Jillian Witwicki, a senior at the Pingree School, is one busy girl. She is on the ice hockey team, the softball team and the field hockey team.
“I’m captain of all three,” Witwicki laughed.
However, it’s what the 18-year-old does away from school that has really shaped her life. For more than eight years, on weekends, Witwicki mentors special needs kids as part of the Little League Challenger baseball program.
“I had so much fun, I just wanted to keep coming back every Sunday,” said Witwicki. “Some kids have down syndrome and some have other physical disabilities. It’s pretty much a wide array of kids.”
One child in particular, 9-year-old Manny Thompson, stole her heart.
“Manny is one of the most remarkable kids I’ve ever met. He can’t speak, so he signs,” said Witwicki. “His mom decided he wanted to be involved and kind fo sideling him getting to be around other kids and working on the social aspects.”
Witwicki’s friends and teachers say she really is exceptional.
“I think the first thing that draws you to Jill is that she is so personable and so caring,” said Kristina Caradonna, Witwicki’s friend.
“She is very inclusive. She makes whatever team she is on the most fun. She does it right by working hard, working quietly and setting a great example,” said James MacLaughlin, Witwicki’s academic advisor.
In her years with the Challenger Baseball Program, Witwicki has seen Thompson improve so much.
“Now he hits the ball by himself. I hold his hand and we run around the bases,” said Witwicki. “Just seeing them out there and playing and kind of being like every other kid, it’s just great to see,” said Witwicki.
Jill says she is the one who gets the most out of it.
“They are some of the most incredible kids I’ve ever met and I think they shaped who I am and what I do,” said Witwicki. “It’s good for them but I probably get more out of it than them.”
Next year, Witwicki will go to St. Michael’s in Vermont and she’ll play hockey.