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Young tennis player Bryson brings ACEing Autism Programme to VI

Young tennis player Justine Bryson is the brainchild behind bringing the ACEing Autism tennis programme to the Virgin Islands. Photo: Provided
The BVI Autism Centre is located at the Rainbow Children's Home in Lower Estate. Photo: VINO/File
The BVI Autism Centre is located at the Rainbow Children's Home in Lower Estate. Photo: VINO/File
ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI – On Saturday May 14, 2016 Ms Justine Bryson, together with her mentor and tennis coach Ms Katerina Stecova, will officially launch ACEing Autism tennis programme at the Tortola Sports Club for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The programme is free of charge for children with ASD, and the first session of classes will go on for six weeks. There will also be sessions every Saturday from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM at the Tortola Sports Club.

Mr Amine Elouazzani, Director of Tennis at the Tortola Sports Club, explained that “ACEing Autism is a non-profit organisation founded in 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts, by Mr Richard Spurling, a former professional tennis player and a recipient of 2013 Humanitarian of the Year Award by United States Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR), and his wife Dr Shafali Jeste, a lead research scientist and investigator at UCLA Center of Autism Research and Treatment.

“With over 40 locations around America, ACEing Autism has successfully introduced over 750 children with ASDs into tennis (since September 2015) and has delivered nearly 5,000 hours of tennis coaching to these children, including creating 11,000 hours of community service for volunteers from local communities, high schools and universities. In 2014, ACEing Autism received the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) Adaptive Community Service Award.”

Mr Elouazzani added: “We are very excited to collaborate with ACEing Autism and be able to offer this professional programme at Tortola Sports Club. We are also very honoured to be the first international location for ACEing Autism. Justine (Bryson), No. 1 junior girl tennis player in the BVI and a student at Cedar International School together with her tennis coach, Katerina (Stecova), were the driving force in bringing ACEing Autism to BVI.”

Initiative part of school project

According to Ms Bryson, “As part of Cedar School’s curriculum in our Individual Project class, we were given an assignment to choose a meaningful topic, research it, and execute it. Since tennis is a big part of my life, I wanted to do something tennis related, which would mainly benefit children. I learned about ACEing Autism from my coach, Katerina, and my dad, and after I researched what the organisation has done in the US, I became very interested in this project.

“I read a lot and watched videos about Autism Spectrum Disorder in children, and was determined to help set up ACEing Autism program in the BVI. We ran a pilot class a couple of months ago and received positive responses and requests to make this a long-term programme. Working on this project was one of the most life-changing experiences for me and we wouldn’t be able to get this done without the support of Ms Lorna Dawson, Director of Autism Center in the BVI, and the Rotary Club of Tortola,” Bryson said.

According to Ms Stecova, “Working with Justine on bringing ACEing Autism to the BVI was such a pleasure. She is not only a great student, very good tennis player, but she is also amazing with children. For the past two and half years, she has been a wonderful mentor on and off the court for the youngest players in the Tortola Sports Club tennis programmes, and I am very proud of her for all the effort she has put into bringing ACEing Autism to the BVI. We hope that we can grow this program, help children with ASD connect through tennis, as well as raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder in the territory.”

BVI Autism Center looking forward to programme’s expansion

Ms Lorna Dawson, Director of BVI Autism Center, is very excited about this programme: “At the Autism Center, we constantly try to offer a variety of activities for the children and we welcome the opportunity to have the children participate in the ACEing Autism program, especially since the two previous opportunities for them to play tennis have received many positive responses.

“Ms Stecova and Mr Elouazzani actually organized tennis for our children two years ago during Easter Break and the children had lots of fun. In February 2016, Ms Bryson and Ms Stecova organised a pilot tennis class for our children and once again it received a very positive feedback. I was so happy to hear from Ms Bryson that they received the support to officially start the ACEing Autism programme and I look forward to the expansion of the programme and the positive impact it will have on the lives of our children.”

Mr Julien N. Johnson, President of the Rotary Club of Tortola, said they feel honored to support this unique programme.

“We were very impressed with the vision Ms Bryson and Ms Stecova have in regards to ACEing Autism in the BVI. We are a humanitarian organisation and are proud to be part of this initiative and to be associated with ACEing Austism, which has done tremendous work in raising awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder and is providing a fantastic platform for children with ASD to have fun, learn tennis, and improve their social and motor skills. We are looking forward to seeing the program grow.”

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