Announcing February’s Advo-KIT of the Month

karen_palmerleeThis month, we are thrilled to showcase the amazing work and ideas of Karen Palmerlee, a Resource Specialist Teacher at Butte County Office of Education in Bangor, California! Congratulations, Karen! The following is our interview with Karen on her inclusion philosophy.

When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion?

Even as a child, I remember believing that everyone should belong. In the mid 70’s, right out of high school, I traveled to the South Pacific and experienced everyday life in rural island villages. I noticed that most everyone seemed to be wanted, accepted, involved and appreciated. This had a lasting impression on me. I discovered KIT in 2000 while completing my M/M & M/S Credential. It was like winning the jackpot to have an online organization available anytime that focuses on inclusion, provides training and research-based resources, all while fueling my passion, feeding my soul, and giving validity to what I believe in!

Many of us have something we feel passionate about, something we find we are modeling and sharing with others every chance we get, often without even realizing it. I’m a believer in using our higher power to find purpose that taps into our special gifts and brings out the best in us. For me, that’s inclusion. When I discovered KIT’s “Person First Language”, it took something important to me, using appropriate language, especially when addressing people, to a whole new level. By simply changing around a few words, the focus shifts to putting the person first, not the (dis)ability. I believe this “honors” us all and raises awareness.

What do you love about inclusion?

I love how inclusion can touch the lives of everyone in such remarkably positive ways! It’s especially fulfilling when it’s obvious, such as a new student entering your inclusive classroom and smiling with such delight as they look around and realize that this is a place where they belong and want to be. Then you notice their parent give you that look of relief and appreciation, as they confidently walk out the door and leave their precious child in your trusted care.

What is your vision for an inclusive world?

My ideal inclusive world is one where attitudes and environments promote inclusion and access for everyone possible worldwide! I believe we are all lifelong learners, regardless of our situation or location. There are many valuable organizations, resources and support systems available to help us create our visions and achieve our goals. Even large goals can start with each of us examining our expectations, attitudes, words and actions that we model. If this empowers and motivates others to spread this vision, pay it forward, and take action, then perhaps one day, our world will be more like one amazing interconnected inclusive global village. One can dream…

Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion?

Well, there have been many barriers I have faced while attempting to be an advocate for myself and others with or without special needs. I have experienced the frustration in dealing with people who are unwilling to listen or collaborate on any level to find solutions. I believe this helps me have more compassion and patience when working with people who are experiencing barriers. They may just want an opportunity to effectively vent, discover possibilities and find appropriate connections that support their unique and changing needs. It truly does take a village, and it is all about building relationships.

What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?

I feel truly blessed to have so many memorable inclusion experiences, even those that were not so positive, since upon reflection, they helped me grow as an educator and person. It’s especially encouraging when a past student or family member shares how their lives were touched or changed for the better, by our inclusive classroom and practices. A special memory is when I saw a past student with high functioning autism, confidently and capably working at a local business. He proudly said “Hello Ms. Palmerlee”, shook my hand and politely thanked me for being his favorite teacher. Then he pulled out an almost completely worn out, folded up 3×5 card from his wallet where I had written “I believe in you” almost a decade prior. Wow, talk about touch your heart– that made it all worthwhile!

What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?

Something a mentor shared with me, as a brand new teacher, is the importance of connecting with children in a genuinely caring way on their unique level, so it has meaning to them. This might include knowing their name, remembering things they say or do, focusing on what’s important to them, what makes them smile, what they consider as being fun or interesting. This can give such great insight into how to best reach them, encourage them and help them meet their full potential. She suggested personally greeting students every day with a smile, kind word or action depending on their level of trust. Even small positive acts can make such a difference in the life of a child. We can all be observant and diligent to take advantage of any opportunities that promote inclusion and self-determination. This can be effective with everyone!

–Written by KIT Staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

An Open Letter to Mr. Tim Tebow

Dear Mr. Tebow,

You made headlines last weekend after your foundation hosted “Night to Shine” proms in almost fifty cities across the country and in Kenya and Uganda. The “Night to Shine” proms were held simultaneously on the evening of February 13, inviting adults and teens with disabilities to participate in red-carpet events with dresses, corsages, fancy hairstyles, and dance floors.

First of all, I want to thank you for using your thoughts, efforts, and resources to include a population that is often left out of the prom– a quintessential event that is considered one of the most memorable nights of adolescence in America. People with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in America, and you are doing an amazing thing to give them the opportunity to enjoy this major life event. You have brought so much joy to the thousands of individuals with disabilities (and their families) who got to enjoy a night in the spotlight.

