Meet Kathy Connelly, our Program Director from Buffalo, NY. In just a few short months, the cheerful leader has already made her mark within ACEing Autism. “It’s almost like a calling,” she revealed. “The Village Glen Tennis Club has been so supportive, we have the time and talent, so it was meant to be.”
After launching her program on February 25, 2023, Kathy hosted an open house on March 18, and followed it up with two full sessions. “We had 23 kids during our June session, and we have around 100 volunteers registered already,” she laughed, almost in disbelief. “The openness of the Buffalo community has been so powerful to me.”
When asked what stood out to her since starting the program, Kathy expressed her gratitude toward the volunteers. “Their creativity on court to connect with the athletes, their ownership of their roles as coaches, and their commitment is amazing. The volunteers play a key role in making our program and ACEing Autism so special and remarkable.”
Through her dedication and hard work, Kathy has already integrated her program within her club. “Through the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and working at the club, I know a lot of juniors, so it made it easier to recruit volunteers. It was amazing to see how easily it was integrated into the Village Glen Tennis Club; we’re part of the routine just like the Tennis for Life and Academy programs for example.”
Her familiarity with autism was a bonus – her sister Marni has autism – but to make it so successful that quickly, Kathy went above and beyond to make the community aware of this opportunity. “I’ve applied and been awarded two grants from USTA Eastern: the Growing Tennis Together Grant and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion grant. I also attended the Festival of Inclusion in Rochester and the Buffalo Autism Project Resource Fair,” she explained. But all her efforts paid off! The number of participants and volunteers she recruited was impressive, but how quickly her program was embraced was equally as impressive. “Being an instructor at the Village Glen Tennis Club, I thought we should do this, and it turned out that a lot of people in the community agreed,” she laughed. “The number of people who said, ‘I want to do that’ was amazing.”
To show how important ACEing Autism has become in her community, Kathy recalled a telling story. “A parent let me know that their child couldn’t do the June session, but later I saw that the child was signed up. When I asked, the mother told me that her son self-advocated so she changed their plans so he could come,” Kathy told us while smiling ear to ear. As we continued to talk about the success she has seen in her program, whether it was kids socializing more, gaining motor skills, or simply enjoying themselves, one thing kept coming up to her when she thought about ACEing Autism. “It is so rewarding, and I do feel like a proud mama. Just seeing the children laugh, it’s magic!”
Thank you, Kathy, for everything you’ve done for ACEing Autism and for your community! We can’t wait to see what the next session holds.