Giving Back

Unique Video Program Brings Students Together

Thomas Snyder of Summit works on a film in the video program at The Children’s Institute.
Filmmaker Chris Helmer of Summit.

SUMMIT, NJ - A special video program is bringing together teens with special needs and neurotypical kids as they learn to make films together at The Children’s Institute (TCI).

The new program was created by TCI Film School Productions Director David DiIanni who works with students on their film projects. DiIanni said the new program benefits the special needs students because they make new friends and learn to make films.  The typical peer mentors from Summit’s TryCAN program also learn to make films, and gain valuable experience working with the special needs teens.

“Peer mentoring gives students on the spectrum the opportunity to be exposed to more typical social interactions and model those behaviors,” DiIanni said. “Our students also benefit from the socialization with peers who are accepting of them and who sometimes become life-long friends.”

The Summit TryCAN program, offered through Summit Community Programs, offers affordable classes for youths with special needs as well as a peer mentor program which trains students to work with their peers with special needs.

Chris Helmer, an eighth grader at Summit Middle School, said he is learning how to better operate film equipment, make new friends, and help them express themselves.  “I also get to help other students get their ideas out and do what they want to do.”

Matt Waltzinger, a sophomore at Summit High School, said he likes being a mentor to other students.  “They have good ideas, but it is hard for them when they get out of their comfort zone.” 

On a recent Saturday afternoon, students worked together on film projects, first filming scenes and then editing them later as they created films for their assignments.

Colleen Kovar, a junior at Summit High School, enjoys helping out with the program.  “You see different levels of autism and special needs students,” she said. “I also like the film editing and all of the skills that I get to do here.’

This program was so successful that DiIanni said he hopes to offer it again in August or next fall through the TCI Film School.  For more information, contact DiIanni at, or visit

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