Monday, October 5, 2015

A visit to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, part 2

Our Social Media Manager visited camp this last summer to meet campers and counselors, take photos, and share the experience with you.  Read part 1 here.

After we left the pool and campsite, faculty member Carolyn Bradley continued to show me the camp.  I'm in the presence of an expert; it's Carolyn's 17th year supervising counselors here.  "I love it," she says of her work and the camp.

We start with the sites where outdoor activities take place.  Below is a tree where campers are hoisted up into the air with a harness, their weight carried by a row of campers and counselors down below.  It's a fun activity for the person being lifted and a great team-building exercise for those still on the ground.

A camper is hoisted into the air during one of the many outdoor activities available at camp.
 We then headed up a hill to visit the horses.  There are four full-sized horses, and the campers get to take turns riding them around a fence-enclosed area.

The campers get to ride horses around this fence-enclosed area.
There's also a miniature horse named Disco, a newer addition to the equine experience at Kiwanis Camp.  Disco came up to us immediately as we approached, calmly letting me take photos and then munching on weeds as Carolyn showed me around.

Disco, the small horse above, is for interacting with socially rather than riding.
By then it was time for the fishing activity to start, so we headed back down to the area around Fanning Hall and to the pond.  It's a catch-and-release affair, with no fish permanently harmed.  Carolyn told me of an elusive larger fish that everyone likes to catch, and it became easy to see how a culture and a feeling of community build up here in only two-week sessions.

A pond where campers and counselors practice catch-and-release fishing.
Our final stop was the art building, a cozy space that was alive with the chatter of campers and counselors as they worked on their arts and crafts.  There were quieter corners of the room as well, and a few of the more shy camper-counselor pairs chose to do their work on some of the smaller tables around the edges.

The arts and crafts room was buzzing with activity when we arrived.

Even in busier environments there are places where campers and counselors can step out of the action for a moment, like this quieter corner in the art building.
The campers can work on personal projects here, but when we arrived they had a group project:  working to complete small boats for a nighttime ceremony that occurs at camp.  Here are some completed boats, with wishes of all kinds written on the sides, such as "I want to meet good new friends next year too!" and "I want to come back soon to camp," and "We wish to come back next, & get into another group, & make new friends but keep the old & feel good next year."

One of the projects that can be created during the art activity is a boat like the one above, which contains wishes (written on small pieces of paper) that the campers and counselors have made.
Our tour was at an end after that, and as we stepped outside I asked Carolyn for some parting thoughts on what she likes best about this capstone.  "You know, there's a lot of publicity and a lot of sharing about how valuable this camp is for campers, and how much they get out of it," she tells me, "But a lot of people don't realize that the counselors get a lot out of it too.  They are learning a lot about themselves, they're growing, and they're becoming people who know more about someone with a disability and are more comfortable around people with a disability.  And that's gonna continue to affect them throughout their life, whether it be with their family or their community or in the workplace.  They're forever changed."

Special thanks to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp and Carolyn Bradley.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A visit to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, part 1

Welcome to fall term, everyone!  Many of you completed your capstone (or some elective credits) at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp last summer, and we would love to hear about your experience.  Please feel free to tell us about your time at camp here in the comments, or on our Facebook page. 

For those of you who haven't been to camp, however, we wanted to give you some more information about what the location is actually like.  Our Social Media Manager made a trip out to camp last summer to explore the site, take photos, and chat with some of the staff and counselors.  A write-up of the experience appears below.  (If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in a comment here or on Facebook; we'll be checking the comments frequently this week, and will try to answer any questions.  Also, let us know if you like this post, and if you want us to publish Part 2.)

A Visit to the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone
Last August, on an unseasonably warm summer day, I made the hour-and-a-half long drive from the Portland State University campus to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.  Carolyn Bradley, a faculty member at camp, would be meeting me at Fanning Hall, which I'd been told was "the large brown building with the green roof."

Fanning Hall, the main dining hall and administrative building, during a time when outdoor activities were scheduled.  (Image courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.)  

The campers and counselors were out for activities when I arrived, so I had a few moments to myself before Carolyn could meet me.  The campsite itself is lovely, nestled deep within the trees, and there was a kind of innate peacefulness that made me feel not simply like a visitor among the forest, but a part of the forest itself.  I headed up the dusty path to Fanning Hall.

