Thursday, November 6, 2014

OUCARES Film Premier

I have covered the OUCARES Film Premier since 2011 and attended four different film premiers.  This film premier was different because this year, I started teaching animation for OUCARES.  It became more personal to me, seeing my students walk down the red carpet and seeing students from my classes on the film itself.

It gave me more backstory into what some of those students had gone through because I had seen it firsthand.

MCs Dick Purton and daughter Jackie Purton oversaw this 9th Annual OUCARES Film Premier.  A camper participating in the youngest group of students was Jackie’s son and Dick’s grandson. 

MCS Dick and Jackie Purton
“(The campers) learned about everything from film making to friendship,” said Jackie Purton.
Joey Travolta brought his film camp to Oakland University back in 2005 and it is clear that he takes great passion in his work, having been called the “superstar” of the OUCARES autism program.
Travolta teaches his campers not only about the film making process.  He taught his campers about life.

The campers started every day of the two week program by dancing and everyone was required to participate.  MC Jackie Purton stated that she may have embarrassed her son with her dancing.
During the interview process, one of the questions he asked was that he wanted to spend a lot of money to go see all the Monday night football games and he hadn’t told his wife, what should he do?  The students came up with a variety of answers. 

While this produced a comical effect at the film premier, it also caused the students to think a lot about everyday ethics, personal relationships, and decision making.  All of which were serious, real-life skills which improve the quality of life for these campers and all participants at OUCARES programs.  Travolta also used personas such as “Evil Joey” to instruct the campers of these all-important real life lessons.

 “They had to work and prove themselves to professionals,” said MC Jackie Purton.
Since the age limit for the campers is 19, in the last year Joey Travolta has brought a film camp to the OUCARES Meadows Facility which staffs many film professionals handpicked by Travolta himself.
 “These skillsets are leading to employment,” said OUCARES Director Kathy Sweeney.

Sweeney took the podium during her last film premier as Director of OUCARES.  During her presentation, Sweeney stated that 16 years ago, 1/1000 school aged children were being diagnosed with autism.  Now, 1/68 children are being diagnosed with autism.

What really stood out to me was when Sweeney stated that autism is just “another form of diversity in the world.”

As an individual on the spectrum myself and as someone who now teaches those on the autism spectrum, I have to say that this could not be more factual.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

OUCARES Summer Film Camp 2013

Did you know that the 8th annual OUCARES Summer Film Camp took place in mid-August?
 To end a long and productive summer, Joey Travolta brought his Inclusion Film Camp back to Oakland University for the 8th year.  Joey and the crew spent ten weeks this summer on the road hosting inclusion film camps all over the country.
Joey was introduced to the autistic community when he mentored a young man with autism, Taylor Cross, when he did “Normal People Scare Me” which is a documentary about autism that Joey produced.
After the documentary was released, Joey was contacted about bringing his experience to children on the autism spectrum in Michigan.  
“It all started with Oakland University,” Joey said.   Back in 2005, Joey brought an inclusion film camp to OU, the first place outside of California.
An objective of the camp is to make a short film but it’s not the only objective.
“(Filmmaking) works as a tool for social skills and communication skills.  It’s not about the film making it is more about the process.”
While many people on the autism spectrum struggle with socializing, the campers at Joey’s inclusion film camp meet like minded, creative individuals.
 “All these kids make friends for life,” said Joey.  “So many of them are now in their 8th year and they didn’t have friends before.  They didn’t have play dates…they now have a social life.”
Dani Bowman, an eighteen year old animator with autism, returned to Oakland University for the second time to teach animation as well as the aspects of storytelling.  Dani also employs those on the autism spectrum through her small animation company, Powerlight Studios, which she started when she was 11.
“I just want my students to become more successful like I am and they will find their own talents,”  said Dani.
Dani is just one of many talented individuals with autism who Joey employs.  He is skilled at discovering talent and nurturing that talent throughout his programs.
 “You never know what will come out of their mouths,” said Travolta.   Joey’s crew is skilled in turning those moments into humor for use in the film.
Travolta said that he is a pretty sarcastic person in a humorous way, not in a mean way.  “I think after a couple weeks with me they get the sarcasm.”
Chris Travolta, Joey’s nephew, worked with the film camp for the first time this year.
“I had a wonderful time…and I learned a lot,” said Chris.
A handful of campers who have participated with the program for all 8 years are now 19, so they are too old to come back next year.  Now it’s time for college and job searching.
 “When you go out for a job interview you have to be able to tell a story about yourself and why it’s important that they hire you,” said Joey.
Joey hopes that by learning the film process, the campers gain life skills along the way that could assist them in finding employment and living independently.
“Storytelling is an important skill set to go out into the world with,” said Joey.

