Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

Camper Story: "Two Strike Corey"

It has been far too long since we have featured a camper story on this blog! Former MHKC counselor, Joshua Cady, captured a rich and lovely image of his camper, Corey Bigboy, and we would like to share that profile here. Enjoy!

But first, this seems like a good opportunity to remind everyone that counselor applications for summer 2015 are being accepted now and are available here. And now, Corey and Joshua:

Two Strike Corey

When asked about his past history with Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, Corey Bigboy replies, “I was a spy.” A large, playful smile spreads across his face. “Yeah, I worked for the United States government and I said, ‘we need to make this place awesome.'” He laughs and adds, “I built that place from the ground up. I said that we needed a place to chill out and practice moving good. We have to help these kids with kids with disabilities.” He leans back in his wheelchair and lets out another full body chuckle.

Without question, this 18-year-old young man is full of humor, but what is spectacular about his humor is that it also rings with truth. It might be obvious that he wasn’t a spy who was responsible for the camp’s existence, but his love for the camp and his feeling about his importance there are completely real. “What I like about Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is that they treat you like an adult there,” Corey explains. “I do feel like an adult at home, but I don’t always feel that way other places.”

Corey currently lives in Southeast Portland, Oregon with his twin brother Gary and his foster mother, Lori. In the spring of 2013, Corey graduated from David Douglas High School. He is currently attending a postsecondary educational transition program with his brother where he is taught skills such as writing job applications and self-advocacy skills.

Corey Bigboy was born May 2nd, 1995 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He and his brother were both born with the condition Cerebral Palsy, which severely restricts the use of the legs and also significantly limits the use of their arms and hands. Sharing the condition with his twin brother Gary, being pretty much identical, and having the same sense of humor, are all reasons why the bond between the two young men is that much stronger. Corey insists, however, that Gary is the more serious one. Though the two may be similar, Corey is completely a one-of-a-kind individual.

Corey’s mother and father both belong to the Sioux tribe, which makes Corey a member of the tribe as well. Corey’s mother had developmental delays and was residing in an assisted living home when Corey and his brother were born, and was unable to raise the boys. Corey and his brother then moved to live with their grandparents in Portland, Oregon until the age of nine. Due to an unstable living environment, Corey and his brother were removed from his grandparents' care and placed in the custody of their current foster mother, Lori. Lori, a medical foster parent, took on the responsibility that few would have—raising two boys with Cerebral Palsy—and has continued to give the two her fullest love and care.

When asked about growing up with Cerebral Palsy, Corey says that “it was easy.” Perhaps this is because he has always lived with the disability, but Corey also says that having his self-operated power wheelchair provides a lot of freedom to him. Also, having a brother with the same disability gives him someone else he can relate to. He gets along with his brother, Gary, and says they rarely fight.

In his senior year of high school, Corey and his brother took part in a charitable project that involved helping the Sparrow Club, a youth-based charity that provides financial and emotional support for critically ill children and their families. The Sparrow Club also empowers young people like Corey to help kids through charitable service within their communities. Corey and his brother assisted in the Sparrow Clubs efforts to raise money for an 11-year-boy that needed brain surgery. Corey and Gary helped by selling raffle tickets and donating the tips they earned from their daily coffee rounds at David Douglas High School. Being involved in this type of effort helped Corey to realize the potential he had to directly impact other people's lives in positive ways.

The main piece of Corey's identity that he is most proud of is his Sioux heritage. The Sioux have a rich cultural history that revolves around the principle of living in harmony with nature and the environment. The Sioux are known for having a rich oral tradition where they pass on their values, beliefs and spirituality. What Corey draws strength from most from his Sioux heritage is that, “they didn’t give up and die,” as he puts it. This passion and commitment has been a motivating force for him in his life. He says that he “likes the old ways” and their understanding of the earth where “Mother Earth is the Spirit Guide of all things.” Corey feels extremely connected to this background and celebrates his traditions by attending pow-wows, mostly in Portland, and even visiting the reservation in South Dakota on occasion. At the pow-wows, Corey often dresses in a red shirt and a red bandana. He jokes that he resembles a “red tomato.” Corey enjoys meeting other Native Americans at the pow-wows, which are open to people of all tribes and those interested in learning about the culture in a respectful manner. Corey wants others to learn about his culture, but it is tremendously important to him that they are respectful of the values and beliefs of the Native Americans.