The path that runs throughout most of the camp.  Fanning Hall is just to the left of where this picture was taken, and the same tables shown in the photo above can be seen on the right.

The dining hall, too, was empty when I arrived, so I asked the nurses who work in an immediately adjacent room to use the walkie-talkie and let Carolyn know I was there.  All of the staff here seem to have a walkie-talkie.  It's the easiest way to talk to someone who's not nearby; cell phone coverage is spotty at best.

Interior of Fanning Hall.  Nurses are on hand for the duration of the capstone, and their office is also in this building (it's just visible on the right side of this photo).

Carolyn arrived soon after, introducing herself to me in a professional tone.  She gave me a primer on the capstone's origins (which you can learn more about on Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp's website here), and then we were off to tour the camp.
Our first stop was the pool, which was specially made to be accessible.  A long ramp runs the pool's length, and a special water-safe wheelchair is provided.

A wheelchair-accessible ramp into the water can be seen at the far side of the pool (a water-safe wheelchair is provided).

A woman in a wheelchair came up to us before we left, and she and Carolyn chatted and exchanged pleasantries for a moment before we moved on.  Carolyn explained to me as we walked that some of the campers here need only physical assistance, some only assistance with mental tasks, and some with both.  All are welcome at Kiwanis.

All people with different abilities are welcome at Kiwanis Camp.  (Image courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.)

We passed a campsite and some single-person tents as we continued on, which prompted a discussion of the living arrangements at camp.  There are several different spots that counselors stay in during the summer, some of them indoor but most of them outdoor, with many students opting to bring their own tents from home.  Sleeping locations are preassigned, but Carolyn tells me that needs can be accommodated—one year, a pregnant counselor needed to be near the restroom, and the camp was happy to provide such an arrangement.

A small selection of counselor's tents, some brought from home, at one of the campsites.

We moved on to see other activities, and even met a tiny horse, but that's another story.  Please let us know in the comments or on Facebook if you'd like us to continue this series!

Have a happy and healthy fall term, everyone.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kiwanis Camp Capstone featured on PSU's homepage!

The Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone is currently being featured in Inside PSU and displayed on the college's homepage at  The story spotlights undergraduate student Joe Beck and his experience at camp, and features quotes from program coordinator Ann Fullerton and graduate assistant Molly Moran about PSU's oldest continuing capstone.  If you're thinking about taking the capstone next year or just want to know more, this is a great place to start!

Read the article here.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Infant with Down syndrome signs with modeling agency

Micah Quinones only a year old, but he already has a head start into a possible career.  Diagnosed with Down syndrome when he was three months old, the toddler was recently signed by the same modeling agent who represents his fashion-model mother Amanda Booth.

Tooth pain? Fruit popsicles to the rescue!

A photo posted by Micah Quinones (@lifewithmicah) on

Before Micah was diagnosed, Booth and her husband Mike Quinones had started an Instagram account for him called "Life with Micah" as a way to share photos with friends and family.  Soon, more and more followers came, finding it through Booth's own already-popular Instagram account.  The transition to modeling was natural; Booth says that Micah looks right into the camera as soon as it comes out, and that everyone tells him he's just like his mother.  The Instagram account didn't start out as an advocacy project, Booth notes, but it continued to grow in popularity after Micah's diagnosis, and he now has more than 39,000 followers. 

Micah's parents were first told that he might have Down syndrome by a nurse soon after his birth, who suspected the condition after noting Micah's almond-shaped eyes and folded ears.  Since these features could have been genetic or a result of complications during the pregnancy, however, Booth and her husband didn't see the need to take the four vials of blood from their newborn that would be needed for the test.  There had been no indications before Micah's birth, either; he displayed none of the heart defects many babies with Down syndrome have, and Booth and Quinones had opted not to do a prenatal screening, agreeing that the results wouldn't change anything. 

Last year 4th of July, and today. Thank you America, my family appreciates you. ����

A photo posted by Amanda Booth (@amanda_booth) on

At their pediatrician's recommendation three months later, however, they did have the test completed.  Booth says that while she shed some tears and was scared at the diagnosis, not personally knowing anyone with Down syndrome, she soon realized that no number was going to change what she thought about her son.