OUCARES Summer Day Camp Program

Did you know that OUCARES offers summer programs to teach life skills to children and teens on the autism spectrum?
For six weeks this summer, a small group of children and teens on the autism spectrum participated in a day camp program at Meadows Elementary School in Avondale.  Campers learned life skills and made life long bonds.
 “What I’ve liked the most is watching the friendships that have formed,” said Kristin Ashley who worked on the staff for this program.  “Campers are making arrangements outside of camp to meet up with each other again.”
There were three summer camp sessions throughout this summer.  The first theme was the universe, the second theme was family, and the third theme was mythology.  Campers were also exposed to the community, visiting a local Meijer, a Walgreens, and the Detroit Zoo among other places.
“We wanted them to have a better understanding of what jobs were out there for them,” said Ashley. “So each place we went to we kind of touched on different jobs and the training needed…just being able to function independently in their adult life.”
Campers also learned valuable social skills so they could handle conflict in an appropriate manner.
“We’ve done a lot of work this summer in handling anger and frustration,” said Ashley.
During the last session of the program, campers and staff brainstormed together, creating the script for their mythology skit.  The creativity of the campers was evident as well as some great group dynamics.
“When they started this, they were silent and two (campers) were just mad and they wanted nothing to do with it. So (we have seen) a big improvement over where they started,” said Ashley.
Midway through the day after lunch, the social skills instructor Amy Pecktol held an activity.  Campers and staff would pass a ball of yarn from one camper to another, each holding onto the string after answering the same question: “What were you thinking about on the first day of camp?”  Answers ranged from meeting to people to cooking tacos.
By the end of that session, a shape was made with the string.  After cutting the string, each camper was given a piece of the string as a talisman, carrying the memories from camp.
During each day, the campers would all participate in cooking a meal for everyone.
“Everybody really enjoyed the cooking, said Bryan Haffner, who worked on the day camp staff.  “Maybe after they have learned some basic knowledge here they can take it home and work with their parents and be able to take some responsibility in the kitchen with their family.”
Teacher Krystal Renton worked as a staff member with the day camp as well.
“It’s been a really great summer,” said Renton.
As the camp ended, enthusiasm was shown from the campers about attending the program again next year.
 “Everybody has had gains in their own way,” said Haffner.  “I hope they have social confidence when they return back to school and their day-to-day lives.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Serve it up at OUCARES Volleyball

The sound of squeaking shoes filled the elementary school gym.  More than a dozen teenagers with autism were learning the fundamentals of volleyball under the enthusiastic guidance of the Oakland Women’s Varsity Volleyball Team.
Volleyball is a lot harder than it looks.  It is all about coordinated team effort on both sides of the net.  Teens on the autism spectrum learned many valuable skills, and they were not the only ones.  It turned out to be a fun, enlightening experience for everyone involved.
Volunteer and volleyball player Taylor Hamm was ecstatic about participating in the program.
“I love how fun it is and how we get to play volleyball and share good times,” Hamm said.
Hamm also stated that it was a good opportunity to get away from school.
Not all of life’s lessons can be taught in a classroom.  Working with teens on the autism spectrum was every bit as valuable to the volunteers as schoolwork.
Volunteer Dominic Carlini stated that the program participants always had a positive attitude towards everything.  “They help you to appreciate the small things,” Carlini said.
All the participants had high functioning autism such as Aspergers Syndrome and Atypical Autism.  While I observed, they learned how to serve and also got a decent scrimmage match going.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to really get to know people and have a lot of fun,” Hamm said.
The winter program may be over but there are more opportunities to participate in OUCARES volleyball.  Click on the following link for more information:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

OUCARES Holiday Party 2012

A bustle of holiday excitement filled the room.  Enthusiastic dancers took to the floor to express kindled euphoria.  Many fun activities could be found at all corners of the room ranging from sumo wrestling to photography.

