Jonathan Peterson, a 20-year-old student at the Anderson Center For Autism in Staatsburg, has found his true calling.
Jonathan will be skating Feb. 18 in the 2017 New York State Winter Special Olympics at the McCann Ice Arena between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Jonathan has been skating since he was enrolled at the Anderson Center in Feb. 2012.
Anna LaFerriere, the recreation program coordinator at Anderson, introduced Jonathan to the ice as part of a therapeutic ice skating program. Jonathan had never skated before.
"I wasn't sure how he would handle it or tolerate it," LaFerriere said. "He picked it up really quickly and started to enjoy it. He was a natural."
Peterson began skating once a week at the McCann Ice Arena. He became very motivated and started challenging himself, LaFerriere said.
"He saw it and he went with it," LaFerriere said. "I never thought he might be interested in this, but he really enjoyed being able to get out there and skate."
Karlamarie Peterson, Jonathan's mother, said she never in a million years thought she'd be seeing her son skate at the Special Olympics. Peterson credits his coach Laurie May for helping him get comfortable on the ice and then getting him to the Special Olympics.
"She understands the ups and downs," Peterson said. "He has good days and bad days- frustration and victories are part of the process. She was willing to work with him one to one."
Since he's been ice skating, Peterson said Jonathan's balance, coordination, speech, motor skills and socialization skills have all improved.
"He has a huge sense of pride when he's out on the ice," Peterson said. "It makes him more proud."
Peterson said she wonders why Jonathan took to the ice like he has, since no one in her family ice skates.
"He just really wanted to do it," Peterson said. "He definitely has a connection to the ice. Laurie and Anna have been calm, caring and gentle with him. They've been very supportive and he relates to that. They saw something in him that he could be successful with and have encouraged his potential to be as successful as he could be.
When Jonathan takes to the ice, Peterson said she's going to be very excited and a little nervous.
"To see him go out there is going to be amazing," Peterson said. "His face lights up the second he steps up onto the ice. He loves it. As his mom, it's very rewarding. I'm extremely proud of everything he's accomplished and to see him evolve and be on his own. Myself, his brother and his grandmother are very proud of him."
LaFerriere, fighting back tears, said she was extremely proud and humbled knowing he will be skating in the Special Olympics so close to home.
"It's going to be breathtaking," LaFerriere said. "Every time I see Jonathan, he's looking forward to it. He's very proud of himself and he wants to talk about it. He has really come out of his shell and gained a lot more confidence. We are all very proud of him."
Now that he's 20, Jonathan will be soon transitioning into Anderson's adult program. And his mom thinks he has a bright future ahead of him.
"He’s a terrific kid," Peterson said. "He's thoughtful, kind, loving, and has a great sense of humor. I am grateful he will be continuing at Anderson. He gets a lot of encouragement on campus and I'm glad he will able to receive that as an adult."