My name is Meera Varma, and I am an upcoming junior at Burbank High School in Burbank, California. I heard about ACEing Autism through my school’s Key Club. Key Club is a world-wide service organization led by students whose goal is to encourage leadership through helping others in the community. I have been involved in Key Club since my freshman year in high school. I am currently an officer that holds the position of Bulletin Editor. My job as Bulletin Editor is to write and publish articles about what the Burbank High School Key Club accomplishes each month. When I was a freshman and first heard about ACEing Autism through Key Club, I was rather reluctant to play tennis with kids because I had absolutely no experience playing tennis in all of my life. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to teach kids how to play tennis because I had no prior knowledge of the sport. However, when I attended my first ACEing Autism session in 2014, I immediately fell in love with the program and the sport.

For the past two years, I have had the chance to see so many kids with autism become exposed to real life. ACEing Autism provides a safe environment where these kids can feel comfortable and be their true self. As soon as the children pick up their racket and step foot on the tennis court, they are part of a controlled, safe, nurturing, and protective social setting. As these children grew and matured over the years, I got to witness their transformations and behaviors with one another. I saw drastic changes in their attitude, social etiquette, and athleticism. For example, one of my buddies named Timmy used to punch and hit me because he did not want to play tennis. He always ran around the tennis court, rebelling my every command. With lots of patience and support, now, he can rally with me over the net, and can control his physical behaviors. Another example is with my current buddy, Judah. When he first started, he couldn’t hold his racket properly. I would have to hold it with him to ensure he has the right form, and have him depend on my strength for the ball to go over the net. Now, he is fully capable of holding his racket independently, and he can hit a ball over the net. I am so proud of how far Timmy and Judah have come over the years. They are so confident about tennis, and I can see their true love and passion for it.

Being a volunteer for ACEing Autism for two years made an impact on me. These wonderful, inspiring children, as young as five or six, have taught me that nothing can stand in the way of one’s success in life. These kids have autism, but they do not let such a disorder define them. The children use their uniqueness to shape them into a person of good character, confidence, and passion. I discovered that these kids’ love for tennis and their buddy leader is unconditional. My heart feels uplifted when my little buddy, Judah hugs me for five minutes to express his pure love. I am eternally and beyond grateful that I have had such an amazing opportunity to make an impact on these kids’ lives. I am so proud of how much my buddies have grown and matured over the course of two years. I cannot wait to see their continued success throughout my future years as a volunteer.

ACEing Autism has not only impacted me, it has also transformed the lives of the children’s parents. Being a parent is hard as it is, but raising a child with autism more far more difficult. These hard-working, loving parents do not get enough credit for all that they do. Every time I volunteer, I look up at the seats filled with parents and cannot help but to notice how truly proud and ecstatic they are of their child’s progress. The parents feel rewarded when they witness how much their child has grown. All of their hard work and sleepless nights truly get paid off by watching their child playing tennis. I can’t imagine how empowered and hopeful they feel when they witness their child embracing a joyful, memorable, and positive experience by participating in an activity outside their comfort zone.

I am so thankful that I was given such an amazing opportunity in my freshman year in high school. I cannot imagine my life without volunteering with such an empowering organization filled with happiness, passion, and love. Helping children battle autism by playing a sport they love makes me so proud to say that I am an ACEing Autism volunteer. I love tennis and my ACEing Autism family!