Greater Somerset County YMCA Celebrates the Success of Its Saturdays in Motion Program at First In-person Holiday Party Since 2019

Submitted by the Greater Somerset YMCA.

Greater Somerset County YMCA (GSCYMCA) held its first in-person Saturdays in Motion (SIM) Holiday Party since 2019 for special needs children and their families on December 10, 2022. During the pandemic, the SIM regular programming and special events were virtual through an off-shoot program called SIM Connect. A virtual holiday party during that period even featured video season’s greetings from Senator Cory Booker. This past year, the SIM program began meeting again in-person. The Saturdays in Motion program at Somerset Hills YMCA, a branch of GSCYMCA, is the nation’s longest running non-public recreational program for children with autism and their families. In the program, teen volunteers work in the Y’s gym and pool with children who have autism and other special needs and their siblings. 

“The Saturdays in Motion program has been a pillar of our special needs programming for many years. We are so proud of our SIMs program and our staff and volunteers who dedicate themselves to serving and strengthening our community. Today, we couldn’t be happier to see all those smiling faces enjoying a variety of activities designed just for them for the holidays,” said David M. Carcieri, President and CEO, GSCYMCA. 

The holiday party was held at Somerset Hills YMCA, where volunteers met early to assemble more than 80 gift bags for attendees. Activity stations were operated by volunteer “santas and elves” who later ushered them together for parachute playtime. Like their usual SIM sessions, the holiday party included an hour of playtime and an hour of pool time. “Santa” stations were optional for children who wanted to experience the holiday addition; everyone could participate in their usual SIM activities. Organizers wanted to make the festivities accessible, to not overwhelm the children, but still provide them with ample opportunities for added joy.  

During the holiday party, program organizers celebrated well-attended SIM sessions. Some highlights include: 

  • November 5: 50 families attended along with many volunteers, including members of the Rutgers Cross Country and Golf Teams. 
  • October 29: 50 families attended along with many volunteers, including members of the Rutgers Rowing Team. 
  • October 1: This was the second session of the year. More than 80 families and an additional 100 volunteers were in attendance. Members of the Rutgers Women’s Swimming and Diving Teams, and the Women’s Softball Team volunteered. 
  • September 17: This session was the first of SIM’s 31st year. Members of the Rutgers Men’s Basketball, Women’s Lacrosse, and Women’s Tennis Teams volunteered. More than 50 families were in attendance.  

“We are so pleased to once again be able to provide this program to so many families. The strength of our volunteers is what helps to make this program the success that it is year after year. Art Raynes’s commitment and dedication to this program is beyond compare,” said Kendra de Zutter, Associate Program Director of Somerset Hills YMCA. 

GSCYMCA and the SIM program are especially thankful for the commitment of Rutgers volunteers throughout the years. Prior to the pandemic, they held one “Rutgers Day” each year with student athlete volunteers. Today, their support has expanded to include presence at every SIM session since the program resumed in-person sessions at Somerset Hills YMCA in February of 2022. The SIM program thanks all of its volunteers and community support for families. The holiday party was a celebration for everyone involved and a much needed reprieve for families during the busy season. 

Visiting Volunteers: 

  • Rutgers Baseball  
  • Somerville Wrestling Team 
  • Delbarton Swim Team 
  • Watchung Hills Acapella Chorus caroling
    • Volunteer and SHY Board Junior Advocate: Jenna Langer 
  • String Instrumentals
    • Volunteer: Matilda Han 
  • Santa: Steve McKenna
    • Basking Ridge resident with more than 20 years SIM involvement; father of two former volunteers, Own and Caroline, and a SIM participant, Patrick. Owen and Caroline served as carolers this year. 

Art Raynes, founder of Saturdays in Motion, and Somerset Hills YMCA branch board member, concluded the holiday festivities by saying that, “It is heartening to see the connections and relationships that have formed between our teenage volunteers and the children in the program. It is really a credit to the volunteers of our community, and we are so happy to celebrate the holidays with this expanded family today.” 

For more information about Saturdays in Motion, please visit gscymca.org

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