Meet Jake Walters, 17 year old volunteer from our Lexington, KY program. “I love how they interact with each other. I knew they had issues with socialization so it warmed my heart to see that,” the varsity tennis captain said when reflecting on what he’s learned through his experience with ACEing Autism so far.
Jake, who hopes to go into psychiatry, felt that ACEing Autism was a perfect match of his two loves: tennis and learning about autism. “After I saw the flyer at my club, I signed up right away,” the Vice President of the Psychology Club told us. “I went in the first session a little scared and nervous because I wasn’t sure how it was going to go but it went great. I got to ask about their interests, they asked about mine and they loved tennis,” Jake said as he lit up while talking about the players.
When asked what most surprised him about autism, Jake immediately responded that “they are so unique in how autism shapes them. It’s so different for each child and they can each have their own thing.” In addition, the varsity player was surprised at how eager they were to learn the sport. “Almost everyone there loves playing tennis and it shows by the fact that almost all our kids who have started are still there and keep coming back.”
As he spent more time with the participants the past two years, Jake has loved seeing how much the kids were able to make new friends and socialize with each other. “Seeing the kids interact and invite each other to their birthday parties makes it so special.”
On top of volunteering for ACEing autism, Jake spent some of his time volunteering at the Eastern State Mental Hospital before COVID-19 through his Psychology Club. “We used to go and set up parties, talk to patients and hear their stories. We would also set up food and games for them and listen to their stories, it was amazing.”
As his love for ACEing Autism grew, Jake took on a bigger role this past session and coached several clinics. Both roles have brought joy and enjoyment in different ways. “As a volunteer it’s more one on one, which is really fun because you get to know them really well and you form a bond,” he said smiling. “As a coach, you get to interact with more kids which is great, for example I got to do a sword fight as we were picking up the balls,” he remembered while laughing.
“These kids are some of the sweetest kids and it totally breaks the stigma they can have around them due to their diagnosis.”
Thank you Jake for sharing your experience with us.