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Singer Clay Aiken believes in a 'National Inclusion' for kids!

Curtis Brown

Clay Aiken believes that all kids should be included in summer camp programs and after school programs.

Clay Aiken is an American singer who rose to fame in the second season of ‘American Idol’ placing second in 2003. His first release Measure of a Man went multi-platinum, in the midst of all his new found success Aiken still had time to earn a degree in special education from the University of North Carolina.  Aiken has released 6 more albums since then with his most recent Tried and True (2010) and Steadfast (2012). Aiken wrote a New York Times bestselling book called Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life and hit Broadway in 2008 playing the role of Sir Robin in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Aiken placed second again when he appeared on the fifth season of ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’. An artist, author, actor, producer and activist, Aiken still found time to start The National Inclusion Project.     

National Inclusion Project was born in 2003 by Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel who shared a vision of all children being including in all summer and afterschool programs. Inclusion means the participation and belonging of all kids. They have worked with many different youth organizations including YMCAs, Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Clubs, CampFire USA and many more. After almost ten years, The National Inclusion Project has worked with hundreds of programs, trained numerous staff members and leaders, and provided inclusion opportunities to over 20,000 kids around the country.

Introduction by: Meg Zrini

Interview by: Meg Zrini

Q: What is the National Inclusion Project?

Clay: How do I speak without going on forever? It started in 2003 with Diane Bubel and I, I was a special education teacher before Idol and a lot of the kids including her son who I worked with, got excluded from afterschool programs and summer camp programs because there wasn’t training for people to know how to work with kids with disabilities. There wasn’t the opportunity for them to be included at afterschool programs and summer camps. They didn’t have the resources or the staffing and so on and so forth. We started the organization just to work with one YMCA that I had worked in and another near her[Diane Bubel] in Charlotte and it really blossomed. A lot of fans started supporting and gave a lot of time and money and energy to it. It turned into a program where we now train extracurricular staff, we train summer camp staff, we have a curriculum with several different universities that we work with, and we have several different programs for training like Let’s All Play and service learning projects. We work to try and help other people include kids with disabilities into their programs.

Q: What are your hopes for the project for the future?

Clay: We always say, Diane especially says that if we’ve done a good job we will not be needed anymore. Any good nonprofit works to put itself out of business because kids are included. Short term goals though, we want to continue to expand programs and we want to get more people in more areas. We want to make sure there are inclusive programs available in every major region in the country. We want to be able to be a resource for parents with kids with disabilities so they can come to us and know where there are inclusive programs around them, where they can participate in things. Those are some of the things that we’re working on now. Trying to expand programs, expand possibilities and opportunities for camps to become inclusive and find others that might be doing it also so we can compile a list so we can help become a resource for parents.

Q: How do you feel about tonight? (Evening of National Inclusive Project Gala – October 20th 2012)

Clay: I’m a little hoarse right now but I think it went well. This is our first time leaving North Carolina for this program and we did it because I had help from Arsenio [Hall] and Debbie [Gibson] and Ruben [Studdard] who provided us an opportunity and a reason to come to a bigger city, somewhere more accessible. I think it went really well. We’re still in the process of growing and trying to expand a base of people, who know about our mission, not just who know about me. We want people to be interested in the mission. We have a good base of that and we’re trying to expand that and coming to D.C. gave us that opportunity a little bit, to network with new people and hopefully raise enough money to continue doing it for another year, like nonprofits it’s important to have those resources. We’re a small staff. Our overhead is very low. We only have three staff members who do everything. We can take all the money that we raise and put it right in the program.  Hopefully we’ve raised enough tonight and I don’t have a total yet so I can’t tell you how great I feel but it certainly feels like we did a good job.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

Clay: I think that’s all.