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Teen-Run Non-Profit Eyes Expansion, Seeks Sponsors

SNAP has provided programs and education for autistic children and others with special needs since 2009.

When you do a lot for your community, you tend to get a lot of attention. It's a good problem to have.

A bad problem? Not having the funds to keep it going.

Zach Certner, a 16-year-old Morristown High School junior from Morris Township, has enough on his plate, from varsity sports to mentorships to education, including studying for the SATs. He also is the co-founder of SNAP (Special Needs Athletic Programs), the organization founded with his older brother, Matthew that began when Matt started a series of free athletic clinics that allowed children with special needs to participate in sports. It was a "by kids–for kids" group, with high school athletes running the clinics. Zach was involved from the time he was 9 years old.

Along the way, the group gained non-profit status and took on its current name in 2009. "It was understood from the beginning that I would take over," Zach Certner told Patch in 2011, speaking of the time when his brother set off for college. "I had been working on it for 3 or 4 years and I knew that when Matt left, I would be in school for another five years."

Over the years, SNAP's programs, from its educational component to its sports programs have grown tremendously in popularity. Education seminars have been conducted in Morris, Warren, and Sussex counties, with plans to extend south to Wall Township in Monmouth County and Rowan University.

SNAP also has created a Sports Training Bucket, an all-in-one education tool supplied to participating schools, which include SNAP's training manual as well as mirrors, balance beams, gloves, goggles, scissors, paper and more.

All this not only costs time, it costs money: about $500 per bucket, a cost borne almost entirely by SNAP.

This lead Sandy Certner, Zach's mother who also helps with the program, to approach Morristown Town Council in early December to appeal the public for sponsorships.

Sponsorships are essential for SNAP's lofty goals. "We want to get into all public schools throughout New Jersey," Zach said. "It costs money to do but it's easy to do. That training bucket with all the equipment costs money, and that is the biggest problem with going to schools. But, once you get that you have it for your entire school, you don't need anything else."

So far, the Sports Training Bucket has only been utilized by a handful of local organizations, including several Morris School District schools. While the non-profit has raised $75,000 in grants since its formation, SNAP's subsidization of the bucket is part of an estimated $11,000 annual cost.

There also is the ongoing issue of not having a permanent location to hold its regular programs. "We don't really have a home," Zach said. "And a lot of the special needs kids live on their schedules. It's hard when there is really no set place to do all this."

The young entrepeneur is optimistic, however, that sponsorships will come and his program will continue and expand beyond North Jersey, even the Garden State.

"All of our programs are free or for nominal fees," he said. "We feel our program should be free, which is why it costs so much to keep our programs at free as well as help expand the programs. We think we can take this to the state level and then nationally. It's an easy message to get across. We just need to get our foot in the door."

For more information, including sponsorship information, email SNAPClinics@gmail.com or call 973-538-7223.

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