The students at New York Child Learning Institute in College Point were introduced to a new set of role models last Thursday afternoon: sports stars and a man with a giant plush baseball for a head.
The day was an extension of the Mets baseball team’s continued commitment to supporting New Yorkers living with autism and it brought a palpable energy to the school.
Featuring ace relief pitcher Pedro Feliciano, catcher Omir Santos, hitting coach and former third baseman Howard Johnson and the lovable mascot Mr. Met, the day was a rare opportunity for the students, who range from preschool age through their late teens, to meet and play with their heros.
Parents and teachers joined the students in a slate of activities designed to energize and enrich the students’ school lives. Many students created homemade greeting cards for the players, which they autographed and returned to them, and the playroom was a zoo of happy children, learning to bat from Johnson on a teeball-like apparatus, doing somersaults with Feliciano and Santos and taking photos with men they are used to only seeing on TV.
“They’re really important little people, these kids, and it’s great to have the Mets recognize that and meet with them,” Susan Vener, the institute’s director said. “A lot of the kids have made cards, a lot wore uniforms and a lot of the kids have been playing baseball and baseball video games and they’re so excited. It’s great to see this level of energy in this school.”
Sammy Antar, a 14-year-old institute student, had a huge smile plastered on his face when he found out the players would be joining them in the playroom.
“I get to play baseball downstairs with the Mets!” he yelled to his mother, Deborah Antar, before bounding down the stairs to meet his idols.
Deborah Antar had come in from Manhattan to experience her son’s joy at meeting the athletes and said she thought the event was a very positive experience for the children.
“Children with autism, while it’s harder and they’re up against a lot of things, clearly with this event they’re relating with the guys and having fun,” she said. “In that sense, they are typical kids for this moment. It’s wonderful to see the Mets support us and our school, and it’s so meaningful for the kids to have that support and to feel the friendship they have today.”
But the children, parents and teachers were not the only ones having fun. The Mets themselves said they loved being a part of the experience and Feliciano was so busy playing and joking with the children he could barely find a moment to speak about why the event was so meaningful to him.
“I think they are the future. We have to give them 100 percent of what we have. I love to see the kids happy, we love to see them smile,” he said. “As soon as they told us that we’d be coming to this school I said, ‘Yeah, I love it,’ and so that’s why I’m here. The Mets are going to be helping the kids here for years to come.”
The Mets will hold their eighth-annual Autism Awareness Day at Citi Field at 1:10 p.m. May 8, when autistic children will come out to watch them take on the San Francisco Giants.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn
©2010 Community News Group
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