It was, after all, just a matter of time.
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 5, 2006
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.
Technorati tags: Clay Aiken, President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, George W. Bush, Special Education, Community Alternatives Program for Persons with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, Diane Bubel, Mike Bubel, Bubel/Aiken Foundation, inclusion, autism, Youth Service America
Clay Aiken Able To Serve Awards, YMCA, Kids Included Together, Champions of Change, Voices for Change, Friends In Deed, Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, America's Promise / The Alliance for Youth, General Colin Powell, Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities, Fearless Caregiver Conference, UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund, Banda Aceh, Indonesia, displaced persons, refugees, Uganda, Hurricane Katrina, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, Ronald McDonald House Charities, McDonald’s World Children’s Day, Toys for Tots, Heather Hedley, Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, National Education Association, Read Across America, Autism Society, Cartoon Network, Kids Help Out