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2015 Recipient

Marissa Hacker

Voorhees, NJ | 18

2015 Award Recipient

Marissa Hacker used to struggle with the social isolation her autistic brother had to face every day. She wanted him to experience a fun, welcoming, inclusive social environment, so she created Fantastic Friends, an organization for special needs kids that is staffed and managed by neurotypical teen volunteers. In an atmosphere of unconditional love, support, and guidance, both special needs kids and peer volunteers learn how to interact with one another in warm, supportive ways. As a result, Fantastic Friends has fostered lasting connections between special needs and typically developing youth and created an environment where special needs youth and their families feel confident and accepted. To date, Fantastic Friends has raised $30,000 to support activities engaging 500 participants, volunteers, siblings, and parents, making it one of the top 100 special needs social groups in the United States. Marissa is now working to develop Fantastic Friends chapters across the United States to provide welcoming spaces for the growing number of teens with special needs.

Fantastic Friends

An organization to enable kids with special needs to build friendships with typically-developing peers. Fantastic Friends has also formed social and support groups for the family members of kids with special needs.