George Rettaliata is always eager to help a peer.

George, a seventh-grader at Bay Shore Middle School, volunteers in a special-needs classroom at his school and in a second-grade classroom at nearby Mary G. Clarkson Elementary School. His efforts range from playing board games to giving academic help.

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The biggest benefit, he said, is being friends with special-needs students, some of whom have autism and Down syndrome.

"When I'm walking down the hall in school, I'll say hi to them and treat them as friends," said George, 12. "It's important, because other people will see that and treat them the same way."

For his efforts, George was named Upstander of the Month for January by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County. He was nominated for the honor by retired middle-school teacher Gail Farrell, and he submitted a two-page essay explaining why he enjoys helping his peers.

"Seeing how we each cope with challenges in different ways makes me realize that we all have unique gifts," he said.

George is a member of his school's Scrabble Club, technology and math clubs and golf team. He also plays the piano, guitar and saxophone.