BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Arthur (Art) Raynes of Basking Ridge has been selected as a winner of a 2017 Disability Advocates Award presented by the Somerset County Office on Aging and Disability Services.
The awards acknowledge individuals, organizations and/or businesses that work to ensure that people with disabilities in Somerset County are included fully in the life of the community.
Raynes was selected in the individual category.
The Watchung Hills Pop Warner flag football Challenger Division of Warren was selected in the organization category. The three-year-old flag football team is open to all county youth with disabilities, ages 5 to 15. It has grown from eight participants during the first year to more than 28 this year.
Raynes is the founder and motivating spirit of the Saturdays in Motion program, which is held at the Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge. The program is the longest running (25-plus years), non-public, free program for children on the autism spectrum in the country. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, Raynes saw a need for fun and engaging activities that would include the entire family.
The initial audience for the program was children on the autism spectrum, but over the years it has grown to include children of varying needs and developmental disabilities. A unique feature of the program is that not only does it include the child with the disability but also their siblings, who often may participate or volunteer. The program provides caregivers with respite time while their child enjoys unstructured playtime in a safe environment.
Two Saturdays a month families spend an hour playing in the YMCA gym and an hour in the pool. When each child enters the gym, Raynes matches each volunteer with the child. With his guidance, volunteers learn about working with children with disabilities, leadership skills and responsibility.
In addition to organizing the program and training volunteers, Raynes has reached out to local government, celebrities and other resources in the community. For example, members of the Rutgers University football team have come for a number of years to meet and participate in activities with the program’s participants, families and volunteers.
Other YMCAs around the country have reached out to Raynes for advice on starting their own Saturdays in Motion program. Families that nominated him for the award said the success is due to Raynes’ dedication, clear expectations for the volunteers and personal knowledge of the hundreds of participants and volunteers by name.