Thursday, September 07, 2006

Clay Aiken and the Passion for Service

I did not recognize the other names on this list, but I should not have been surprised to see the name I did know.

It was, after all, just a matter of time.

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 5, 2006

Personnel Announcement

President George W. Bush today announced his intention to nominate eight individuals, designate two individuals and appoint thirteen individuals to serve in his Administration:

The President intends to appoint the following individuals to be Members of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities:

Dallas Rob Sweezy, of Virginia, and upon appointment designate Chair, for an additional two year term expiring May 11, 2008.
Clayton Aiken, of North Carolina
Stephen Bird, of Virginia
Valerie Billmire, of Utah
James Boles, of New York
Stephanie Brown, of Florida
William J. Edwards, of California
Brian J. Kelly, of California
Mary Margaret Pucci, of Illinois
Linda Hampton Starnes, of Florida
Stephen Henry Suroveic, of Pennsylvania
William E. Tienken, of Illinois

I could almost hear the questions...

“Wait a minute… Clayton Aiken? Clay Aiken, the pop singer? How is he qualified to serve?”

The newspaper articles announcing his appointment don’t tell you: too many of them are running with skeleton staffs that only reprint what goes out on the wire. Today, in reporting this appointment, several papers mentioned only that Clay Aiken “gained fame as a runner-up in the ‘American Idol’ show's competition. He had worked as a YMCA counselor in Raleigh before launching his singing career.”

That leaves out a few pertinent points regarding Aiken's qualifications to serve on the committee --- actually, that pretty much leaves out all of them. The first is his absolute commitment to helping make all of life’s opportunities available to every one of us.

"In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” – The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are the facts about the considerable experience that Clay brings to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities:

While still a student, Aiken worked for two years teaching a class of children with autism. He also worked for CAP-MR/DD, the Community Alternatives Program for Persons with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, serving as a mentor to young people with disabilities. Through that program, he met the Bubel family and worked with their son Mike.

He received his Bachelors Degree in Special Education from The University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in December 2003. (His first goal had been to become a teacher for children with special needs.) Having delayed his graduation to compete on “AI,” Aiken fulfilled the requirements for his final semester through an independent study course in which he proposed designing a mock foundation to advance inclusion. That project became the Bubel/Aiken Foundation.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” - MLK

In July of 2003, Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel, an advocate for children with disabilities who is herself the mother of a child with autism, founded the Bubel/Aiken Foundation.

BAF's mission is to integrate children with disabilities into the same life environment as their typical peers. In just three years, BAF has helped raise awareness, change attitudes and change behaviors toward people with disabilities, emphasizing what they have to offer society, not just what society should offer them. The foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to advance its mission, including working with Youth Service America in presenting the Clay Aiken Able To Serve Awards, which are given to young people with disabilities in support of their community service projects.

Among many other grants, BAF has awarded:

$20,000 to the TRIAD autism summer camp program at the Center for Child Development at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

$25,000 to The Western DuPage Special Recreation Association to support inclusion services offered through the Naperville Park District.

$32,000 to Concord High School for the Peer to Peer program, “a year-long class designed to foster relationships between what educators call ‘typical’ students and students with disabilities”

$12,500 to publish the book “Our Friend Mikayla”, written by the fourth grade classmates of Mikayla Resh, a student at Lower Nazareth Elementary School who has cerebral palsy, visual and hearing impairments. The children write about accepting people with disabilities and talk about what Mikayla has taught her friends.

Now in its third year, BAF has sponsored inclusive summer day camps in four cities, working with the YMCA in Kansas City, MO, Raleigh and Concord, NC and Hobart, IN. From its start as a pilot program, the camps now run for most of the summer and serve children ages 5 to 12, with a preschool program in Hobart. In year four, the inclusion camps will expand to several more locations, increasing the number of children served.

For two years, BAF has sponsored conferences for KIT (Kids Included Together), advancing KITS’s recreational, child development, and youth development programs.

The foundation has also received millions of dollars in grants and donations, including $1.5 million from State Farm Insurance and $500,000 from the United States Department of Education to develop an inclusion curriculum for elementary schools, and the generous support of businesses and the public at large.

The Bubel/Aiken Foundation has honored as Champions of Change a number of people whose actions “have substantively advanced the issues of inclusion” at benefit galas, including the first “Night of Champions” in Kansas City (with the related Kaleidoscope children’s art project) and the “Voices for Change” galas in Los Angeles, Hawaii and Florida. In conjunction with the gala, Los Angeles also held the Friends In Deed inclusive art project for children.

In 2004, Aiken appeared at benefits for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, founded by the former First Lady, and for America's Promise / The Alliance for Youth, led by General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), Founding Chairman. At the America’s Promise gala, Aiken gave $1,500 scholarships to each of the seven youth presenters at the program, who were chosen for their exemplary service to their communities as well as their outstanding character.

Aiken has been a keynote speaker at the Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities and the Fearless Caregiver Conference.

Aiken was appointed to be a National Ambassador for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), with a special commitment to education. Following the tsunami in December 2004, he appeared on NBC’s tsunami relief telethon and made a field trip to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to observe the rebuilding process. In May of 2005, he spent a week visiting camps for people displaced by rebel violence in Northern Uganda, including talking to children who had been kidnapped by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Aiken testified on behalf of UNICEF before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the Committee on Appropriations, United States House of Representatives. He also helped raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina and served as the spokesperson for the 2005 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign. Recently, he helped raise awareness of the situation facing children in the Middle East conflict. His fans replied by donating over $70,000 for emergency relief.

