Palisades High School and the Palisades-Malibu YMCA’s Center for Social Responsibility (Y-CSR) have banded together in an effort to develop ethical leaders of exemplary character.
Junior Caity Buerge went well beyond the required 40 hours when she volunteered for the summer camp, “Fitness with Friends.” Designed for teenagers and young people with varying degrees of autism, Buerge worked with campers to build their confidence through swimming lessons, soccer, volleyball and more.
“Spending several days a week for over a month with these awesome kids not only made me more aware of the struggles faced by kids with autism, but it also taught me a lot about myself,” Buerge said. “I have always been curious about working with people with special needs and I was able to develop relationships with each and every one of these kids. They amazed me every day.”
As the only teen on the YMCA Board, Buerge had been working with executive director Carol Pfannkuche to develop workout classes for teens in the Palisades. A soccer enthusiast, Buerge combined her passion for sports with an interest in caring for those with special needs, like her uncle who has Down Syndrome.
“Being around my uncle has made me interested in special needs, and I was so passionate about the work I was doing. There was not one day I didn’t want to be there. I really developed relationships and learned what makes them unique,” she said.
Working with young people who were going through so much at such a young age motivated Buerge to seek out additional ways to reach out to this unique demographic. She wanted to further enrich the lives of those who had so greatly impacted her own life.
“I never expected how much this would change my life,” she said.
Buerege’s summer experience has inspired her to look into other programs designed to help autistic teens and even has a few ideas for a program of her own.
“It’s just an idea for now, but I want to start an organization in the future that provides consistent interaction between autistic teens and mainstream students their age. Kids with autism often feel so rejected and insecure, I think regular interaction would help them to feel more comfortable and accepted in society and to feel better about themselves,” Buerge said.
In the meantime, Buerge has continued to volunteer her weekends to work with the autistic teens from the summer program through an extension called “Feed Your Friends.”
“After this experience, I can now confidently say I’m going to pursue a career to help those with special needs,” she said. “This summer really opened my eyes to the real world and the struggles faced every day by autistic people and their families. It was life changing, and I will always remember this amazing experience. We’re all busy, but when you’re young and have the time, you can make a difference by helping your community. It is really important.”
Visit www.feedyourfriends.org for more information.
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