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Ole Miss sophomore wants you to help Tend to a Friend

20141004_063947Henry Lang-Vanderlaan
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On the broadcast of ESPN’s College GameDay, there was a neon pink sign on the left side of the screen.

It referenced one broadcaster’s affinity for an organization run by an Ole Miss student called Tend to a Friend.

Dylan Ritter, a sophomore at Ole Miss, has done something at the age of 19 that very few adults have achieved. He started a charity.

Ritter founded Tend to a Friend three years ago when he was a junior in high school. The charity’s mission is to help children diagnosed with autism interact with their peers.

Ritter’s younger brother, Travis, was diagnosed at birth with a severe type of autism, and he has had a profound impact on Ritter’s life.

“I noticed that my friends became more comfortable playing with Travis, the more they interacted with him,” he said. “They really enjoyed interacting with him and began to play with Travis before settling down and playing a game . . . with me.”

This sparked Ritter’s interest in an event run by his local chapter of The Arc, an organization that advocates for the rights and full participation of all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Kids Night Out event enables parents to drop off their chidren with special needs for a few hours while members of The Arc play with them and keep them entertained.

Ritter said that this was something that really affected his family dynamic because most baby-sitters weren’t qualified to tend to Travis’ needs. That meant his parents could not have a night to themselves until Ritter grew older.

 

“We started our charity (Tend to a Friend) in conjunction with Kids Night Out and ARC,” Ritter said. “However, we also supplied high school students, who became the main people to interact with the kids. The high school students were far more engaging with the kids than the adults.”

The charity has grown in the past few years in New Jersey, Ritter’s home, and he wants to expand it in Mississippi. Ritter hopes to establish a branch of “Tend to a Friend” in Oxford.

So what was with that pink sign?

Scott Ritter, Dylan Ritter’s father and co-founder of Tend to a Friend, jokingly suggested that his son make a sign referencing the charity for the recent Ole Miss College GameDay broadcast. There is rarely an opportunity for national exposure for small charities, so Ritter did it.

“Once I realized that Dylan was serious about the sign, we discussed how to make the sign easily recognizable on screen,” said Scott Ritter. “We wanted it to be relevant to the show, but convey an underlying message about the charity.”

The sign said “Corso loves Tend to a Friend.”

Lee Corso is a College GameDay analyst.

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The sign received national attention and was re-Tweeted many times. Intrigue regarding the unique sign wound up increasing the charity’s website traffic by almost 500 percent. Here is a chart showing the rate of hits over the week.

chartRitter is happy and hopes the charity grows in the next few years.

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