Friday May 8, 2020

"Athletes for Kids-It’s not about Sports!"

Marni Kurtz / Nick Riley

Executive Director / Mentorship Coordinator Athletes for Kids

Introduced by: Sheldon Sweeney

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Today’s speakers from Athletes for Kids (AKF) were Executive Director Marni Kurtz and Volunteer Coordinator Nick Riley. The organization was founded 17 years ago and was started to mentor kids who have a recognized disability, ability to relate or special need. The special needs include loss of parent, difficult divorce or incarcerated parent, while the largest group of kids with challenges are autistic but can also include anxiety, depression or PTSD.

This organization is built on the concepts of friendship and creating a positive impact on the lives of both the volunteers and children being helped. Both parties benefit in the ir development for the future. For assistance, children from first thru 12th grade are considered,

Volunteers are athletes who are sophomores or juniors at local high schools who are willing to commit 6 to 8 hours a month to mentor one of these kids. AKF looks for volunteers with a true desire to help, not just someone looking for service hours as they can ultimately become the only friend the child they are helping has. Once they volunteer, they are assigned to a child within a 10-mile radius of their home.

There are 12 chapters on the Eastside (a chapter supports one school) with 3 in the Bellevue School District – Newport, Bellevue and Interlake.  These relationships positively influence the lives of both the mentor (volunteer) and the child in need. For the latter, it builds confidence, self-esteem, friendship and an enhanced attitude about school. For the former, they learn to mentor, appreciate helping others and be a more valued member of their community.

One of the volunteers for this program, Kristen Ishizuka from Bellevue High, shared her experience with her buddy Maya who is in middle school. Her comments – “You never know what you are going to get. It takes time to make the connection. The first time I knew I was really making a difference is when we went to the dog park and afterwards had frozen yogurts. Maya asked if we could do that again the next time we got together. That was the first time I knew we had established the connection.”

Another volunteer from the past was Simi Reynolds of Skyline High School, now a baseball player at Washington State University. Simi spent time with a boy who did not want to go to school. He was able to change his perspective and attitude about the value of school.

Nick Riley was also a volunteer while in high school and now is the Lacrosse coach at Newport High School. He continues to be involved with the Athletes for Kids program, serving as their Volunteer Coordinator.

About the Speaker

Marni Kurtz has been involved with the Athletes for Kids (SFK) program for 5 years. She brings a background in education and a passion for supporting children with special needs. In her free time Marni likes to exercise, read and travel with her family.
Nick Riley is a former mentor at Skyline High School and a current head Varsity Lacrosse coach for Newport High School. He has been with the AFK program for two years and prides himself on the relationships he creates with all of the mentors.