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.”
This past Sunday, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) took to walking with members and supporters through the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland in the hopes of raising $225,000 for mental health services.
Many walking had a special connection to the cause, and in an interview with KATU2, one young woman involved with NAMI explained her reason for walking. Having to resort to a hospital stay for emotional distress, Trillian Stanton realized the importance of support in recovering from mental illness. This realization is what inspired her to create Project Self-Care.
The project creates self-care boxes with various comforting items, such as fun snacks, journals, coloring books, a fidget toy. Each box also includes a handwritten note letting the recipient know that he or she is in someone’s thoughts. She states in her explanation of the project that “the idea behind project self care is to remind people that they are worth loving, we give them the materials to then use to help nurture themselves when they are in times of crisis.”
In the interview, Stanton stated, “When you’re in the middle of the night, and you want to not be here anymore, and you open this kit and you’re trying to take care of yourself, and you’ll think, ‘look at how much the community wanted to take care of me.'” She hopes this feeling of community will help those struggling with mental illness.
In the past three months, she has already given out 30 kits and is currently fundraising for $1,200 to help her project.
Stanton is not the only one however attempting to help those with mental illnesses in Oregon.
In a statewide study released earlier this year, Oregon was found to have a higher than average number of teens struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health issue in a year, but in Oregon, the average was actually 1 out of 3 students.
Multnomah County is currently taking measures to counteract this statistic by providing services in the schools, including providing specific people to talk to or a place to get more professional, serious help. The County health offices now also provide resources on their website as well as a through a phone line 24/7.
David Hidalgo, Director for Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services, stated in an interview with KATU2, “For students, being able to have a healthy mind is critical to being successful in school.”
The supervisor for School Based Mental Health in Multnomah County, Stephen Dunlevy, also stated in the interview the importance of teen’s mental health and the need to reduce the stigma. “It’s important that we reduce stigma so that getting access to mental health services is just like going to your doctor.
Who has a beautiful smile, gorgeous red hair, lots of style, and is walking in New York Fashion Week this Fall? Madeline Stuart, an 18 year-old model with Down Syndrome who has wowed the world in recent months with her successful foray into the modeling world.
In a previous story, we covered Madeline’s first steps as a model, but there are big things on her horizon now: She recently signed contracts to model for fashion companies Manifesta and everMaya, and now is set to walk the runway in New York Fashion Week.
Next month, Madeline will travel to New York City and walk for Moda in a show put on in association with the Christopher Reeve Foundation. Moda has featured models with disabilities before; last february, models with disabilities ranging from amputation to paralysis traveled the catwalk in designs by Antonio Urzi, who has dressed celebrities like Lady Gaga and Beyonce.
Participating in New York City Fashion Week is a big step for Madeline, who’s ultimate goal is to help society to become inclusive of people who are different. Her mother, Susanne, says: “The thing I’d like people to take away from this is to not discriminate. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I would just like people to accept, love, and show kindness…The modeling is fun and everything, but it’s just a vehicle to get the message out.”
Ryan Traynor was only 11-years-old when he began volunteering to read to kids in order to earn a Boy Scouts of America merit badge.
Now a 16-year-old, Ryan still devotes his mornings to reading to the kids at the library.
In an interview with ABC News, Ryan said, “I got really attached to these kids, and I saw how much it meant to them. You just get to see the joy on the kids’ faces.”
Ryan soon realized that he could do more for the kids by starting a book drive.
According to Heather Landeros, the program director for Redwood City’s Police Activities League, the area usually doesn’t give the kids access to books. “Most of the kids in our community don’t have access to books on a regular basis.”
Jan Pedden from the Redwood City Public Library stated, “What sets Ryan apart, not only did he read to the children, he saw a need in the community, which was books in the homes, and he did something about it.”
After only six months, Ryan’s book drive had collected 25,000 books. The teen donated the books to eight schools, seven literacy programs, and twelve different charities.
Pedden stated, “It’s hard to measure the impact. The number of books that he has placed in the hands of people who did not have any books is overwhelming.”
“He brought them to schools, to shelters . . . anybody who needed a book.”
Ryan didn’t stop his efforts after the book drive was over. “Now we have nine different teens from seven different schools who work together to help improve literacy rates in the community,” the teen said.
In addition to his efforts in promoting literacy rates, Ryan has also started programs to help teach math, science, and financial literacy.
“When people hear my story, I want them to think about how everybody really wants to help and it really only takes one person.”
Two Seattle families are still trying to make contact with their teens who were traveling in Nepal before the earthquake. The families have not spoken with their daughters since the natural disaster.
Sydney Schumacher and Bailey Meola, both 19, planned a trek through the Langtang Valley as a graduation celebration.
Diane Schumacher, Sydney’s mother, last heard from her daughter by text about a week ago. Rachelle Brown, Bailey’s mother, posted a photo of the last video chat she had with her daughter last Sunday.
Both girls were known to be in the tremor zone.
The trip was an adventure between high school and college. Bailey had worked especially hard to pay for the trip.
“This was going to solidify what her purpose in life was going to be,” Diane said.
A website has been set up in an effort to find the girls.