Meet Bebel Yen, a 17 year old volunteer at our Mountain View, CA program. “My first experience with autism was mainly through social media. Autism is always shown on tv as a disability and that all people with the disability are the same. But within seconds the kids walked in, I realized I was completely wrong,”the senior at Homestead High School joked.
Bebel, who plays tennis with Program Director Melody Ghaffari, remembers how nervous she was during her first clinic. “My first 10mn minutes, I was so nervous but the parent of the child I was paired with was so sweet and understanding, she wasn’t judgy,” she laughed. “She helped me by saying he loved music to help communicate with him and within 5 minutes after I asked him what his favorite song was, we were friends.”
The varsity tennis player recalls she was nervous because she didn’t want to mess up. She didn’t know much about autism but thanks to her Program Directors guiding them before the clinic with what to do and what not to do, she felt a lot more comfortable. “You realize quickly that every volunteer had to adapt their way of teaching, so my way of teaching was totally different than another volunteer,” the former team captain said. “I also remember when an evaluator came and told us that some of the terminology we were using was outdated; I was shocked,” the former MVP said grateful. “I was very happy that he told us all this because I didn’t want to use the wrong term and prolong the stigma around autism; I was glad he educated us.”
Bebel, who told us that this experience has taught her to trust her instinct, has been involved in volunteering for several years. She worked with East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring (EPATT) as a tennis coach and created INARA with a friend. That organization, which works with the school district, helps incoming freshmen be paired with HS juniors and seniors so they can meet every couple of weeks over the summer. “My brother came in during the pandemic and he wasn’t sure what to do and I recognized the fears,” she said as to why she started it.
As she continues to learn more about herself and the autism community, Bebel has enjoyed seeing her player improve tennistically and socially. “I could see my player coming out of his shell every week. At first he stood by his mom and by the 3rd or 4th week, he was coming with his friend and asking me questions,” she said smiling. “At the end of last session, he asked me if I was coming to the next session and when I said yes, he asked if I could be his coach,” she stated as a proud coach. “And he also asked to lead the last cheer of the session so it was super cool to see his improvements.”
We want to thank Bebel for sharing her story and her dedication to our players!