To continue celebrating #BlackHistoryMonth, we are highlighting a few community members who have done so much to bridge the gap between Black and White children in the autism community.
We are excited to introduce Donald Widener who started the first ACEing Autism program in Virginia at the William & Mary University in Williamsburg. Donald has been serving his community and his country for decades while being in the Navy, and later as a coach for the NJTL program, volunteering for ACEing Autism, and in other capacities.
Even though he was a little apprehensive at the beginning, “I realized that I needed more training and information, so I set up an adaptive class,” Donald told us. It was an unknown territory for him, but Donald wanted to be prepared and give his best to his new students.
Donald knew that autism was a big part of the African American community and, having grown with a speech impairment, he wanted to help people and be a part of something bigger. Growing up with a few challenges due to being born prematurely, Donald always wanted to help his community and by offering an ACEing Autism program in his community, he has been able to reach kids on the spectrum who either had never played tennis or didn’t think they could. In addition to making tennis available to kids on the spectrum in the African American community, Donald reminded us that one essential thing is for them to believe and that if you think they can do something, they will.
“African American parents always come up with so much gratitude, and it’s so great to hear the parents say how their kids can do more things than they thought they could and also engage with each other,” Donald said. Having Donald as a leader on court has encouraged more African American families to join his program, around 60% of his participants are of African American descent.
On top of starting an ACEing Autism program, Donald helped bringing Serena Williams and James Blake, among other influential people, to the school he worked at: An Achievable Dream. “To see someone like them at the highest level, it inspires them and make them see what’s possible,” Donald explained.
He spent three weeks in Kenya coaching kids, which he considered to be “the chance of a lifetime.”
We thank Donald for his incredible dedication, and we look forward to continuing his work in reaching more African American children through our program.