Dance music ranged from rock hits from years past to many of today’s popular hits, including the coveted song “Gangam Style” by Korean artist Psy.  Popular songs were emphasized by the occasional flood of people to the dance floor.  Some party participants sung karaoke, exhibiting some of the unique skills found among those on the autism spectrum.

Jose Luis Fernandez-Garcia, college professor who specializes in balloon shapes, sits at a table taking requests from party guests.  He was even able to improvise a balloon bow and arrow.   At my request, he taught me how to shape the balloon properly and create a sword.  Even though I lost track of the sword in all of the excitement, I can now saw that I learned balloon shaping from an expert who happened to be a Spanish Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  It is great to know that so many people are willing to learn more about autism which helps prevent ignorance.

Also in attendance was a former Michigan State Basketball player, Anthony Ianni, who is on the autism spectrum and advocates for autism awareness.   Ianni, who is about six foot eight, has overcome many challenges in the past to get where he is today.  He is certainly a powerful role model for children on the spectrum as well as their parents.

Dr. Timothy Larbbee, new Associate Dean of the School of Education attended the party.

“It’s amazing,” Larbbee said which summarized all the activities in the room.

 Even though the holidays are now over fond memories are savored as we enter 2013; a year of many opportunities.   A sparkling tree filled a corner of the room, highlighting many long traditions that have brought happiness to many.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

OUCARES 2012 Film Premier

Excitement mounts as 50 children with autism prepare to celebrate their accomplishments at the 2012 OUCARES Film Premier.  The program, which has been held at Oakland University for the past seven years, brings together many people to support the creative talents possessed by many individuals who are on the autism spectrum.
When the lights dimmed, the premier began immediately with a laugh out loud moment from the audience.  There were many such moments of humorous honesty as the campers, a handful of which have participated in the program since the beginning, flourished under the guidance of a professional film crew.
The camp, which took place back in August, is an Inclusion Camp run by actor/director Joey Travolta, the older brother of celebrity John Travolta.
 “Why do I do this?  It’s because of the kids,” said Travolta.
Inclusion Camps have been proven to bring out hidden potential in people on the autism spectrum that those close to them never could have imagined beforehand.
“I know this works.  It’s about creating opportunities,” said Travolta.
These kinds of opportunities are certainly needed.  Travolta said that there is a 90% unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities.  This includes individuals who are on the autism spectrum.
OUCARES and Travolta are working together to give individuals on the autism spectrum what they need to succeed not only in creating a short film, but skills that they can call upon the rest of their lives.
“I’m indebted to Oakland University for starting my career,” said Travolta.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Painting for Fun

It has been stated that performing some kind of creative activity is beneficial for those on the autism spectrum.  This is clear after stopping by to watch a “Painting for Fun” class offered by OUCARES.

Instructor Dawn Dandurand used the color wheel to teach one of the participants in this program how to mix colors together.    The outcome of this lesson was a painted design using different shades of red.  This was accomplished by first sketching a “pinwheel” design, selecting what colors to mix with red, and to complete the painting.

During the lesson, Dawn used gentle instruction, giving the teenage girl with autism options between different colors and drawings.   She allowed the participant to set the pace of the activities but always made sure that the participant stayed on task.  These slow invasions of the teenage girl’s autistic mind are vital, in my opinion, as an individual with autism, to grow beyond the autistic mind and recognizing the necessity of external communication.

Dawn is a public school art teacher who wanted to better understand the students with autism who sometimes attended her classes.  She started volunteering for OUCARES last year, and based on the quiet passion she brings into the program, is really making a difference.  The impact the lesson has on the participants with autism is not always visible, but the fact that they are complying with requests, and contributing themselves to the task in their own unique way, I would say that the program has completed its objective.

This program is offered Tuesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.   For more information about this program and others offered, visit the OUCARES website