The Durham, NC program was started 5 years ago by Alexander Brandt who was part of the Men’s Durham AcademyTennis team. “He wanted to give back to the community and ACEing Autism has been part of the community ever since,” Gavin Levinson, current Program Director said.
Both Chloe Bayer and Gavin are senior members of the boys’ and girls’ varsity tennis teams at Durham Academy andhave volunteered for ACEing Autism since their freshman year. The third Program Director, Allison Preble is a junior and will continue directing the program next year. “We found this program really rewarding and wanted to expand it to all members of our community. So, this year, we started a club to raise awareness beyond the two tennis teams,” Allison explained.
Gavin goes on to say that “at the beginning of the session the athletes are often shy and don’t come out of their shell but by the end they laugh, give us big high fives, and ask us questions.”
But these past couple of years, Gavin, Allison, and Chloe have had an even deeper connection to ACEing Autism. “Jack Linger, one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met, volunteered since his freshman year but in August 2019, as he was going to be a PD, he unexpectedly passed away,” Gavin remembers. “He was selfless, he truly loved this program, and he was ready to make it even bigger and better,” Allison said fondly.
Gavin and Allison recall his amazing bike trip he took that summer 2019. “He started in Washington state and wentthrough 11 states to make the trek to Maine,” as written on wral.com. “He was about to vote, and he wanted to learn about cultures, different types of people, and mostly, he wanted to make an informed decision,” Gavin explained. He continues on saying, “he interviewed people along the road to understand the important issues Americans cared about.”
Allison noted that his parents made water bottles in his honor. Moreover, to honor his memory and sense of adventure,they founded the Jack Linger Explorer Grants, so current or rising high schoolers who wish to pursue unique, enriching, out-of-the-box learning experiences can get funding for their independent study projects. “Their goal was for other students to be able to do something as amazing as Jack did,” Gavin told us.
Jack’s sister, Alison Linger, now volunteers as well to teach participants tennis skills, motor skills and more. The Durham program has seven participants currently but they are hoping to raise awareness and grow the program. Something unique Durham is doing is accepting participants with different developmental disabilities. “A participant didn’t qualify but we still took that person in and the parents thanked us because it brought the siblings closer together,” Allison said joyfully.