However, I want to encourage you to think about how to continue to push your foundation to promote full inclusion– our ultimate goal, as an organization that advocates for people with disabilities. When I think about my senior prom in high school, my favorite moments were not wearing a pretty dress or getting my nails done; the joy of the night had everything to do with the memories I made with my close friends and my school community as a whole. My prom was held a week before my high school graduation, and I loved the opportunity to spend one last night with my friends, my teachers, and my classmates to enjoy our final few days together before we went our separate ways.

Before the prom, my friends and I all took pictures. Some of my friends in my pictures happened to have disabilities. They were not invited to our pictures because it was “the nice thing to do”; they were invited because they were genuine friends. I was privileged to have been raised in a town where inclusion was the rule, not the exception, so I had had many opportunities in and out of school to get to know my peers with disabilities and build close friendships with some of them. I recognize that this is not the case everywhere. But shouldn’t it at least be the goal everywhere?

We all just want to be included, loved, and appreciated. Most kids, with and without disabilities, dream of attending their school’s prom. I know there are added challenges to supporting our friends with disabilities. However, instead of thinking about holding a separate event so that needs can be met, let’s think about a few ways to meet students’ needs at their own proms.

Imagine a student needs to be administered medication multiple times throughout the evening. Perhaps a donation could be made to provide a nurse to attend the prom, acting as a chaperone for all students but helping the student take her medicine when needed.

Let’s say there is a student with autism who has difficulty understanding when the event is over. Let’s provide him with a picture schedule to help him comprehend that there is a start and end time, and that at the end of the evening, everyone leaves and goes home. There are teachers (and often paraprofessionals, too) present at proms. If they are provided with proper training, there is no reason why they should not be able to help students navigate through a new environment at the prom.

In sum, Mr. Tebow, I am so grateful that you are keeping the special needs community in mind when you determine how to give back to the world. Thousands of individuals across the world created special memories at the “Night to Shine” proms that they will cherish forever. Thank you for doing that. In the future, I encourage you to also think about how you can use your resources to help our young people with disabilities become more integral members of our community. That way, instead of just having one night to shine, they will have countless opportunities to be fully-appreciated members of our communities whose talents are regularly in the spotlight.

Sincerely,
Elise Hopkins
Kids Included Together

Kids Included Together’s Year in Review: 2014

The last fiscal year at KIT was a big one, full of exciting new endeavors that are going to help us expand our impact and support more and more inclusive programs across the world. This week, as we wrap up our 2014 impact report, we have a collection of stories, written by various staff members here at KIT to give you an idea of what kept us busy during our phenomenal year. Enjoy!

Finding Marshmallows
By Janet George, KIT Education & Training Specialist

impact-marshmallows-2KIT trainers have the privilege of visiting youth programs around the world; meeting people, delivering training, observing best practices, making practical suggestions, offering resources, etc… There are so many aspects to the job it would take a full page to list them.  One of my favorite aspects is the “aha” moments, the times when the light bulb clicks on and the learner “gets it”.  I facilitated a new training module, “Responding to Aggressive Behavior” recently; one of the learning activities involves an intentionally frustrating, difficult task using M & Ms and toothpicks.  As the task goes along we offer miniature marshmallows to make the task easier, more achievable.  The follow-up discussion likens the marshmallows to new skills and strategies for the providers as well as strategies and supports to help children be more successful.  One learner shared after the training that she plans on “Finding children’s marshmallows”.  I love those connections and ahas!

The Farm Institute on Martha’s Vineyard
By Kathryn King , KIT Education & Training Specialist

impact-Locations-FarmInstituteAElectric fences. Tractors. Bulls. These are just a few of the unique issues KIT was asked to address during a summer camp staff training this past June. KIT Trainer Kat King navigated two planes, three buses, and ferry to reach The Farm Institute on Martha’s Vineyard.  She spent a packed day training the Farm-Based Educators (FBEs) on inclusive practices in a historic barn complete with a walk-in meat smoker and baby swallows in the eaves. A highlight was walking the grounds with the staff while brainstorming visual supports and other accommodations to meet the diverse needs of campers in a farm setting. KIT has already been asked back to train again this coming June.

impact-Locations-FarmInstituteB“We’re in the last week of camp…ready for the break but it has been a really good summer.  While we didn’t get to all the accommodations you suggested, it was definitely an inclusive summer. The young man that Tim had so much trouble with last summer spent two full weeks here without a meltdown or bad day.  And lots of other good things too. Tim said that your training did more for the staff than three days of [their standard] orientation to child development, teaching styles etc. etc.” – Farm Institute Staff Member

KIT Expands into Los Angeles

This year KIT joined forces with All Kids Inc (AKI), in a collaboration supported by Sea Change Capital Partners. All Kids Inc. has been providing training on inclusion to Los Angeles area child and youth programs since 2007. By working together, KIT and AKI will be able to deepen impact and serve more programs. In Spring of 2014, AKI dissolved its non-profit status and transferred the remaining assets to KIT. Becky Tschirgi, previously of AKI, has joined the KIT team and is coordinating KIT services in Los Angeles. If you would like to support KIT in Los Angeles, San Diego and around the world please visit KITonline.org/donate.

