PAL of the Year 2022: Jason and Austin’s Story

December 15, 2021

PAL of the Year 2022: Jason and Austin’s Story

Congratulations to Jason Zutty, the 2022 Joel Libowsky PAL of the Year!* The PAL Program is Atlanta's only Jewish Big Brother / Big Sister Program.

Jason has been a Big PAL to Little PAL Austin for eight years and has made a lasting impact in Austin’s life. When Jason learned he was chosen as PAL of the Year, he was “very surprised and flattered.”

Austin’s mother, Janet, enthusiastically nominated Jason through a glowing letter about how much it has meant to have Jason in Austin's life.

“Jason was a perfect fit for Austin, from the first moment they met in 2013. With Austin’s Asperger’s, it takes a special type of person to handle and relate to him. Dealing with a person with Asperger's can often be frustrating and exhausting, as they need more reassurance, react more to situations, and have reduced social skills.”

She first decided to get her sons PALs, after a job brought the family to Atlanta.

"Although I was familiar with Atlanta, having lived here for several years prior, my sons were new and didn't know anyone," said Janet. "Their father had been sick for a few years, and although they had their grandfather - my dad, he wasn't able to do as much as a Big PAL could. I wanted my kids to have a good male role model and have a special person for them to do things with and talk to."

Jason decided to become a Big PAL, after researching mentorship opportunities in the Atlanta area.

“I love spending time with kids, and I used to be a camp counselor when I was growing up in New Jersey,” explained Jason. “I knew when I graduated college that I wanted to find an opportunity to continue working with kids alongside a full-time career. I wanted to be able to give back to the world in a way I was passionate about.”

Jason and Austin hit it off quickly due to their similar personalities and shared interests. They both enjoy Marvel superhero movies and the Star Wars series. Austin also loves to build things and play with LEGOs, a hobby that as a research engineer, Jason can truly appreciate.

Over the years, Jason has helped Austin through challenging times

"When Austin lost his father in 2018, Jason was the first person Austin wanted to speak to. He has helped him with so much," Janet said.

According to Janet, Jason is always patient with Austin and knows how to guide him especially when he gets stuck.

"Jason helps Austin step out of his comfort zone and try new things. He has become more confident. Jason also played a major role at Austin’s Bar Mitzvah in 2019 taking part in the service and at the dinner," she said.

The Pandemic made their friendship essential.

"During COVID (for over 16 months), Jason communicated and planned a weekly 2-hour virtual play session with Austin. They played video games or watched Disney plus together. Austin looked forward to this every week and it kept him connected to others, which he desperately needed as he attended school virtually from March 2020 until August 2021. Now they are meeting in person again, and Austin is thrilled," said Janet.

In the nearly eight years that they have been spending time together, Jason has also noticed positive changes in Austin.

“He has definitely matured,” said Jason. “He is still a sweet and sensitive person, but I have seen him become more confident in himself and the way he interacts with other people. He’s also more willing to try new things. It’s great to see.”

Janet echoed that sentiment. "I knew that the PAL Program was perfect for my sons. It has been such a wonderful experience for both of them, as well as our family. I can see them both doing something like this when they get older."

"Jason has been a blessing in our lives, and I don’t know what we would do without him," she said.

The PAL Program has made hundreds of matches since its inception, and has created countless stories just like Jason and Austin’s. The PAL Program works closely with potential Big and Little PALs to ensure a compatible match in terms of lifestyle, interests, and personality type. The program matches Jewish young professionals with Jewish children who could benefit from having another positive adult role model in their life due to complex family dynamics, such as a single parent family, the loss of a parent or guardian, a sibling with special needs or other challenges The adults provide companionship, a positive influence, and help strengthen their Little PAL’s Jewish identity.

* The Joel Libowsky PAL of the Year is named in honor of Joel Libowsky, an incredible supporter of the PAL Program and JF&CS and a wonderful Alumni Big PAL to two former Little PALS. This is the 3rd Annual Joel Libowsky PAL of the Year Award.

You can join JF&CS at the biggest and most exciting PAL Program fundraiser of the year, Havinagala!

Havinagala is a young professionals party celebrating its 32nd year. This year, it will take place at Punch Bowl Social at the Battery Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Braves. Your ticket will get you drinks, food, and games with all your friends, plus a silent auction of unique items and experiences.

The event adheres to all COVID-19 protocols, and will take place Saturday, January 29 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Join JF&CS for a night of friends, food, fun, and philanthropy! Get your tickets here.