Marissa Hacker, 17
Having a twin brother on the spectrum, Marissa saw the social struggles that her brother faced on a daily basis. Before going into her sophomore year in High School, she started a non- profit organization, Fantastic Friends,for tweens and teens with special needs to socialize with neuro-typical peers. Every month Marissa plans a social function for members to learn social and teamwork skills, while having a fun time! Marissa has spoken at Chestnut Hill College and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia about her organization and the importance of social programming. Marissa is determined that her NJFRIEND Campaign will help people with and without special needs network and eliminate the societal labels that are put on kids with a disability. Marissa plans on being involved with special needs in her professional career, hoping to be at the front of an organization that will be a leader in providing services to people with special needs.
“As Youth Ambassador of New Jersey, I am dedicated to connecting people in New Jersey with special needs to social programs that integrate neuro-typical (NT) peers. As part of NJFRIEND, I want to inspire NT teens to become active in existing social programs for their special peers. Through my organization, Fantastic Friends, I will show other social programs how to emulate the similar concept of integrating NT teens into social programs. Fantastic Friends will be used as a social program model in our NJFRIEND campaign. I am excited to schedule speaking engagements at schools to help kids become more aware of the social gap that society puts on the special needs community. I want my speaking engagements to also teach NT kids how to include their special peers in social activities inside and outside of school.
I will work efficiently with social programs that integrate NT peers, to ensure that many teens with special needs can develop new friendships and skills. After I visit resources, I will post information about the resource on this website and on other social media sites.
I also will be attending the Autism New Jersey Conference in October to further my exploration of social resources and to network.
Finally, I am opening the Fantastic Friends prom to the public, so we can promote new friendships. Before the prom in June, I am planning an event to take place in May, so everyone can get to know each other before the big prom day. Information on these events will be coming out soon. I will also conduct a volunteer orientation on Global Youth Service Day in April. For these events to be successful, I will utilize social media, and different TV and radio media stations. I am confident that NJFRIEND is going to be successful and I am looking forward to all of the wonderful opportunities I have to make a difference this year!”