Friday, March 13, 2015

A Farewell Post

Good evening (or morning or afternoon or whenever you should happen to be reading this), everyone! As many of you may know, today was the last official day of winter term, excluding finals week. I don't have any more classes to attend, and in spite of a poorly timed case of food poisoning, I presented my thesis today, which is required for graduation from PSU's honors college.

Required for graduation? Graduation??

Yup. Today was my last official day of school. That means, too, that today is my last official day working for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp senior capstone.

Kiwanis has become such a significant part of my life in the past couple years that it's kind of strange to think that I was so close to never having been involved with MHKC at all.

I started working for MHKC when I first came to Portland State in fall, 2012. I got an email through the English department listserv saying that a social media manager was needed for a capstone project that allowed students to work with and learn from members of the disability community while spending two weeks at summer camp. I saw it and thought, “Yes! A writing job with flexible hours!” And then I had a sinking realization.

Two, actually.

The first was that I would have to jump back into the world of social media, which, after not having had Facebook for a year and a half or so, was not appealing. The second realization was that I didn't really know anything about the disability community. The way I saw it, I wasn't qualified, except that I like writing. But I decided to apply anyway.

Another conflict.

I needed a writing sample. Or rather, it was suggested I include a writing sample. But what should I send in? I had no idea what the mysterious person behind the email wanted. An academic essay didn't seem right. Neither, certainly, did poetry. Maybe fiction? But those pieces were all awful. Anyway, the writing sample was optional, right? So I sent in my resume and an enthusiastic paragraph that flattered both myself and the capstone, and closed it out with this:
“I wasn't sure what genre of writing would be best to send as a sample, so if there is a specific type of writing you are looking for, please let me know. I would be happy to send something your way.”

Well, I got an email back. It wasn't a request for a writing sample. It just said that I did not have the qualifications they were looking for. Well, at least I hadn't gotten my hopes up?

Except I had! Of course I had! And what a blow! Was it because I didn't have experience with the disability community, or was it because I forwent the writing sample? The uncertainty was aggravating. But...I'm here now, saying farewell. So obviously something happened.

Luck, mostly. Serendipity. Happenstance. Someone neglecting to show up for their interview. So I got an email wondering if I was still interested in the position, and could I please send a writing sample. This time, I sent two, just to be safe. If the second chance wasn't enough, ultimate excitement was soon to follow. The graduate student who had emailed me and read my samples, Jon Stark, happened to be part of the Ooligan Press publishing program. He asked if he could publish my piece on the Ooligan blog! I figured I probably still would not get the job, but publication was a huge, huge deal.

Quick fast-forward. I had to leave my American Sign Language class early to go to the interview. I had neglected to look up how to sign “interview”. Instead, I told my professor that I had to leave early to go to a “work communicate”. In all my nervousness (signing with my professor one-on-one always made me nervous, which was just great given that shaky hands are a byproduct of my anxieties), I forgot that I actually do know how to sign “job”, and I do know how to spell, which means I could have spelled “interview”. But it didn't matter; he got the point.

It's funny to me now how appropriate my “work communicate” sign ended up being in describing what I would end up doing with Kiwanis. As I mentioned, one of my big fears that almost kept me from applying for the position in the first place was that I didn't “have experience” with the disability community. I mean, it's not like I had never interacted with people who have disabilities or that I was afraid of them by any means, felt like simply existing with people who have disabilities wasn't enough.

I guess I was partly right. I was on the right track, anyway. I did my best to not make people feel singled out by their differences and things like that, but there was also so much to learn. As I did research for blog posts and talked with people involved with Kiwanis, I constantly found myself thinking, “I didn't even know that was something I could know.” But it was okay. It was okay that there were things I didn't know, because no matter how you're involved with Kiwanis Camp, you're allowed to go in not knowing, and you leave with shiny, sparkling knowledge. One of the great things about MHKC is that you get to learn.

For me, it has been a constant learning process, and often there were lines so fuzzy that I didn't know where I should stand. Or if I thought I knew where I wanted to stand, I sometimes wasn't sure if MHKC was the appropriate venue to express those sentiments. But as time went quickly by, it became clear to me that my main purpose of my work was to communicate with others, communicate with members of two different communities and hopefully bring them into one...

[cue cheesiness in 3...2...]

The Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Community!!!