In his spare time, Corey enjoys listening to music from pow-wow, particularly that of the Black Lodge Singers, a Native American northern drum group. The Black Lodge Singers are a 12-member group that creates traditional Native American Northern Plains’ music. They sing in their native Blackfoot language, while each member pounds steady, rhythmic beats on a large, sacred buffalo drum. Corey says he loves the heavy beats and the power that is in the music.

Corey would like to one day take his passion for his heritage one step further. Corey has expressed an interest in someday opening a camp that would expressly serve the needs of Native American youth. Corey has felt the impact that camp has had on his life by attending Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, and it was there that he got this idea. He has said that when he is at camp he feels as if her is among family and feels safe to freely express himself. Corey would like to someday extend these same benefits to other Native American youth who otherwise would not have had this sort of camp experience and provide a space for them to freely “explore themselves.” Corey would like to call this camp Two Strike Camp, a name that refers to a BrulĂ© Lakota chief who fought in various battles against the US Army during the time of Bozeman Trail war.

For Corey, the name refers to power—the power he wishes to instill in the Native American youth who come to his camp. Corey says that it is “sad, the violence that is around kids today and the bad influences of so many adults.” He wants to create a place where these young adults have positive role models, can draw strength from one another, and learn more about their own heritage. Corey has struggles with behavior himself in the past, and this understanding, along with his passion, could serve him well someday in taking on this type of charitable and heritage enriching endeavor.

Even though Corey has great ambitions for his adult life, he is still currently taking in all the enjoyment that comes from being a young 18 year-old. For recreation, Corey enjoys music, movies, television, and watching sports. Corey has a great interest in what he refers to as “old school” hip hop. The hip hop he is referring to is that of the 1990s. He really enjoys artists such as Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, and his personal favorite, Snoop Dog. Corey enjoys the beats and says that the style of that time is much smoother that it currently is and finds connection with many of the lyrics.

Corey also loves movies, his favorite being any and all action movies. His most favorite action movie is Blade, which he says Wesley Snipes is “absolutely awesome” in. His favorite TV shows consist of humorous shows such as Ridiculousness, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and The Simpsons, which he says is “classic” and will “stay cool forever.” For sports, Corey enjoys watching basketball and football. He always cheers for the Ducks and wears his Ducks jacket with pride.

Another attribute of Corey, that is somewhat typical of an 18 year-old male, is his love for young females close to his age. Corey is not at all shy and enjoys flirting with girls. At Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, he is notorious for flirting with the female staff members, but was particularly fond of one of the counselor staff this past summer. While on a hike that involves searching for gold, this particular female staff member asked Corey if he had seen any gold, to which Corey responded, “You're the only gold I see.” It is this sort of playful charm that makes Corey so fun and endearing to be around.

When Corey is at camp, he brings a sense of joy and excitement with him everywhere he goes. As Corey rolls his way along the pathways, he wears a large smile on his face as he gives cheerful greetings to all the counselors and staff. He has what he refers to as a “Legacy” at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, and it is clear from the excitement and joy that others get when they see him at camp that he is truly legendary there. He is committed to trying challenging activities there, such as the rock wall and the flying squirrel which he, with the help of the amazing staff members at Mt. Hood, has been able to achieve.

Though Corey has had to deal with various struggles in his life, such as limited bodily mobility due to Cerebral Palsy, and also having to live in various places, he carries on with a lust for life that is absolutely remarkable. He has said that he feels life is so much better if you are able to “have a good sense of humor and laugh about the stuff that doesn't matter.” He enjoys sharing a laugh with friends and doing what he does best, which he says is “being and Indian.” Corey looks to the future with optimism and hope, and with his joyful confidence he intends to do great things in this world.

(Written by Joshua Cady and originally published on the MHKC capstone page)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Girl Moonwalks on Largest Stage for Autism Awareness

If you had seen Falynne Lewing, a 13 year-old girl from Reno, Nevada, when she was a child, you probably would not have thought that years later you would be likening her to the Prince of Pop. Falynne (pronounced 'Fallon') has Asperger Syndrome, and in her early years, she had trouble with her speech and her walking. Now, however, she can impersonate Michael Jackson's moves to the T and is getting a lot of attention for it.

Falynne was five years old when her Michael Jackson infatuation began. That was when she saw his "Thriller" video for the first time. It wasn't long before, apparently out of the blue, Falynne showed her parents that she, too, could pop-and-lock, glide, and spin around the floor. 

