Morristown High School senior Kylee Strasser is an award-winning filmmaker.
But she doesn’t spend all her spare time behind a camera.
Strasser was honored this month with a gold medallion from the White House for helping autistic children. The Presidential Service Award recognized her for volunteering more than 250 hours as a mentor in the Special Needs Athletic Program.
Created a dozen years ago by brothers Matt and Zach Certner as high schoolers, SNAP enables special needs kids to enjoy the camaraderie of sports.
The Certners’ mom, Sandy Certner, presented the award to Strasser as 12 participants and 20 mentors applauded at last week’s SNAP session at the Sussex Avenue School.
“You are the heart of this program,” Certner told the teen.
Strasser began mentoring at age 10, inspired by the enjoyment SNAP gave her older brother, who has severe autism.
She has overseen soccer, basketball, yoga and jazz movement classes, rising to become SNAP’s director.
While participants have learned sports, the emphasis is on having fun and making friends.
“You have to be open-minded and understanding and have the most pure, kind intentions” to mentor this population, Strasser said. The rewards can be great. “You could find a new best friend there without knowing it.”
For her, that best friend is Matthew Wilkenson. She has mentored him since she was 11.
“I was just at his 19th birthday party. He’s one of my very favorite people. He will make you laugh and smile. He just makes my day better every day I’m around him.”
Early on, Strasser appreciated how SNAP was driven by young people, for young people. But her stewardship extends to adults, too. Her “Peace for Parents” program, launched last year, provides a relaxing space for parents to unwind while their kids play sports with their mentors.
There have been yoga sessions, meditation lessons and therapist tips on stress reduction, along with soft music, so parents can recharge their batteries.
How Strasser finds time to relax is a mystery.
A National Honor Society member, she tutors classmates in English and history. With the Peer Group Connection program, she helps freshmen adjust to Morristown High.
Strasser also belongs to the school’s Melanin Minds social activism club, and the Colonial Corner broadcasting team. She wants to study communications at Syracuse University next year.
Back in June, she won the sixth annual Morristown High School Film Festival with a clever mini-fantasy, Click. With the click of a computer button, her kid sister Kaycee (also a SNAP volunteer) cut Kylee down to size–approximately two inches tall.
Does Strasser prefer film-making or volunteer work?
“It varies from day to day,” she said. “Some days, I don’t really like film. Some days, volunteering can be difficult.”
Both require passion, she said, and creativity–whether it’s “creating a friendship with someone, or a film to help someone understand something.”
Strasser envisions a career that combines both pursuits.
“I hope to make documentaries, about a cause,” she said.