SADDLE BROOK, N.J. — Saddle Brook's Ryan Roy followed in his Ridgefield teacher's footsteps after she helped him through autism education.
Roy and Donna Wietecha, special education teacher at Ridgefield Memorial High School, work together in a program named "Strive" to help students with autism transition from school to life after graduation.
Strive, short for Strive Towards Reaching Independence Via Education, started in 2007 in Ridgefield.
Having been through it himself, Roy wanted to help others make the transition.
"There's this person, he told me I would be a role model to help students really become self-advocates of their own," Roy told Daily Voice. "I actually want to be an inspiration to them."
Strive serves people ages 18 to 21 with teachers, aides, job coaches, administrators, counselors and therapists dedicated to supporting students as they move from high school to adulthood.
Roy, a 2009 graduate of Ridgefield Memorial High School, has spent most of his life living in Saddle Brook. After graduating he studied autism by joining the education program at NJ Friendship House.
He said he learned plenty from his former teacher Wietecha.
"I personally consider her a mentor," he said. "In a way she helped me out in a lot of struggles I was facing in my life."
Wietecha, a Ridgefield teacher for 13 years, said she is proud of her former pupil.
"It's amazing to see the transformation and how much Ryan has grown to the adult advocate he is," she said.
Roy repaid the favor to Wietecha by nominating her for the Annual Salute to Champions event in October run by the Bergen County Division of Disability Services.
Wietecha was unable to attend, but said it was an honor to be nominated.
It does not come down to her personally though, but the work she and Roy do, she said.
"It's getting better," she said. "We're working harder. Our programs are growing and getting better."
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