"Our jaws dropped," says Falynne's mother, Michelle. "We couldn't believe that she could do something like that on her own. Falynne says the dancing was spontaneous; she just decided to try it out. 

Her parents weren't the only ones who were impressed by Falynne's moves. She and her mother recently went to both VidCon and Michael Jackson's final resting place, and when Falynne started dancing, people circled around her. Pretty amazing for someone with no formal dance training.

"They wanted to meet her, they wanted to hug her, they wanted to see her dance," says Michelle. 

So it may be no surprise that on October 23rd, Falynne will be performing on the world's largest indoor stage--the Grand Theatre at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno--to not only show off her moves, but raise autism awareness. The proceeds from the show will go to the Autism Coalition of Nevada and the Nevada Humane Society.

Check out Falynne's Facebook page to see more dancing, MJ-themed and otherwise, singing, and to stay updated on her push for autism awareness.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Bro": A Teen's Struggle with His Brother's Disability

Below is a lovely short film, a coming-of-age type of story about teenage Simon, who struggles to come to terms with his brother's disability. Simon's brother, Mark, has Fragile X Syndrome, also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome, which is the most common form of inherited intellectual disabilities among males.

The film's contrasts between private and public scenes with Mark and Simon as well as the contrasts between Simon's isolated home life and the new freedom in which he indulges highlight the complexity of relationships, familial and otherwise, during adolescence. The pull between Simon's love for Mark and resentment of Mark's disability only further complicate these relationships. But Simon begins to see that the only one judging Mark, and therefore Simon, is Simon himself.

Give it a look! It's about 18 minutes and worth the time it takes to watch. 

Bro from Chris Dundon-Smith on Vimeo.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Therapy in Paint and Purrs

Five-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw from the United Kingdom loves to paint. She's got a knack for it, too; Iris has autism and is mostly non-verbal, but her painting style is not what one might expect from a child her age. Many of her paintings have sold for hundreds, and a few in the thousands, of dollars.

Iris's painting started when she was about two years old after she was diagnosed with autism and it was suggested she take up a hobby as a form of therapy. Painting thrilled her, and while her parents saw the joy painting gave their daughter and recognized the distinction between her art and the art of others her age, they were not immediately convinced that the talent they saw on the sheets of watercolor paper was more than biased parental perspective. According to her father, Peter Halmshaw, he thought the paintings were amazing, but assumed that's what all parents thought of their children's abilities. It wasn't until people outside the family started commenting on the paintings and offering to buy them that her skill became apparent.


While painting did serve as a helpful therapy for her, it wasn't until last winter that somewhat of a breakthrough occurred in terms of Iris's communication skills. Painting is her way of expression, not speech. But during the Christmas holiday, the Halmshaw family got a temporary visitor that would influence Iris's development into the present. Shiraz, a Siberian house cat, had a brief stay with the Halmshaws and, as Iris's mother, Arabella Carter-Johnson, said, “opened up a door that I had no idea was unlocked.”

Iris had never really shown much of an interest in animals, but she followed Shiraz around the house, saying, “C-A-T” and “cat” and “more cat'. She sat comfortably next to Shiraz and offered her water, eventually inviting the cat to a sort of tea party. Shiraz calmed Iris, kept her company, and opened up a different side of the little girl.

But Shiraz had to go back home to London. Iris's parents were stunned by the interactions their daughter had with the cat, it was a short time before they got a Maine Coon kitten for Iris. Thula, named after one of Iris's favorite African lullabies, took to Iris instantly and caused positive change upon arrival. Iris wakes up early and enthusiastically and talks to Thula, who is a loyal and respectful companion. The respect goes both ways; Iris is not overly grabby with Thula (but over time has actually become more responsive to physical touch with the cat), and Thula is always there, as if by instinct, when Iris needs her.

Iris and Thula begin a new painting.
Further, Thula has been an enthusiastic painting assistant. When Iris clearly said “paint” and “painting for the first time, her mother's excitement sent Iris running around the house, arms joyously in the air. She came back to the kitchen where her painting station is set up, adds more paint to the paper, then takes off with brush in hand to show Thula the color she chose. Iris dabs the brush on the sheet upon which sits Thula, and the cat playfully puts her paws on top of the paint dots.

The two continually fortify their already strong bond, and Iris's communication skills and emotional control keep improving. Check out Iris's website to read more about Iris, her painting and other therapies, and Thula.