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.