Aiken has also served as ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House Charities and rode their first float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Years Day 2005, supported McDonald’s World Children’s Day, served as the national spokesperson for Toys for Tots, performed with Broadway star Heather Hedley for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, participated in the National Education Association’s Read Across America, recorded PSA’s for the Autism Society and performed “Give A Little Bit” for the Cartoon Network’s Kids Help Out campaign, empowering children to help in UNICEF’s response to the tsunami disaster.

“Make a career of humanity ... and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.” - MLK

Clay Aiken is a man with both the education and the experience to serve this committee well. He is not yet 28 years old, but he has a decade of experience in working with children, bringing insight, energy, dedication and compassion to his service. His dedication to the inclusion of children with and without disabilities speaks for itself.

Whether it is on a presidential committee or in one's community, whether we bring a lifetime of experience or simply passionate commitment and absolute dedication to an issue, great changes come about through the action of those who have the courage to care.

In considering the significance of this appointment, it does not matter that I am a left-leaning Bay Area liberal and progressive. It does not matter that I am at odds with many of the actions and ideologies of the current administration. In another blog, I will write more about the challenges facing this country in these precarious times. Right now I will celebrate the fact that appointment to this committee affords the appointees with an opportunity to serve, bringing myriad ideas and a range of possibilities to the too-often neglected issues concerning people with disabilities.

Regardless of who holds the position of president at any particular time, it is an exciting and important opportunity for Clay Aiken and the other appointees to bring attention to the issues facing people with intellectual disabilities to the office of the presidency. It will take a commitment of heart, soul and mind to bring about change, and Clay has demonstrated that commitment for a decade. How wonderful it is that he has been given this opportunity to continue his advocacy for inclusion and opportunity for all.

"Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verbs agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” - MLK

Sounds like Clay Aiken to me.

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Carolina Clay said...


Standing O to you! This is the most comprehensive report on why Clay has received the Presidential nomination that I have seen anywhere.

Thank you for accumulating all this information in your blog. I have linked it to family and friends via email.

Too bad the N&O report (i.e., YMCA camp) was picked up throughout the country. I did see a crawler on a local Winston-Salem TV news show this morning about Clay's appointment with mention of his upcoming album.

Again, kudos for an awesome blog!


Pink Armchair said...

Thank you, berkeley, for setting the record straight. Reading all of those accomplishments summarized together makes me feel very proud -- and it makes me wish the press would do a little research! I hope a lot of people read this. These are very impressive achievements for somebody so young.

And thanks also for your eloquent contributions to this blog.

atinal said...

Berkeley, I am always so impressed with your "essays". It's easy to love and follow Clay for his beautiful voice and personality, but you have always kept abreast/and kept "us" abreast of his humanitarian side. If only a fraction of what you have summarized here would have accompanied the media coverage of his appointment, how much more the public at large would have known about Clay and how very qualified he is to serve on this committee.

Anonymous said...

Berkeley, That was so good that it brought tears to my eyes. All the lazy journalists and investigative reporters should read this and feel ashamed of themselves. It was such and interesting and comprehensive report. You didn't miss a thing. I would love to see it published in a reputable newspaper or magazine. Have you considered submitting it?
from a great admirer Molly.

webweaver said...

Wow berkeley - what an AMAZING blog! Fantastic amount of detail - I've never seen it all put together so well in one place before. And I love what you say at the end about the Office of the President.

It puts my blog post about the appointment in the shade - but hey - the more the merrier eh? GREAT JOB!!!

Anonymous said...

I am grasping for words to convey to you how refreshingly dignified and respectful your blog comes across. I cannot find those words,
so may I just say...good work and thank you!

Vox Vixen said...


I just lost my long response to your blog, so I will just say Bravo!


TimetravelerPax said...

Thank You so much for your inspiring summary of Clay's true accomplishments. I just wish you or someone would send this to all the less than impressive "press researchers" -- especially
E!Online who have missed of few of these basic details.
Wonderful!! Wonderful!! ThankYou.

pbeheel said...

Thank you so much for this post! We all know how much Clay has done, but somehow seeing it in this report really brings home just how remarkable he is.

ryan said...

Bravo is right. Wonderful.

sachi said...

Beautiful. I too would absolutely love it if this blog would reach millions. I wish the general public (and the press) could know and understand all that you have shared about Clay's impressive accomplishments...especially for someone 28 years young.

But you've successfully and movingly captured Clay's humanitarian efforts in print. Many will be reminded of all that he has done while others will be informed for the first time.

This blog has and will make a difference.

Thank you.

Kallie1016 said...

Wonderful Blog...Thank you for setting the record straight!!!

Sharon said...


What a fantastic essay. This is exactly what some in the media should have found out themselves. But that would have taken research, so it was easier to make light (and fun) of this nomination.

Clay Aiken deserves this nod from the President without question. Despite anybody's personal thoughts on the Bush administration, President Bush chose well by choosing Clay Aiken.

Thank you Clay for being the man you are. You make all of us proud.

TheBizofKnowledge said...

Wow, I had no idea that Clay Aiken was so involved in education so heavily! This certainly changes my perspective about him: he has my respect for sure!