Archive for the ‘Summer Camps’ Category

This is the kind of press Clay Aiken should be getting instead of, you know, that other stuff…

Caregiving: Clay Aiken to expand camps


ALBANY, N.Y., July 31 (UPI) — Long before appearing on Fox’s “American Idol” in 2003, Clay Aiken had a dream that did not involve being a pop star.

As a YMCA camp counselor, it saddened him that children with developmental disabilities had to be turned away from not only the fun of camp, but from the experience of being with other children, and he promised himself that this was something he would try to change.

“American Idol,” several hit tours and 4.3 million album sales later, the pop star announced earlier this month that his dream is becoming a reality with the goal of raising $1 million to expand the Bubel/Aiken Foundation’s “Let ALL Play” initiative so that 100 camps in 2008 would become inclusive to children with special needs.

It’s simple concept really, but all too often, special needs children are excluded from everyday activities like swimming, arts and crafts, games, community service and physical fitness programs.

“It’s an ambitious goal and it will be a challenge — 100 camps and $1 million dollars in less than one year — but we are about 20 percent of the way to that goal,” Jerry Aiken, executive director of the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, told UPI’s Caregiving. “But we also have a fan base with a tremendous amount of experience and strong passion for this issue — we have close to 1,000 volunteers — working with the foundation and we have been listening to them and they have some great ideas.”

Jerry Aiken, Clay Aiken’s uncle on his mother’s side, held senior level positions at Nortel Networks, TRW and Fujitsu Network Communications, before coming to the foundation in May.

“I was told of a parent with a child with special needs and on the first day of camp the parent is coaxing the child to get out of the car and give camp a try, but a couple of days later the child can’t wait to get to camp and is running inside — when you hear these stories you see the value — the self-worth element — of inclusion,” said Jerry Aiken.

“There was a 8-year-old child with autism, who was diagnosed at age 2 and he attended a YMCA camp this summer — his vocabulary before the camp was about two words and after attending camp it jumped to 11 words — that’s huge.”

There are several things currently in the works to raise funds, including working with a number of companies to gain sponsorship and there will be a celebrity version of the TV show on Fox’s “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader” that may offer us some opportunities as well, according to Jerry Aiken.

In addition, Jerry Aiken, a golfer, is working toward a golf tournament tentatively scheduled in Florida this year or in early 2008.

“I play golf and I’ve encouraged Clay to take it up, but golf takes a commitment and at the moment he doesn’t have the time for golf, but he would be at the golf tournament,” Jerry Aiken said.

The foundation is working with established camp programs such as the YMCA or other qualified American Camp Association members by providing financial support plus a detailed camp manual, training and ongoing assistance — most of the funds that we raise cover training, additional counselors, equipment/supplies as well as a camp scholarships if required, according to Jerry Aiken.

“We stress to the camps they should not significantly change their program; the ‘Let’s ALL Play’ manual and the training is about developing the camp team to provide a typical camp experience.”

There is tug of war in pedagogy and psychological circles on how to best challenge the special needs child and the typical child so both experience optional challenges, according to Dr. Larry Lachman, a licensed clinical psychologist at Chapman University in Monterey, Calif.

“If either the special needs child, or the typical child does not get enough stimulation, it won’t work,” Lachman told UPI’s Caregiving.

“Assuming the staff/counselors are trained in special needs, that the design of the program is appropriate and the typical children have the emotional maturity so they do not tease, this can be a highly beneficial experience and broaden the skill sets of both sets of children — it sets the bar higher for all the children and opens everyone’s eye to seeing something from a different point of view.”

I saw things from a different point of view after I heard Clay Aiken in an interview several years ago with Diane Sawyer of ABC News. He said what made him passionate about being a special education teacher was the challenge — the puzzle — and how to figure out ways to help unlock the world so that a special needs child could connect and function better.

At the time, I was experiencing the “distancing” of friends of mine and friends of my father who treated the news of my father’s Alzheimer’s disease as if it was leprosy. I never heard from them again.

But thinking about dementia as a challenge, as a puzzle that can be solved, bit by bit, instead of giving up, made a big difference for me. It’s certainly not the message I got from traditional healthcare.

So I understand why Clay Aiken’s fan base is more than just the usual pop star fan base of teens — many of his fans are caregivers — who appreciate the message of inclusion.

In an era when many men in their 20s are only passionate about video games or have nothing else on their minds than perfecting their backhand, Clay Aiken talking about inclusion of those with special needs is enormously attractive to women of all ages, so I can understand why his fans are so devoted and why the foundation has such ambitious plans.

Alex Cukan is an award-winning journalist, but she has also been a caregiver since she was a teenager. UPI welcomes comments and questions about this column.)

(e-mail: parentcaregiving@gmail.com)

Copyright 2007 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

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