and emergency responders on how to handle situations involving individuals with special needs.
As president of the foundation for the past seven years, Certner helped SNAP, Inc. raise more than $150,000 and trained nearly 3,500 middle and high school students as volunteer mentors. Certner is also trying to tackle this issue abroad and has started SNAP affiliate programs in Guatemala, Tanzania and China.
Certner is a senior at Morristown High School and will be attending Duke University in the fall.
Check out our exclusive interview with Zachary here!