KIT Headquarters Get a Refresh!

At a KIT fundraiser in late 2012, a woman approached KIT’s CEO and said, “I want to help! I am an interior designer. Is there anything I can do to help?” The answer to this simple question started as helping to select carpet and paint and turned into a complete redesign of the KIT headquarters office and training center in San Diego donated by Linda Medina of Linda Medina Design. The new office space features our Education Hub and a KIT Café for the staff and their guests. If you want to see our new digs, please come for a visit! We are all so grateful to Linda for her help in creating a space that reflects KIT’s mission and vision.

Letter from the CEO
Torrie Dunlap, Chief Executive Officer

impact-TorrieDunlap-4268_web-use-largeAn easy way to connect to KIT’s mission is to think about a time in your own life when you have been excluded. Most of us have had the experience of not being accepted, and we know the difference between that feeling and what it feels like to belong – to be appreciated for who you are. In 2011 the World Health Organization and the World Bank produced a report on disability. The report stated that children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded children in the world. KIT sees a world where children of all abilities meaningfully participate in all aspects of community life. We strive for a world where differences are appreciated, unique talents are leveraged, and everyone’s lives are made richer by living in a diverse society. The more people we teach, the more people there are advocating for the rights of children with disabilities and creating community environments where everyone belongs. This is the KIT mission!

We believe the best way for you to understand what we do at KIT is to read our stories, but there is more information if you’d like it! To read more about the impact we had last year through our digital impact report, please click here.

–Written by KIT Staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

Adaptive Bike Giveaway– The Friendship Circle

Great Bike Giveaway BannerDo you remember the freedom you felt, the confidence you gained, the pride you had when you received your first bike? The Great Bike Giveaway will help give children with special needs the same feeling you had when that shiny new bike arrived at your home.

For the forth consecutive year Friendship Circle is holding the Great Bike Giveaway, a national contest giving away adaptive bikes to children with special needs. They are partnering with Freedom Concepts, Rifton, Buddy Bike, Ambucs, Triaid,Flaghouse, Mobo Cruisers Strae Sports, the Duet and Strider Bikes to give away adaptive bikes to children and young adults with special needs.

Why The Great Bike Giveaway?

Many children with special needs miss out on the childhood joy of bike riding because their physical or cognitive limitations make riding a bicycle near impossible. The Great Bike Giveaway will give children and young adults with special needs the chance to win an adaptive bike and have the feeling of pride, freedom and confidence that bike riding brings.

How The Contest Works

Adaptive bikes are tailored to a child’s needs. To meet the needs of the recipients in this contest, a separate contest is held for each bike type. The contest starts with two bikes of each type and money is raised to add more bikes as the contest progresses. Last year the Great Bike Giveaway ran eight different contests and gave away a total of 108 bikes! This year Friendship Circle hopes to give away 300 bikes to individuals with special needs.

Each bike page has a space where users can enter the contest. Submit a picture of your child with special needs along with a short explanation of why your child needs an adaptive bike.

From the winner of a Parent:  Judd, received his Rifton tricycle that he won through your bike giveaway. He loves it so much. His first time out with it , he pedaled .75 miles! Everyone at the track had a smile on their faces watching him enjoy his bike. The biggest smile there belonged to him though.

Two Ways to Win

Most Votes
One bike in each contest will be given away to the entry with the most nominations. Nominations are received from friends and family clicking the “nominate button” on an entrants submission

Bike Raffle
All the remaining bikes will be placed in a drawing. To be eligible for the drawing each submission must be nominated by at least 50 friends and family members.

How You Can Help

Whether you have a child with special needs or not you can help more children with special needs win an adaptive bike.

1. Donate To Add More Bikes

In addition to the bikes that have been sponsored, Individuals have the ability to donate to the Great Bike Giveaway to get more bikes added. Every time the donation meter is filled another bike gets added to the drawing!

2. Share and promote

Let as many people as possible know about the opportunity to win an adaptive bike by sharing the the contest via your social networks and email. You can also check out the resources page for additional tools you can use to share the contest.

Contest Timeline

February 10th 12:00 pm

Contest begins! Photo submissions will be accepted.

March 4th 11:59 am

Contest submission deadline, no entries will be accepted after this time.

March 5th

Drawing (Drawing date is tentative and subject to change) Will be held and winners will be announced.

