Cool Girl: Marissa, 19, Started a Social Group For Kids With Special Needs

19-year-old Marissa Hacker's brother Matthew is autistic, and she saw how socially isolated he was growing up in Voorhees, NJ. She dreamed of a comfortable, easy environment where he could hang out with friends and enjoy himself, and she decided to create one. 

Fantastic Friends hosts monthly social functions for friends (members with special needs) and volunteer friends (peer volunteers). "Our teen-led chapters help people with special needs gain confidence about being in a group, while sharing ideas, hopes, and dreams, in an accepting environment," says Marissa. 

The organization has raised $30,000 to support activities involving 500 participants, volunteers, siblings, and parents — it's one of the top 100 special needs social groups in the United States. Marissa recently received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, which recognizes the next generation of philanthropic visionaries and provides them with support and resources in their drive to make the world a better place. Next up for Fantastic Friends? Convincing Bruno Mars to come to their Prom!

Interested in starting a chapter in your area? Get in touch! This is a group dynamic worth sharing.