Working with special needs children sparks education career for former BYSC volunteer

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Inspiring stories of growth, compassion, and success
from Backyard Sports Cares volunteer alumni

Sydney Farrell BYSC peer mentor volunteer

 

“I knew for a while after working with kids that I wanted to go into education, in general. After taking a special education class, the information and practices we learned felt like an extension of everything I had been doing with Backyard Sports. It was something I was already well versed in and felt passionate about.” 

BYSC volunteer alum, Sydney Farrell, was a Backyard Sports Cares peer mentor with our PLUS program for special needs athletes from 2012 to 2015. After graduating from Mamaroneck High School, Sydney continued her education at the University of Vermont, where she studied early childhood and special education. With a younger brother on the autism spectrum, Sydney came to us with an ingrained sensitivity and understanding of kids with special needs. This is her story.

LISTEN to our podcast interview with Sydney Farrell

BYSC: Tell us how you got connected with Backyard Sports Cares?

Sydney Farrell: My brother, who is now 19, was one of the first participants in Backyard Sports Cares program for special needs kids. Danny Bernstein is a close friend of my parents, and when the PLUS program was just getting started, my brother was one of the early participants. So, I would go and watch him sometimes and observe the set up and activities. When I was a freshman in high school, I started volunteering with the program at SUNY Purchase and it was great.

BYSC: Were you working with your brother, too?

Sydney Farrell: Yes, that was definitely part of it. They wanted to mix it up a little bit, so they would usually put other people with my brother and me with different kids, but it was cool to be able to be in the same place and do the same things.

BYSC: What did you encounter that you didn’t expect?

Sydney Farrell: The commitment that was expected was a bit of a surprise. The coaches really wanted to make sure that you were going to be a committed volunteer once you started, and it wasn’t just like, “Yeah, I’ll show up when I can.” It was like, “You have to come every week and you work with the same kids and you build relationships with these kids and they depend on you to show up week after week.” I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t really think about that before, but once we started doing it, I could see why that was so important. And you could see these kids were coming back, expecting the same people every weekend. It was a really nice growth opportunity for everyone.

BYSC: You were building a relationship with your mentee.

Sydney Ferrell: Yeah, exactly, and helping the relationship to grow. There were definitely some challenges that came along with that, like having to put in the time and commitment every week, but it was well worth it when you would saw the results.

BYSC: So you, Emily, and Paulina all attended Mamaroneck High School and volunteered at BYSC together. You all decided to take it to the next level by starting your own club to help out school kids in your district. Talk about that.

Sydney Farrell:  We loved going to the Purchase location every week and Mr. Minotti, our health teacher, and BYSC coach,  asked us what we thought about starting a program in the Mamaroneck community. And we were like, “That’s a great idea. There’s such a need for it and I think so many people would be into it.”

So, Mr. Minotti, Paulina, Emily, and I kind of formed the Mamaroneck Club together, and we started by holding interest meetings with people from the high school to see if this was something that could work. Are people interested in helping out, etc.?

It was fun because a lot of my friends from high school already knew about Backyard Sports. I would talk about it a lot, so they knew my interest and commitment to the program. I was creating an opportunity for people to really see more of what it was about. We got a lot of people who were interested, and once we were in communication with schools, parents, and Paulina’s mom, who was very involved in the Special Ed PTA, we were able to connect with those parents to see if their kids would be interested, and it started to take off. It was wonderful.

BYSC: So you’ve graduated from the University of Vermont. What did you study?

Sydney Farrell: I studied early childhood education and special education.

BYSC: Do you think your experience with Backyard Sports Cares and having a brother with special needs influenced your career choice?

Sydney Farrell: Yeah, definitely. I wrote my college essay about my experience with Backyard Sports. I knew for a while after working with kids that I wanted to go into education, in general. After taking a special education class, the information and practices we learned felt like an extension of everything I had been doing with Backyard Sports. It was something I was already well versed in and felt passionate about.

BYSC: That’s wonderful. So are you about to embark on your career?

Sydney Farrell: Yes. Over the summer, I worked at Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and Vermont. It’s a camp for kids who need a little bit more help making social connections and friendships, and a lot of the campers were on the autism spectrum. It was a wonderful program to be a part of, and it was definitely a continuation of a lot of what I’ve been doing, which is nice.

BYSC: We are so happy to hear your story and to know that you’re doing so well and that you’re continuing to help others, which is really powerful. We want to keep in touch with you, so let us know how things go, and we’d love to have you back once you get your teaching career going.

Sydney Farrell: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it and I love staying connected to Backyard Sports however I can. It was such a big, important part of my life and it still is.

Click here to listen to our other Alumni success stories.

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