I did purchase a copy of a book published by the Project called Our Friend Mikayla to send to our local elementary school a few years ago. The book is written and illustrated by a third grade class and describes how they approached the inclusion of a classmate with a severe disability. It shows that children have an innate way of seeing past the wheelchair or other differences and just finding a way to play. Adults should be so wise. I received a lovely note two days later from the special education teacher who gushed over the book and couldn’t thank me enough. She was immediately putting it into the program for all children, not just her students. She said it was exactly what she had been looking to find for a few years. I thought that maybe this young charity was really on to something here.
Every year for their annual Gala, I would send a donation and listen to the speeches on videotape after the event. But this year friends and I decided to journey to Raleigh, North Carolina and attend for ourselves. It was a big year for the charity; they announced their name change and an aggressive series of goals. They had just received a four star rating from Charity Navigator, the highest ranking given by the largest independent charity watchdog. This makes them the highest rated charity in their field. And just this weekend, the Project received a special donation from The Christie Cookie Company as the leading vote getter in their charity contest.
I was not prepared for what I experienced. I had not realized how progressive their programs were and how they were embraced by other, more well known programs including the Boston University's Camp Shriver program. The Director at Shriver noted that the Project’s camp programs and curriculum were “genius” and they will be adopting their model. I think everyone around our table mouthed “wow”.
They presented Champions Trophies to three deserving groups. The first was presented to two high school cheerleaders who developed a program called The Sparkle Effect which incorporates children of all abilities into their program. They have even developed an online model for other schools. The young women accepting the award were poised, composed and articulate beyond their years. I have a daughter the same age and I think I sat there feeling like a proud mother. I can’t imagine how their mothers feel. Kind of brings a new meaning to “and a child shall lead them”.
The second winner was the corporate award given to Mitsubishi Electric. Their Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) is an integral part of the company and works hard at a number of initiatives important to the Project. It was wonderful to see such a solid corporate partnership.
Finally, a Champion Trophy was presented to a young man named Patrick Henry Hughes, along with his father Patrick John Hughes and Patrick’s band leader at U of Louisville. Patrick Henry was born without eyes along with other physical challenges. He is a musical prodigy and he plays trumpet in the marching band, with his father pushing his wheelchair. I’ve been in a marching band, it’s hard enough to remember the music and the steps, never mind doing it while pushing a wheelchair. We were treated to a few songs on the piano and I was amazed at his musicality and his stage presence. I remarked that Patrick was living proof of what the Project was trying to achieve because you forgot he was blind and you forgot he had other physical challenges. You simply enjoyed the music and laughed at his enthusiasm.
Previous winners include the family who produced Including Samuel, which can be seen on PBS this month.
As someone else said this weekend, it is truly amazing that this charity started as a college assignment for Clay Aiken to complete his degree in Special Education. His and Diane Bubel’s vision is more than a reality. It’s changing the reality of thousands of children.
To learn more, please visit Inclusionproject.org
Our Friend Mikayla
National Inclusion Project
Patrick Henry Hughes
Christie Cookie Company