To enter the Great Bike Giveaway visit www.greatbikegiveaway.com For contest rules visit www.friendshipcircle.org/bikes/rules.

A Special Thank You To the Sponsors

Freedom Conceptsstrider logoMobo_Cruiserstrae

Opening the Door to Inclusion with a Letter

At Kids Included Together, we focus on helping organizations (camps, programs, clubs, etc.) serve children of all abilities. We help child care providers see the children they serve in a new way. We open them up to the possibility of inclusion, and support them in the development of new skills so that all kids can thrive in their environment. Recently, a dear friend came to me for advice, and I got to see our work through a different lens. My friend, who is one of the most brilliant moms I have ever witnessed, has two school-age children, one of whom happens to have disabilities.

My friend’s daughter was going to attend an upcoming social event. She asked me, “Do I just send her to the event and see how she does, or do I let them know about her challenges ahead of time?” In particular, she knew that one of the planned activities would be difficult for her daughter without accommodations. I encouraged her to let the organizers know ahead of time, so that everyone could be set up for success.

My friend taught me that this can be really difficult for a parent to do. Here is my friend, an educated and experienced advocate for inclusion, and she was hesitant to predispose the other parents and organizers to her daughter’s additional needs. I connected her with one of our amazing inclusion specialists at KIT, so they could talk about possible activity accommodations that she could suggest, and that had the potential to make the activity even more fun for everyone.

A few days later my friend emailed me this beautiful letter she wrote to introduce the organizers and the other parents to her daughter. I asked for her permission to share it with you, as I think it provides a wonderful example of how to introduce a child whose needs may be different to a new group. Please note that I have changed the names and identifying factors, and edited a little for length. In the original version she ends with a list of tips for communicating with her daughter that the parents can share with their children.

Dear Class of 2022 Moms,

Before our meeting on Wednesday, I wanted to write and let you know a little bit about my daughter, Hailey, who is very excited to be joining.  Hailey learned about this group through her older sister. I am hopeful that Hailey’s experience is as rich, robust, and meaningful as it has been for her older sister. 

 I am not sure how many of you may already know Hailey, but I suspect that many of you have not yet had the opportunity to meet her.  Hailey is fun loving, happy, silly, warm, genuine, and caring.  She loves her family and her two Golden Retrievers.  Like many kids, Hailey loves technology, riding her bike, swimming, and binge-watching television shows on Netflix.  Hailey is kind and has a big heart.  Like your children, she thrives when others welcome and accept her.   

Hailey also happens to be a person with disabilities.  Her diagnosis includes ataxic Cerebral Palsy and Dysarthria.  In simple terms, that means that her brain does not always send the right gross and fine motor signals to her body.  Through a lot of hard work and therapy, Hailey is able to walk, run, swim, and ride a bike.  However, her gross motor skills lack the refinement that a typically developing kid may have.  For instance, skipping, hopping, and balancing are harder for her.  Hailey’s fine motor skills also lack some refinement. 

The biggest obstacle that Hailey faces is speech.  Hailey’s Dysarthria limits her ability to speak clearly.  Listeners sometimes have to ask Hailey to repeat herself, and if you are unfamiliar with Hailey’s speech or the context of what she is saying, she is sometimes difficult to understand. 

 In the past, Hailey’s limitations have kept her somewhat isolated from her typically developing peers.  Disabilities, however, are more common than you may think.  There are 5.2 million children in the U.S. with disabilities.  In San Diego, 58,000 kids receive special education services.  In the total U.S. population (kids and adults), approximately 1 in 5 people have a disability (almost 20%).  An often-overlooked fact about disabilities is that a person can become disabled at any time (e.g., through an accident or stroke).  People with disabilities are a part of every community, including ours. 

 As Hailey matures, she has expressed a growing desire to become more meaningfully included in her community.  She now attends general education classes with instructional support.  So how does Hailey’s participation affect you and your daughter?  My hope is that with the right support and education, this can be an enriching experience for us all.  If you and/or your daughter have any questions about disabilities in general, or Hailey’s specific limitations, I encourage you to contact me.  I am pretty much an open book when it comes to educating people about disabilities and inclusion. 

I also encourage you to have a discussion with your daughter in advance of Wednesday’s meeting to talk about people with disabilities in general and provide her with some age-appropriate advice about communicating with someone with speech problems. 

 Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Again, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  We look forward to getting to know you.

Whenever you put yourself out there like this, you are naturally nervous about how your message will be received. In this case my friend was inundated with positive responses where the other parents shared their own stories of disability, of experiences with inclusion (or lack of it) and thanked my friend for the introduction to her daughter. And, the first social event ended up going well. Driving home, Hailey said to her mom, “That was a really fun party!”

–Written by Torrie Dunlap, KIT CEO

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.