Why Can’t I Go, Too?

Jerry AikenBy: Jerry Aiken

He could not say the words, but the look in his eyes conveyed the message clearly as he watched his sister bound from the car to join the other children heading to day camp – swimming towels in hand, calling out to each other as they anticipated a full day of fun and activities.

From the rearview mirror, Diane saw the expression on Mike’s face, and it pierced a mother’s heart. For Mike – a young man with autism – it was another hurtful reminder.

As a father and grandfather, I have seen children sitting on the sidelines. Recognizing a child’s longing to be included, knowing all too keenly the profound pain of being left out, and wanting desperately to make it better.

What began as a glance back at one child has become a glimpse of the future and a vision for all children with disabilities…. A vision of inclusion and a world where all children belong.

The National Inclusion Project, co-founded by Diane Bubel and entertainer Clay Aiken, serves to bridge the gap that exists between young people with disabilities and the world around them.

Since its inception in 2003, we have established the Project as a leader for recreational inclusion. Through our flagship program model Let’s ALL Play, we have built partnerships across the country with YMCA’s, Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, Campfire USA, Community Centers, Parks and Rec departments, and privately-run youth programs. To date, we have worked with over 200 community programs across the country enabling inclusive experiences for more than 50,000 children and training thousands of program staff.

National Inclusion ProjectAs we celebrate our 10th year anniversary, we are proud of these achievements, but recognize we have only scratched the surface. Although many programs accept children with disabilities, data indicates only 7-8 % are truly inclusive. Research continually validates the many benefits of inclusion for all participants, and it is the right thing to do for society. The goals of the National Inclusion Project are to work with both funding organizations and community partners to make inclusion the expectation, not the exception.

Going forth we seek to leverage our program models and training expertise to exponentially increase capacity and growth of inclusion programs. We will continually work to evolve best practices, equip community partners, and to develop assessment criteria for program development and an evaluation barometer for effectiveness.

Together we are making a difference. What are you waiting for?

Jerry Aiken is the Executive Director of the National Inclusion Project. The National Inclusion Project serves to bridge the gap that exists between young people with disabilities and the world around them.  They partner with communities and programs to teach others how to be inclusive so that kids with and without disabilities can experience lifelong benefits.  By driving the movement for social inclusion in after school programs, summer camps, and in the classroom, children of all abilities learn, play and serve together.   To learn more, enjoy this video or follow NIP on Twitter

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