Mitzvah Hero: Alex Handen, a ninth grader at Radnor High School, has a special affinity for the Pennsylvania Special Olympics. He originally got involved with the sports competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities as a service project for his Bar Mitzvah at Har Zion Temple and has continued volunteering since then.
What It’s All About: The 14-year-old son of Jeffrey and Connie Handen of Villanova — and inspirational brother to Max, 11, and Julia, 7 — chose to help with the Special Olympics when he saw a competition held at nearby Villanova University during the annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival coordinated by university students.
“It looked fun to see so many athletes from all over the state coming to play all these sports in one location,” Alex recalls.
It also hit home, he says, because a good friend has an autistic brother.
In 2011, he helped out in the weightlifting room.
"It was a lot of fun cheering on the athletes and very inspiring to see what they could do," Alex says. "I recently started lifting weights this summer for football so I got a real appreciation of how hard they are working and what they are doing."
Last year, he served as a spark for the soccer team, cheering at the matches and marveling at “how tough the players are. No obstacles would stop them.”
He's planning to attend and help out again at this year’s games on the Villanova campus, which begin the first weekend of November with an opening address from Special Olympics chairman and CEO Tim Shriver.
Not a One-Time Thing: In addition to his volunteer work for the Special Olympics, Alex prepares meals for homebound seniors through the Cook for a Friend program. The food is cooked and packaged at Har Zion, then shipped off to the Klein JCC for distribution.
“The chicken smells so amazing when it’s cooking,” Alex says.
Volunteering is on his personal menu usually once a month on the weekends.
"It’s important for everyone to have a hot meal even if they can’t afford it.”
Good for Him: Alex notes that the Special Olympics have taught him not to make assumptions.
“I now realize how people with disabilities can do awesome things," he says. "I’ve learned to see past the physical appearances and see who these players are as people.”