When the Pickerington Area Kiwanis club decided they wanted to focus their efforts to helping children in their community with autism, they began by asking parents of the children what the greatest need might be.
“I was really surprised to hear, overwhelmingly, that the greatest need was respite for the family and caregivers,” said Kiwanis President and Pickerington Central High School Key Club Advisor David Stone. “That hadn’t occurred to me, but it made sense.”
Partnering with the Coffee, Tea and Autism group that meets the third Thursday of each month at Trinity United Methodist Church in Pickerington, the Kiwanis group began asking students of the Key Club to provide child care and interaction for autistic children during the meetings.
“The ultimate goal is that not only do parents get a break for an hour or so during their meeting, but that trustful relationships build between a teen and child that could result in a babysitting situation,” he said.
Such was the case when 17 year old Key Club President Nicholas Gribben met seven-year-old Tristan during one of the meet and greet events.
“We just hit it off,” Gribben said. “He’s a cool kid.”
Since meeting, Gribben has babysat Tristan multiple times. While that may not seem unusual to some parents, it was miraculous for Tristan’s mom Sara.
“Tristan is an only child and he had never had anyone watch him other than family members before Nicholas,” she said. “Tristan just clicks with him. He doesn’t argue with him and he even lets Nicholas put him to bed—something he would never have let anyone do before.”
When the two get together, despite their ten year age gap, they bond over Star Wars, books and occasionally art. Nicholas likes to draw and paint and Tristan is a Star Wars connoisseur.
“I never really pictured myself babysitting," Gribben Said. “But Tristan has no siblings and I felt I needed to do it. I knew it would be good for him.” Gribben has a younger brother on the spectrum and was not intimidated by any special requirements Tristan might have.
And Sara is thrilled.
“I’ve been to get my hair done, had a girls’ night out and even a date night,” she said. “It’s been great and, best of all, Tristan is getting more independent. He is doing things on his own and he thinks of Nicholas as a friend.”
Stone said he hopes more key club students will follow in Gribben’s path.
“You know, we’re not as different as we all like to think,” he said. Kiwanians like to help kids in the community. This is really kids helping kids.”
For information about the monthly meet and greet events, contact Julie Bruckelmeyer at 740-652-7220.