Keep them wild. #drivewaybombs

A photo posted by Amanda Booth (@amanda_booth) on

Booth has also said that one of her goals in sharing photos of her family is to bring hope to other families who are also affected by Down syndrome.  Connecting with such families through Instagram has been very helpful for her, she says, and has enabled her to follow along with their journeys and milestones as she experiences her own.  Already called a spokesperson for Down syndrome-related causes by Mother Magazine, Booth still says she hopes that her involvement in the community will continue to grow.

You can follow Micah on Instagram here, and learn more about his and his family's story in Mother Magazine,, ABC news, Pregnancy & Newborn, and Buzzfeed.

Monday, July 27, 2015

An exclusive interview with Professor Julie Esparza Brown

A few weeks ago, we wrote here about a grant that Professor Julie Esparza Brown won from the US Department of Education.  Last week we sat down with the lovely Professor Brown herself for an exclusive interview about the grant, the program it helps fund for special educators, and how PSU is in a unique situation nationally in the special education field.  We hope you enjoy!

Image courtesy Kkmd/Wikimedia Commons

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Question: Let's start with the basics.  Will you please tell us about the grant you recently won from the U.S. Department of Education?
Julie Esparza Brown Answer: Sure.  Okay, the grant that we got is a five-year 1.25 million dollar grant from the Office of Special Education in Washington DC.  And it is to train students who are from underrepresented groups to be special educators, to work with children with significant disabilities such as on the autism spectrum, or children with intellectual disabilities or severe behavior disorders.  So we will train seven students a year for a total of 35 by the end of the grant. 

Q: What led you to pursue this grant?

A: So this is, gosh, I've written several grants that we've received over the time I've been here, about 17 years.  Probably 5 federal grants.  So we know that to train diverse teachers…generally they need financial assistance.  So in order to diversify our special education field, I'm always looking for funding opportunities to be able to help with their tuition expenses.  So this was another great opportunity.  We had a grant through a different federal office that ended two years ago, it was also a five-year grant to train bilingual special educators, so this is another similar one so that we can get people in the field that we really need to be able to meet the needs of our ever-changing population. 

Q: Why should a student consider enrolling in the program at PSU?
A: Well, because first of all it pays almost their entire tuition for getting a special ed licensure.  And again if they are interested in becoming a teacher, a certificated teacher, and their passion is working with children with disabilities, this is a great opportunity.  So we just admitted our first cohort and have a great cadre of seven students who are very passionate about the work.  Six of them are bilingual Spanish-speakers, so it's a great opportunity for them.  And they're really needed in our schools.

Q: Will a person need to already be bilingual in order to enroll in the program?
A: You do not!  But we are looking for people that have experiences across different cultural groups.  So for example, one of our new students is not bilingual, but she's had a lot of experience working in Alaska with Alaskan Native children, so for example she brings a really deep understanding of cultural differences.  So not necessarily bilingual-bicultural, but certainly experience in working across cultures and a passion for that.

Q: How do you think this grant will affect PSU and our role in nationwide special education?
A: Well, there was a article written about us, oh, maybe five years ago or so, that identified us as one of twelve programs in the nation that trained bilingual special-educators.  So, you know, there just aren't very many programs able to do the work that we're doing here, so we're just in a unique situation.  Prior to being at PSU, I was a public school educator, and I was a special ed teacher.  And then I changed school districts and was a bilingual kindergarten teacher for many years, and then went back into special ed and created a bilingual special ed classroom, so was actually able to do special ed and serve children in their native language.  And then I went back to school and added a school psychology credential, so worked as a school psychologist.  So I am firmly grounded in three fields, so it's a pretty unusual background, that I'm able to really understand how we combine the knowledge base from all the fields, to train people here or to create programs that will really help address the needs of the kids that struggle the most in our schools.  So, we're in a unique situation nationally.

Q: What do you envision PSU's role in special education will be like ten years from now?

A: Well, I'm hoping that we will be known for this kind of work, and that our programs will grow, will continue to find outside sources of funding to support diverse learners that otherwise probably wouldn't be able to afford to come back to school.  And that we'll make an impact on doing research on how we best work across language groups, so I'm just hoping that this grows and expands. 

Q: Finally, is there anything else you'd like us to know about this grant or Portland State's special education program?
A: I guess that just, it's another exciting opportunity because the students that I've worked with in the last grant and all the grants that I've worked with are so passionate.  The exciting thing with the grants that I have been involved with in the last 17 years…we've seen students that have begun as teachers, that are now rising to be top-level administrators.  So it's really neat to see kind of our family of alumni that are making a huge difference state-wide and taking those diverse experience and helping everybody to understand more about unique needs of kids across culture and language groups.  So it's very exciting work.

