News & Press Releases

Excite Steps mentoring organization provides social and academic skills, happiness for kids with disabilities

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 FILED IN: News

The mission of Xcite Steps, and ultimately its phenomenal success, can be traced back to its name.

An after-school and summer mentoring program dedicated to working with children, teens, and adults with developmental disabilities such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, Xcite Steps, LLC, in its innovation as well as its simplicity, has altered the traditional approach endemic to the social work field.

Founded in 2005, Solana-Beach based Xcite Steps employs between 30 and 40 mentors who assist and empower children in several programs, including one-on-one mentoring, sports clubs, and social group activities. Xcite Steps’ programs service between 70-100 families every month, and all mentors are highly qualified in the fields of education and social work.

It’s the immeasurable quality each mentor possesses, however, that makes Xcite Steps a true visionary organization.

“They’re a youthful, energetic, really passionate group of people,” said executive director and co-founder Matthew Winkley. “They’re all really looking to give back.”

Winkley, who founded the company with Stefan Hochfilzer, men- tioned the stereotype, not always untrue, that often, such programs are staffed by older, “burnt out” social workers.

“We bring a different vibe to this,” he said.

To that end, Xcite Steps honors its mission and its name by offering not only academic support (closely monitored through individual achieve- ment plans for each mentee), but a fun, social, and safe environment for children to progress, to step out of their shell and fully experience the world.

In addition to its academic mentoring program, Xcite Steps has four social group activities: Youth Social Club and Steps Up Club (ages 13-18), Kids Adventure Club (ages 8-12), and Little Buddies Club (5-7). In a non- threatening, inclusive, non-judgmental setting, mentors allow for partici- pants to hone their social skills and have fun at the same time.

Social Clubs take trips to, among other places, Padres games, the movies, surfing, and Boomers, where kids work on confidence, appropri- ate social interaction, and forming friendships. All activities maintain a three-to-one ratio of mentors to children. Clubs run in eight-week sessions.

As Winkley puts it, “It’s a way for kids to hang out and make friends. It’s not about getting picked on. It’s non-judgmental, warm, and welcome.” Yet Xcite Steps mentors, by sticking to each child’s achievement plan even amidst surfing outings to Fletcher Cove or game-filled trips to

Boomer’s, always have the progress of each child in mind. “They’re working on goals, and the kids don’t even realize it—they’re just hanging out with really cool guys,” said program manager Pam Macha-

la. “The mentors celebrate the kids personalities and interests.” “They become a little family,” added Machala, about the bonds formed by the children who participate in the various social groups. “They

know what’s going on in each other’s lives.”

(Above) The Kids Adventure Club; (Right) Xcite Steps staff: (l-r) Ste- fan Hochfilzer, Pam Machala, Matt

Winkley and Warren Lee

As program manager, Machala said she’s seen parents drop other services for their chil- dren, such as therapists, in favor of allowing them to commit more fully to Xcite Steps’ programs.

Adding to Machala’s asser- tion, Hochfilzer feels so strongly about Xcite Steps because it pro- vides an outlet often denied to chil- dren with disabilities.

“These kids don’t have many opportunities to be part of a club like this,” he said. “There’s no other service out there that pro- vides what we do. We give the opportunity for children to make a friend. Parents know that, they see the benefit in their child’s life.”

In addition to the one-on-one mentoring and social group activi- ties, Xcite Steps furthers the whole, comprehensive education of its participants by offering a Sports Clubs program. Dedicated to boosting confidence and impart- ing its participants with a feeling of achievement and success, cur- rent sports clubs include tennis, basketball, surfing, bowling, Fris- bee golf, sailing, fitness, martial arts, and dance.

Hochfilzer is proud of the transformative effects the sports clubs have for children whose team participation, in other set- tings, might be severely limited.

“This gives them the opportu- nity to actually play, not just be a scorekeeper,” Hochfilzer said. “They can be the captain, or the leading scorer. Why shouldn’t a kid with disabilities have these experiences too?”

Yet another confidence- boosting, social activity offered by Xcite Steps is its upcoming Camp Steps! Subscribing to Xcite Steps tenets of facilitating non-threaten- ing, comfortable, exciting settings for children with disabilities, Camp Steps! offers week-long summer camps beginning June 15 and running through Aug. 28. Field trips include excursions to water parks, Mission Bay, Fletcher Cove, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Nickel City, Balboa Park, and even an overnight stay at Camp- Fire USA.

Not just devoted to children, Xcite Steps also offers services for adults, including assistance in tran- sition to the real world following high school.

In the future, Xcite Steps is looking to expand its innovate business model to Orange County, and to establish a scholarship fund for families who need but can’t afford its services.

“Our vision is to keep grow- ing and helps as many kids as we can,” said Winkley.

Tirelessly dutiful to those it serves, Xcite Steps has also afford- ed its executive staff members the opportunity to fulfill dreams of

their own. “Ever since I was a kid, I knew

I’d dedicate my life to helping struggling kids,” said Hochfilzer, who cited his own experiences growing up with a stuttering prob- lem as an impetus for founding Xcite Steps.

“It’s completely rewarding,” said Machala, who worked as a special education teacher in Mary- land prior to joining the Xcite Steps team. “I’ve fallen in love with the kids and families.”

For Winkley, Xcite Steps affords not only a lifestyle where he can enjoy the beauty of San Diego while making a difference in kids’ lives, but also a chance to give him- self fully to his career. With Xcite Steps, Winkley is following in the humanitarian footsteps of his par- ents, who founded Connecticut- based human services agency Brian House more than 25 years ago.

Said Winkley: “I get to wear my heart on my sleeve for a living.” For more information on Xcite Steps, including a full list of programs and services, visit or call (858) 764-2956.

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