Special Program Provides a Safe Space for Kids With ASD to Play

Raising two sons on the autism spectrum, I knew I wanted to support an organization that focused on helping a wide variety of people–both kids and parents–who are navigating a similar experience.

Special Program Provides a Safe Space for Kids With ASD to Play https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/special-program-provides-safe-space/

But when I started at my current role as senior director of digital partnerships at Deluxe five years ago, I never expected that my career would play a central role in allowing me to support that cause, while also directly impacting the development of my two sons and other children on the autism spectrum as well.

I grew up in Hawaii working at a small family business. When I moved to Utah, I chose to work at Deluxe because it has a history of supporting small businesses. As part of a team that meets with and helps small businesses grow, I get to see small business owners realize their potential. I also began volunteering at the Melissa Nellesen Center for Autism (MNC) in Draper, Utah, but my volunteering was limited to my time away from work.

That was until I was selected for Deluxe’s 100 Hours to Make a Difference program, which allows select employees to dedicate 100 hours of paid time off toward a cause that they’re passionate about. For me, supporting MNC was a perfect choice. It is in a unique position to make an impact locally and nationally for the autism community because:

1. It is part of a university; thus, the center has an inroad to shaping and changing education regarding autism. The center also supports individuals with autism in obtaining higher education and gainful employment.

2. It has a phenomenal leadership team with strong experience in the autism community and a track record for initiating change.

3. MNC supports grassroots ideas from the community, as evidenced by the sports camps my family and I started.

I have served on the parent advisory board at the center for a few years. However, my support has been limited due to work and personal demands. The Deluxe Cares 100 Hours to Make a Difference program gave me dedicated time to meet with the center on creating sports camps for children on the autism spectrum, employment initiatives, and other activities.

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There is no shortage of need or demand in our community for help and support. In the past week alone, my wife has received requests to do camps quarterly, offer different sports outside of soccer and basketball and have two groups from different states host a Moving Mountains Sports Camp.

There’s a need, but when you have families and small groups trying to meet these needs, especially when those groups usually have their own needs at home, progress can be hard to come by. The MNC can provide a platform to broadcast programs nationally, and Deluxe’s 100 Hours to Make a Difference program gave me time to focus on meeting some of these needs.

My wife and daughter are the driving forces behind the sports camps, which you can read more about here. My daughter approaches local businesses for donations, talks with coaches and soccer teams about volunteering at the camp, and runs the pre-camp trainings on logistics, schedules, etc.

My daughter’s soccer club, as well as her rival soccer club, are two of the main volunteer groups for the camp. My wife and her circle of friends do everything behind the scenes, which is another reason why having the dedicated time from Deluxe is such a blessing.

My boys can play in sports leagues but to be honest, it is a struggle for them to deal with some of the sensory overloads they experience. However, they LOVE sports, and camps like this give them a safe environment to start in a sport and grow to love it. So, it’s neat to do this together as a family.

As a parent, it’s hard enough to get a teenager girl, twin boys on the spectrum, and a toddler to be on the same page. But when the camp comes around each year, we get to work together. Whether we’re organizing 400 t-shirts in our living room or figuring out where to stash 200 soccer balls, it’s a ton of fun to see our family bond over making a positive impact through activities like this.

This article was featured in Issue 90 – Practical Ways to Build Skills for a Lifetime


    Ray Wunder

    Ray Wunder is a senior director of digital partnerships at Deluxe Corporation in Utah with a BS in Business Management and MBA in Finance. Ray grew up in Maui, Hawaii working at a small family business, where he then met his wife of 20 year years. The two now have four kids: 15-year-old Kylee, 11-year-old twins Jaron and Ethan and four-year-old Brynley. After moving to Utah, Ray started his career at Deluxe and began volunteering at the Melissa Nellesen Center for Autism (MNC). With two twin boys on the autism spectrum, Ray and his family find great fulfillment in giving their time to the center as well as volunteering at a local soccer camp for children with special needs called Moving Mountains Sports Programs. Kylee and Ray’s wife Jen are the driving force behind these camps and dedicate significant time approaching local businesses for donations, running the pre-camp trainings on logistics, managing schedules and more. Beyond work and volunteering, Ray and his family love trying new sports together and exploring musical hobbies such as piano.