FEBRUARY 25/26/27 |
KIP AOKI /
on a mission
The Idol alumnus is in
Hawaii to champion the
cause of disabled kids
By John Berger
Some celebrities adopt a cause or charity for the publicity value,
while others support the crusade of the moment, and then move
on the next one.
isn't like that. He'd still be working on behalf of disabled
children even if he hadn't auditioned for "American Idol,"
made the final round of competition, and then gone on to double-platinum
sales with his debut album, "Measure of a Man."
|"I worked at the
YMCA in Raleigh (North Carolina) for years and I was around children
with disabilities. I worked with a YMCA after-school program, and
through some connections there, and meeting with educators at schools
that I worked with, I was asked to come work at an elementary school
... in a classroom with kids who had autism. It wasn't (directly)
working at the YMCA, but being in the right place at the right time
got me that opportunity," the soft-spoken Idol alumnus said
when we reached him by phone recently.
While Aiken these
days isn't the easiest person to reach -- having a very tight
and hectic schedule -- he was the epitome of Southern-grown manners
as he talked about his current work with his Bubel/Aiken Foundation
"The fans have
been just absolutely amazing in supporting the foundation,"
he said. Aiken has been able thus far to juggle his commitments
to TBAF with the demands of his singing career, and hopes to do
a full-length concert here sometime, maybe after he finishes his
next album around the end of the year.
In the meantime, Aiken
will sing at least a few songs Friday night for his "Voices
for Change" gala dinner/fund-raiser at the Sheraton Waikiki.
He will also be appearing
as a guest speaker at the University of Hawaii Center on Disability
Studies' 21st Annual Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities at
the same hotel Monday and Tuesday.
For the children
"Voices for Change"
benefit with Clay Aiken
Where: Hawaii Ballroom, Sheraton Waikiki Hotel
6 p.m. Friday, starting with registration and silent auction,
and 8 p.m. dinner.
$175 and $250
521-2328 or www.voicesforchangebenefit.org
Aiken performing Mack The Knife on American Idol (season 2)
WILL BE Aiken's first visit to Hawaii, but he won't be attending
the conference as a celebrity. He earned a degree in special education
at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and founded
TBAF in 2003 with Diane Bubel, a disability activist whose son,
Mike, has autism. The foundation is based on an independent study
project Aiken created while still in college.
found that the YMCA didn't really "allow access" for
children with disabilities for a number of reasons, such as budget
constraints, lack of planning, and a lack of trained staff members
to work with disabled children in many of the programs. Because
of that, "I ended up becoming passionate about including
kids with disabilities into other extra-curricular activities
with kids without disabilities, because I saw the benefits of
these YMCA programs, and I knew from my education how this would
benefit kids with disabilities if only they had access to them.
was always something I wanted to do at some point, whether I did
it this way (as a celebrity) or not. I thought that, one day,
I'd like to work with the YMCA and help train their employees,
and help raise funds to get extra staff so that they could have
kids with disabilities in their programs ... and when I started
in this new path in life, I saw the opportunity to use the exposure
I have now to bring attention to the cause."
says politely but firmly that he disagrees with the idea that
disabled kids should be isolated from their nondisabled peers.
position is that children with disabilities can survive in an
atmosphere with nondisabled kids. We've been successful throughout
the last two years already with camp programs for YMCA ... where
children with disabilities are able to participate. In some instances,
we find that the more severely disabled children require there
to be more adequate training for the staff members who are working
with them, or more possibly more one-on-one attention, but we
do find that we have a lot a success with both the children with
disabilities and their experiences in these activities with nondisabled
peers, and as well as the kids without disabilities. Their lives
are enhanced by these new friendships and being exposed to these
diverse groups of people."
Aiken's graduation from UNCC in December 2003
|Aiken describes TBAF
programs as taking "all the good that the YMCA is already doing"
and adding to it with additional funding and special equipment.
One pilot program operated last summer out of the Raleigh YMCA where
he used to work. Another is in Kansas City, Mo. Aiken plans to expand
the duration of the summer camp programs this year and add a third
one out of a YMCA in Harlem in New York.
found that, with the right amount of support, children with disabilities
are able to learn social skills that they aren't able to learn
in a classroom with other children with disabilities, and, amazingly,
... when people without disabilities are exposed to this different
population, then they're not just 'the kids down the hall' or
'the kids who ride on the small school bus.' They become peers,
especially when we're working with children of a younger age."
will be sharing his findings on the "benefits of inclusion"
at the conference next week as part of a larger look at issues
that affect people with disabilities, their families and friends,
and the community as a whole.
He is also looking forward
to honoring two Hawaii residents, disabilities activist Susan
Rocco and state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha),
with TBAF Champion of Change Awards for their work in "the
disabilities awareness arena."
"We don't do this everywhere.
We pick communities with people who have really made a difference.
(The senator) has done a lot of work in the legislature advocating
for the disabled community in Hawaii," he says.
AS FOR any comments about "American
Idol," Aiken clearly prefers to talk about his charity work
"I haven't paid attention
to it too much," he says with a hearty laugh. "My position
was, that soon as I was gone, it wasn't any good anymore."
(It was a joke, AI fans, just a joke.)
Turning back to his foundation,
he said "The career is able to help the foundation do its
work and the foundation is, in turn, able to make a difference
in the community. So often we're introduced as a foundation for
people with disabilities, but it's not like that to me. We do
focus on the needs of people with disabilities ... but it's a
foundation for everybody.
"I think the more we talk
about how much it's for children with disabilities, the more we
negate that there's so much work and so much benefit for children
without disabilities when the work is done. Our mission statement
is to allow everybody to enjoy the life experiences we all enjoy
on a regular basis. It's a mission that benefits everyone."
And the biggest challenge in
"To change the way that
everyone thinks about people with disabilities. To change the
mind set that they need to be in a special classroom ... it's
been very segregationist almost. That's the biggest thing for
me. People opening their minds and their eyes to the possibilities
of assimilation. When people ask how they can help, you have start
copied from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin
- access the article here: http://starbulletin.com/2005/02/25/features/story1.html