Headshot Photo of Marissa Hacker
2015 Award Recipient


Project Fantastic Friends

Location Voorhees, NJ

Issue Area Disability Justice | Mental Health & Emotional Support

Marissa used to struggle with the social isolation her autistic brother had to face every day. She wanted him to experience a fun, welcoming, inclusive social environment, so she created Fantastic Friends, an organization for special needs kids that is staffed and managed by neurotypical teen volunteers. In an atmosphere of unconditional love, support, and guidance, both special needs kids and peer volunteers learn how to interact with one another in warm, supportive ways.

As a result, Fantastic Friends has fostered lasting connections between special needs and typically developing youth and created an environment where special needs youth and their families feel confident and accepted. Fantastic Friends raised $30,000 to support activities engaging 500 participants, volunteers, siblings, and parents, making it one of the top 100 special needs social groups in the United States at the time. Marissa worked to develop Fantastic Friends chapters across the United States, to provide welcoming spaces for the growing number of teens with special needs.

The most exciting part of Fantastic Friends is seeing the smiles on people's faces: whether they are special needs members, neuro-typical volunteers, siblings, or the parents, all leave each event with a warmth and joy that I wish for everyone involved.

Marissa Hacker
“It is never too late, too early, or too often TO GIVE BACK AND MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE”
Helen Diller