Sometimes at Damar, we do some pretty complicated, technical things to help adults and children live better lives. We engage in intense clinical therapies. We assess and diagnose complex disabilities. We study and apply the latest science-based approaches, and we develop best practices that are used by our peers across the U.S.

Other times, we just help to make dreams come true.

We were able to do that for Matthew Hanes. As he grew up playing football, Matthews dreamed of walking onto the field of an NFL game. And on Sept. 9, he did just that. Sure: He wasn’t the pro player he hoped to be, but he was on field, and that was a dream come true.

The best part? Matthew earned that dream come true.

A student at Damar Academy, Matthew has worked hard to overcome behavioral issues that accompany his autism, and he’s succeeding at school. “His academic progress has gone up more in 2½ years at Damar Academy than in 10 years in public school,” his mom said. “Brett (his teacher) is a genius.”

In addition to improving academically, Matt is more patient, and he no longer stutters or struggles to find the right words to communicate. And that kind of progress earned him the title of Damar MVP, the honor that put him on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium before a Colts game.

Football was one of the first things Matthew succeeded at when he was younger. He played in sixth grade in a Westfield youth sports league, said his mom, Tammy Hanes. But when he moved up to middle school, autism got in the way of football.

As Matthew got older, he dreamed of going to college, like his big sister, who earned an academic scholarship at Indiana University and is studying to be in the medical field. He now realizes, he probably won’t be able to go to college. But he didn’t let that stifle his dreams; he just changed them.

“He’s decided instead of playing football, he wants to work with equipment on the football team,” Tammy Hanes said. “That’s something that, with his level of autism, he could be really successful.”

On Sept. 9, Matthew got a little taste of what it’s like to be on the sidelines at the game’s highest level. Thanks to a partnership between the Colts and Damar, one Damar client is selected to be an MVP for each of the Colts’ home games. The honor means that the MVP and three guests get to be on the field for pre-game warmups, where they meet the Colts’ mascot Blue and receive special gifts.

For Matthew’s trip, his mom went with him, but his dad, Mickey Hanes, decided to forego the game so Matthew could invite two friends: a graduate of Damar Charter Academy and a friend from Westfield High School.

“He is just beside himself excited,” Tammy said before the game. “He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so for him to be able to do something with the guys … this is fulfilling one of his life dreams.”

Sometimes, that’s just what we do.

Erin Crick

About the Author

Erin Crick

Administrative Director, Children's Residential

As administrative director of children’s residential, Erin Crick is charged with directing all operations for Damar Academy – a state-accredited freeway school. In addition to leading faculty and staff, Erin ensures compliance with all education requirements and fulfills students’ Individual Education Plan (IEP) needs. Erin also assists with compliance with audits for Damar’s Children’s Residential and support the needs within Damar’s Children’s Residential. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ball State University.