Our sincerest thanks to Professor Julie Esparza Brown.  We hope that some of you are interested in taking advantage of this program, and that all of you found this interview helpful.  If you apply, let us know how it goes!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The British Paraorchestra: Orchestral pioneers

On July 2nd and 3rd, 2015, the Fast Forward music festival took place in Bristol, England.  Headlining the festival was the British Paraorchestra, a group of virtuoso musicians who are no strangers to performing for large audiences—in 2012, they played with popular band Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games.  But there is something special about these musicians: all have different (some even say "extraordinary") abilities. 

The British Paraorchestra is the first large-scale ensemble composed entirely of musicians who have different abilities.  Founded in 2012 by British conductor Charles Hazlewood and television director Claire Whalley, it was created in response to the profound scarcity of musicians with different abilities Hazlewood had noticed in the orchestras with which he worked.  A veteran in the field of music (he won the European Broadcasting Union’s conducting prize in his twenties), Hazlewood first observed the lacking after his daughter Eliza was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  In twenty years of working with orchestras, he said, he realized that he remembered seeing only three musicians with different abilities.  Once he truly registered this, he started actively looking for such musicians, and those he found became the first members of the British Paraorchestra.

Today musicians in the orchestra represent a wide variety of musical talent, with instruments ranging from the ancient to the electronic.  Orchestra member Ziad Sinno represents the ancient—in addition to the violin, he also plays the oud, a Middle-Eastern string instrument.  As a blind musician, he's had trouble finding work in orchestras because he cannot read music in the traditional way; instead he listens to a piece, sometimes on a computer, and learns to play it by ear.  His fellow performer Lyn Levett represents the electronic end of the orchestra's spectrum—she uses an iPad to create her music.  Levett has cerebral palsy, and she pre-programs sound loops on the tablet computer that she can later trigger by using her nose.

Although they have different circumstances than many performers, the most important thing to the British Paraorchestra is still the quality of their musicianship.  As Hazlewood explains, one performer he talked with after a rehearsal didn't know what kinds of different abilities the rest of the performers had, and was not really interested in knowing.  To this group, the music is what matters.

You can learn more about the British Paraorchestra on their website, in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Bristol Post, the Western Gazette, and in The Fix magazine.  A TEDx talk given by Hazlewood and featuring the orchestra is also available on and on YouTube.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Sesame Phone: An accessible touch-free smart phone

It's a novel idea: a touchscreen smartphone, able to be used without touch.  And yet for millions of people living with paralysis (as many as 6 million in America alone, according to estimates), that is the only way to use a smartphone.  Oded Ben Dov, co-founder of the Sesame Phone's parent company Sesame Enable, started work on the touch-free phone after he received a call from Giora Livne, who had been quadriplegic for seven years.

Livne, a former Israeli navy commander and electrical power engineer, had seen Oded Ben Dov on television demonstrating a mobile video game that users could play by using head gestures.  The two did not know each other, but Livne decided to track down Oded Ben Dov anyway and ask him to create the touch-free smartphone.  Together the two took on the challenge and founded Sesame Enable, and with the help of an Indigogo campaign, they were able to make Livne's idea into a reality.

The Sesame Phone is actually a Google Nexus 5, with Sesame software installed on it that can enable users to navigate the phone's native Android platform.  The software is activated when a user says "Open Sesame," and can be deactivated when a user says "Close Sesame."  It works by using the phone's front-facing camera to track a person's head gestures.

For people who cannot usually use a smart phone without assistance, it can be hard to perform everyday tasks like making a call or sending a text with any sort of privacy.  With the Sesame Phone, Livne notes that he can finally call his wife without having listeners around.  And because of the many capabilities that modern smartphones have, he can also use it to control things within his home such as lights, television, and air conditioning.

According to Sesame Enable's website, the phone is made for people with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and more.  In 2014, Sesame Enable won a Verizon Powerful Answers award—an award which came with one million dollars.  After the win, the company announced on their Indigogo page that they had decided to donate all funds raised through the page to devices that will go to people in need.

You can find out more about the Sesame Phone and Sesame Enable on their website, or on Forbes, Today, Wired, Business Insider, Engaget, and other places as listed on their website.