A Lifetime of Belonging: An Interview with Peter and Lisa Annulis
by Kate Falls, Inclusion Director, Bender JCC | January 2024
Peter Annulis first came to the Bender JCC as a six-year-old to take swimming lessons with his siblings. Over the years, Peter progressed from lessons to participating on swim teams. Now 19, Peter competes in the Special Olympics, having won gold and silver medals in the 2022 competition, and was the fastest swimmer in Maryland for the 100-meter breaststroke.
Peter’s mother, Lisa Annulis, sent Peter to the Bender JCC for swimming lessons because of the inclusive environment. Connecting with Caroline Cardullo, The BenderJCC’s Aquatics Director, convinced Lisa she made the right choice. “It was such a great match and I felt like [Peter] was accepted,” Lisa said.
Peter has become more independent because of his aquatics experiences at the Bender JCC. “I drop him off at the J, and he goes in,” Lisa said. “He’s got his badge; he goes downstairs, gets changed, and swims 26 laps!”
Peter’s commitment to wellness at the Bender JCC extends beyond the pool to the group exercise studios and fitness center where he works-out with personal trainerAlana Del Sordi. “[The Bender JCC] helps keep Peter fit,” Lisa said. “Alana helped us figure out that Peter could do Zumba.”
To gain employment experience, Peter volunteers at the Bender JCC, working withHealth and Fitness Coordinator Paul Macias to keep the Weinberg Health and Fitness Center clean and operating smoothly. “Peter loves working with Paul and feels good about the work he’s doing,” Lisa said. “These professional experiences continue all the great things Peter’s already learning [at the Bender JCC].”
Peter engages differently with the Bender JCC as a young adult than when he and his siblings first started taking youth swimming lessons. “The Bender JCC has opened up a whole new world for Peter,” Lisa said. “I didn’t imagine all this when he started swimming.”
Not only has Peter grown up at the Bender JCC, but the Center has also grown with him. “There’s so much here,” Lisa said. “[The Bender JCC] continues to expand opportunities for members with disabilities; it’s a place where he can keep growing.”
Peter shared that he is proud of himself for working and taking the bus. Lisa added that Peter has made many friends at the Bender JCC: “The security guards and front desk staff know Peter by name and say hi to him every time he walks in.”
Lisa credited the Bender JCC’s “can do attitude” and inclusive environment as helping Peter and their entire family feel a true sense of belonging.
“I can’t imagine my life without [the Bender JCC],” Peter said. “This place is awesome!”
The Bender JCC staff and members feel the same way about Peter: he is awesome, we appreciate his valuable contributions to our community, and we can’t imagine life at Bender JCC without him!
Editor’s note: This article was our originally published in the Bender JCC’s 2024 Winter Program Guide.