Friday, February 24, 2017

Allan Cushing: The Life-Changing Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Experience

Allan Cushing, Director of Programs at MHKC in top right button

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Allan Cushing, the Director of Programs for Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp (MHKC). He shared with me a lot of great insights about camp when we talked. In part one of this interview, I find out how Allan became a part of camp, and what he and other counselors can and will gain from camp. 

First, I asked Allan how he initially became a part of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. He said he is one of the “few people that actually came from Pacific University” and he “came up, absolutely loved camp,” and didn’t know what he was going to do after that. His counselor supervisor looked him up on Facebook and encouraged him to come back to camp, which he did. He returned to camp a number of times, and then two years ago he “moved into the role of Rentals and Volunteers coordinator.” In mid-November 2016, he became the Director of Programs.

Interestingly enough, Allan didn’t always know he wanted to work with people with disabilities. He started out his college career going to school to be a civil engineer! He thought he’d study engineering and “be a college baseball coach down the line,” but then he thought becoming a coach and engineering clashed a bit, so he moved over to teaching. He substituted as a para-professional when he wasn’t in school, and was on track to be a general education teacher teaching math. Then as he was signing up for classes the summer before his senior year, he found out about Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. He thought about his time doing peer tutoring in high school for the special education classroom, and thought MHKC would be a great experience, so he signed up. It turned out that MHKC was “life changing” for Allan.

After his first stint up at camp, Allan decided he wanted to be a special education teacher, so he continued his undergrad in Education with a focus in Special Education. After leaving Pacific, he went back to being a para-professional in the Hillsboro school district. He enjoyed it, but yearned for something more. “When the opportunity to be the Rentals and Volunteers coordinator opened up, [he] saw that as an opportunity to get involved with this organization, and it went from there.” He worked in that role for a year and a half, and then “the organization believed in [him] enough to give [him] a shot” at being Director of Programs. He is now really happy in his current role.

I was curious what Allan had gained as a camp counselor and how had it changed his life. He said he gained “a new perspective.” He had been a peer tutor in high school, and he would help in special ed classrooms. He was also a substitute para-professional throughout college, but it was different than MHKC. At camp, he “really got to see what made all of these people who have disabilities special,” and he really began to see people for what they could do instead of looking at their limitations.

Another important part of camp for Allan was “learning how to communicate with a lot of different people” including, but not limited to, the campers. In his first group up at camp, there were counselors who were from all different walks of life. There was an army veteran, an exchange student from China, another exchange student from India, Allan was a college baseball player, and another woman was in her 40s and was married with children. Everyone had such different backgrounds, but they learned how to work together as a “cohesive group.” Allan says, “it is something you can take into your everyday life.” You learn how to appreciate what everyone brings to the table.

Allan says that there is so much to gain from being a camp counselor. Not only will you learn how to communicate in the best of circumstances, but also how to communicate when “you’re tired, you’re sweaty, you’re hungry at times, and may feel a little frustrated.” Those communication skills will translate for you and you will be “successful anywhere. You’ll realize you are going to be fine outside of college.” You’ll also gain a better understanding that differences are not detriments. Instead, those differences are what makes a person valuable. Counselors will also find out how much people are actually the same despite their differences.

Allan reminds us that even if “you have no experience” Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp still encourages people to become counselors and will prepare them with training and support. He said that “I would feel comfortable saying that a majority of our counselors have not worked with people with disabilities, and that’s okay. The important thing for us is for them to come in with an open mind.” Working with people with disabilities, Allan said, is like riding a bike. In the beginning, it’s new and can be challenging, but it eventually becomes natural. “You might fall a couple of times. You might fail…but the important thing is to get back up and keep trying. And remember you’re always surrounded by support.” You learn how to take feedback and implement new strategies. You also learn the great rewards that come from “putting the needs of someone else above your own.” When you are feeling exhausted, all you have to do is “remind yourself that it is just two weeks,” and you can get through it.

Counselors have a great team of professionals backing them up, so they don’t need to worry about making some mistakes. For example, Allan says “we have lots of campers who have had seizures. To counselors, it can be a scary thing, because it’s not the norm—especially to a counselor who’s never seen something like that before.” He remembers the first time he saw a seizure, and the staff member was very calm. He was wondering “why aren’t we doing any more?” But with experience, you learn how to calmly respond to a seizure, and the plan to follow when they occur. For the campers, this might be something they are totally used to, and eventually after training and experience, the counselors are confident in supporting people having seizures, even if it might seem scary at first. Allan said that when he was a counselor supervisor he would tell his group, “I may let you flounder in the water a little bit, to let you think through solutions, but will always be here to support you. We just want you to work through it.” When the counselors do finally work through a difficult situation they will realize they had it in them all along, and knowing they can do it is just an important as it is for the campers to find out the things they can do too.


That’s it for part one. In part two of our interview with Allan, we find out more about the campers and what kinds of fun activities they participate in.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Celebrating Ed Roberts, Disability Advocate

Ed Roberts Google Doodle

On Jan. 23, 2017, the featured Google Doodle in the US was a cartoon drawing celebrating the 78th birthday of Ed Roberts. Ed was born Jan. 23, 1939 and died March 14, 1995 at the age of 55. During his life, he was a notable disability rights advocate.

Ed was “severely disabled from polio which he contracted as a teenager. He had virtually no functional movement and was dependent on a respirator to breath[e]” ( Ed, the first student with significant impairments to attend UC Berkeley, was inspired by the social justice movements of the 1960s and 70s, and he went on to start the self-help “movement that would radicalize how people with disabilities perceived themselves” ( In a letter to Gini Laurie in 1970 Ed stated, “I’m tired of well meaning noncripples with their stereotypes of what I can and cannot do directing my life and my future. I want cripples to direct their own programs and to be able to train other cripples to direct new programs. This is the start of something big—cripple power” (

Photo of Ed Roberts
Among many notable achievements, Ed “was awarded a MacArthur fellowship; and he was co-founder and President of the World Institute on Disability” ( He also inspired a world of disability rights advocates, and the Ed Roberts Campus was created in his honor. The idea for the Campus came shortly after his death, and is a “universally designed, transit-oriented campus located at the Ashby BART Station in South Berkeley. The ERC houses the offices of the collaborating organizations as well as fully accessible meeting rooms, a computer/media resource center, a fitness center, a cafĂ©, and a child development center” ( It is 80,000 sq. ft. and is a beacon of universally accessible design featuring a helical ramp, accessible elevators, automatic doors, wide corridors, restrooms for people with all abilities, specially designed signage, and hands-free sensors and timers among other innovations.

Interior of Ed Roberts Campus 
I imagine Ed would be proud of the ERC, and he should as well be happy with the fact that he has inspired so many people with disabilities to take life by the reigns. Even if people don’t know about Ed, surely they have been impacted by the disability rights movement. Cheers to Ed and a happy belated birthday!