[cue applause]

During my time here, I did a lot of learning. But I always kept in mind that if I was in the dark about things, then maybe other people like me were, too. Passing on what I learned and helping create a fuller understanding of various aspects of disability in our culture was invaluable for me. I really hope that my contributions to the MHKC @ PSU community have interested or helped at least a few of you dear readers.

It's sad to go, but we are working on finding someone superneat to take over and explore ways to further better the MHKC capstone community. And I'll still be poking around here and there. Old habits die hard, as they say.

(Speaking of old habits, I hope you liked the pug pictures. I simply can't help myself! And it's my last official post, so why not?)

So I conclude with thank you, and farewell. Stick around, though! Who knows what changes may be coming in the future? I know I'm eager to find out.

And as always, enjoy your weekend!

Sincerely yours,


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Yoga Visual: Sharing Yoga with Portland's Special Needs Community

Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay, but...(in other, semi-related news), this humble blogger is almost done with her thesis! So I know you won't hold my lateness against me, will you? :)

Okay, okay, so that being said, my brain fry is preventing me from coming up with a smooth segue in to today's blog topic, so let's just get right into it. Movement! Safe spaces! Activity! Learning opportunities! We all deserve that, don't we? But sometimes it's difficult for parents of children with special needs to find guided physical activities that are designed specifically around their children's needs and abilities. That's a shame, because movement is a powerful teaching tool, and it's important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy.

Cindy Hurlbert, a George Fox alum, recognized this issue and thought that kids on the autism spectrum should have the opportunity to learn life skills in a safe environment while also increasing their coordination, strength, and body awareness. And so, from Cindy's experience with the special needs community and her love of yoga, Yoga Visual was created.

A recent post on the Yoga Visual Facebook page reads: Yoga for Special Needs = yoga adapted to meet each child's needs and capabilities, Yoga for Special Needs = empowerment and tools to help themselves.

“I really feel that way about structuring yoga for the special needs population,” Cindy says. “I want the kids to leave with tools that they can use outside the yoga studio. Everyone should have access to the benefits of yoga.”

Benefits like strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility, but also increased focus, confidence, relaxation, and self-regulation. Yoga can also help promote language and communication skills—after all, body language is the language we all share—as well as give opportunities to connect oneself to others. One student even asked Cindy to write down a savasana relaxation poem he learned in yoga class because he thought it would be helpful for his bedtime.

Cindy is a fluent American Sign Language interpreter and a registered yoga teacher who has completed two 200-hour teacher training programs. The first was taught in conjunction with the Deaf Yoga Foundation, where she learned how to teach Deaf-friendly yoga classes using American Sign Language. The second was an “outstanding program” put together by Dina Lang at Santosha Yoga, a studio that promotes the idea of of yoga for every body. Cindy has also taken a Yoga for Special Needs training course, and has been working with the special needs community in Portland and Beaverton for years.

One of Cindy's feedback tools that is especially
helpful for kids with speech expressive and
receptive delays.
After becoming fluent in ASL, Cindy worked for the Portland public school system as a classroom interpreter. She worked there for five years before switching to a more steady job so she could reach her goal of earning her Bachelor of Arts degree, which she did. She moved up in the company to become Assistant Vice President of Internal Audit, but after the unexpected death of one of her mentors (who was also chairman of the Beaverton School Board), Cindy decided to leave after 17 years with the company.

“He was my age,” Cindy says of her mentor. “It was a shocking loss, and it caused me to take a step back and reflect on what was important in my life. As I evaluated options, I kept coming back to my experience with the kids I had worked with before and how much I had enjoyed working with them, and how much I learned from them every day.”

So she began working as a substitute instructional assistant for special education programs in the Beaverton School District and was eventually placed at Sunset High School to support kids on the autism spectrum.

“Just like my past experience, I learn something from them every day.”

Cindy usually teaches her yoga sessions at Santosha Yoga, where her interest in yoga really took off, but in April, as part of Autism Awareness month, she will be teaching a class for children with special needs at VillaSport, an athletic club in Beaverton. This is particularly exciting because so far, no other athletic club in the area has offered classes to the special needs community. Cindy is excited to explore the possibilities that may come with special needs yoga being made available at different venues.

So check it out! I happen to know that Cindy is a great person who is able to think quickly and creatively, and is very well qualified. For more information, head over to the Yoga Visual website and Facebook page.

(**Note: Yoga classes for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community are not yet available but will be coming soon!)

Also, enjoy this great weekend weather and take the opportunity to get in some movement of your own! :)