UNION, NJ – About 20 Union High School students participated in a Teen Peer Mentor Training program sponsored by the Union Recreation Department this week.

The Union Recreation Program partnered with “TryCan”, a non-profit charitable organization that collaborates with communities to offer an array of recreation programs for youth with special needs.

Eileen O’Neill, behaviorist, led the training session to those high schoolers interested in becoming a Teen Peer Mentor for youth with special needs or those who simply wanted to learn more about youth with special needs in the community.

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“These students are really interested in learning more about helping those with special needs,” said O’Neill.  “The time counts towards community service hours and the mentoring looks good on a college application, but many students here really just want to learn how to better deal with and help those with special needs.”

“I think it’s good to give back to the community,” said 11th grader Mardell Jean-Pierre.  “I’ve already fulfilled my community service hours, but I’d like to go into the health care field, so I thought this would be a great program for me.”

Ashley Glover, also in 11th grade, said she wants to become a genetic counselor.  “I feel this is a first step in learning how to gain patience and understanding towards special needs people.”

The students learned how various development disabilities such as autism, ADHD, visual and hearing impairments or other conditions impact how children play and learn.  Beyond learning how and why these children see their world differently, student mentors learned how to interact and work with them and learned techniques to help these children have enjoyable sports and other recreation experiences.

A Certificate of Completion was awarded to the student mentors. The training also enables students to work as a Peer Mentor volunteer in some special needs programs.