Like many other summer camps, Oregon’s Camp Odakoda features a swimming hole, a fire pit, and canoes. The camp’s culture, however, is unique.
“Here, no one judges you, not even a tiny bit,” explains Zander Cloud, a 16-year-old camper. “There can be people who you have the same common interests with, and it just makes you feel connected in some way, and more involved than you would sometimes do in school.”
Zander is one of 85 young adults affected by autism spectrum disorder who gathered at Camp Odakoda for a week of fun and fellowship. The camp is the only facility in the Pacific Northwest which caters specifically to youth on the autism spectrum.
Misti and Ian Moxley founded the camp in 2010 to provide more opportunities for their autistic son. “That’s what we were looking for is–where can we take our son where he can find friends that really get him, and he can understand that maybe he’s different, but he’s not less important, that he’s not less of a person, that he just has to find his people,” Misti told KATU news.
Camp Odakoda staff members work to connect campers who have similar interests. Two kids who both enjoy fishing, for example, may share a room.
The camp strives to create a stress-free environment for all youth by maintaining a high counselor-to-camper ratio, and by eliminating surprises from the daily schedule. Camp staff also enforce a no-tolerance policy with regard to teasing.
“They do not tolerate bullies at all here, so you can be whoever you want to be,” explains 14-year-old Alex Witzens. “It’s really important, ’cause I’ve been bullied a lot and it’s nice to go somewhere, for one week you won’t be bullied and you can just let loose, have fun and be yourself.”
Staff member Jonathan Chase understands the challenges faced by young adults such as Alex. Jonathan himself was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 14. “We didn’t have camps like this when I was growing up,” he told KATU. “When I became an adult, I looked back and I thought how different it would’ve been if there was somebody there who understood me, who is standing up for people who are different.”
Now, Jonathan helps teens enjoy the relationships he lacked as a child. Youth at Camp Odakoda look up to Jonathan, who has successfully navigated the transition to adulthood, and lives independently. Zander and Alex plan to follow in his footsteps by becoming camp counselors after graduation: “you get to help people and you can be really friendly,” Zander explains.
Jonathan sums up his message to youth affected by autism. “I’m here as a reminder for the kids and for the adults that where we start isn’t where we finish,” he says. “Autism isn’t a ceiling, it’s just a hurdle.”
Jack Schumacher is an eighth-grade student at Straub Middle School in Salem, Oregon and facing a difficult challenge compared to most students his age: bone cancer. He is currently at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, fighting hard to recover.
However, he’s not alone in his fight against cancer. The middle school had a pep rally for Jack on Friday morning to support him.
In an interview with Koin6, The Principal, Laura Perez, explained, ” When we found out that Jack had cancer, leadership kids wanted to do something more, so they started selling boo grams.”
In the end, the kids raised over $1,000 for Jack’s treatment, and Jack’s friend, Brayden, who had also been diagnosed with cancer two years earlier, was able to present the check. Even though Jack could not be physically present at the rally and had to FaceTime in, several of his family members were there to accept the check, and his entire family was very moved by the show of support.
Jack’s grandmother, Pam Tucker, stated in the interview, “I’m so overwhelmed with what these kids did for Jack.”
Principal Perez was very proud of the leadership students that took the initiative to raise the money. “This is what we want kids to be learning, is how to care for one another.”
Kimberly Henderson never abandoned her dream of becoming a musician, even after having her first child when she was 16-years-old. After going to nursing school, the single mother continued singing at part-time gigs while raising her children.
Already caring for three children, Henderson discovered she was pregnant yet again.
“The crazy part of the story is that when I was pregnant with Vaida, I did not plan her at all,” Henderson said. “I was on birth control. I was like, Oh my god I cannot do this.
“When I was 12 weeks and six days along, I sat in an abortion clinic for six hours — I almost went through with it,” she said. “And then I left. Fast-forward seven months later, this baby’s in front of me and her dad’s not in her life. I didn’t even care at that point. I was like, I have this beautiful baby.”
Fast forward to 2014, when Henderson and the little Vaida survived a harrowing car accident. Riding in a Cosco car seat, Vaida was uninjured.
The same year, Henderson uploaded a video of her singing her daughter to sleep on Facebook. In a mere week, her video went viral with over 20 million views.
Inspired by her story and awed by her talent, Cosco Kids contacted Henderson. The car seat company teamed with Magic Beans Creative to fly Henderson and her daughter to Los Angeles, where the singer recorded her first single, “Tiny Hearts.”
“I got pregnant when I was 16 because I didn’t have a lot of direction,” Henderson told Yahoo News. “I’m not blaming that on anyone because that was my choice at the time . . . . That’s how ‘Tiny Hearts’ was inspired. I saw my friends going out to the movies and going on dates, and I’m at home with this 6-month-old. I’m like, What am I doing?”
As she’s approached by multiple TV Shows and recording companies, Henderson wants to share her story to inspire others.
“I feel like with women, even single moms, it’s empowering to just be able to say it’s not selfish to go after your dreams,” Henderson said. “I’m not saying neglect your kids. I’m saying teach your kids that it’s okay no matter what obstacles you have to still pursue your dreams.”
Overcoming three rejections from American Idol, a close call with abortion, and the everyday trials of motherhood granted Henderson inspiring perseverance.
“At the end of the day you realize somewhere between the sacrifices and the hopelessness and the hard times you find a light and that light is a little person that thinks you’re a superhero … and it makes everything else seem meaningless,” Henderson shared on Facebook.
The future looks bright for this busy mom as she looks forward to working as a musician.
The For Sale sign seems nondescript beside the neon lights of the Sugar Shack Strip Club in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood, but to many community members the sign was a much awaited answer to prayers.
For years, local nonprofits attempted to buy the property. Others simply hoped the owners would relocate. Situated across the street from two community centers, a pediatric health clinic, school bus stops, and hundreds of units of affordable family housing, residents feel the block-sized strip club detracts from Cully’s positive community development.
Cully remains one of Portland’s most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods. Over recent years, residents teamed with local nonprofits to enact tremendous transformations improving neighborhood livability.
Yet the Sugar Shack remained a central eyesore – until now.
When the For Sale sign went up this past summer, community members jumped to action. Among them was Maabi Munoz, the coordinator of the local nonprofit Verde.
“From that moment on, it has been, ‘let’s go! Let’s get it! How are we going to get it?’” Munoz told Koin 6 News.
Several nonprofits teamed together to invest $55,000 for the purchase – a small dent in the nearly $3 million price tag. The group then turned to a massive fundraising campaign through the crowdfunding site Indie Go-Go.
“It’s not a matter of if we get it, it’s when we get it and we need to get it,” said Munoz.
The seller of the Sugar Shack property has accepted the group’s offer. With 85 days remaining to acquire the necessary funds, the online campaign has raised just over $12,000.
“If we can buy the Sugar Shack Strip Club, then we can make sure redevelopment of the property serves Cully’s needs by creating jobs, supporting local businesses, educating youth, and engaging community,” the fundraising site reads.
Young Art Lessons, a drop-in art studio for children, opened its third location in Clackamas Town Center, on the bottom level of the mall.
The studio opened their first location in March.
“The studio offers ‘drop in’ art lessons during all mall hours, seven days a week, for children ages two and up,” the websitereads. Parents can shop while their child is in the studio, or stay and participate in the lesson with them. Children can choose the type of artwork they want to do, and the studio staff members provide guidance.
The lessons range from 30 minutes, for $15, to two hours, for $45, with all materials included.
Visit the Young Art Lessons website to see some of the children’s artwork created in the studio. For more information call 503-305-7430.