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The Clay Aiken Interview July/Aug 2004

"The Heart and Soul of a Man"
The Clay Aiken Interview

Clay AikenCA: Our biggest achievement is something that we’re working on this summer called “Project Gonzo,” named after a nickname I had at the Y years ago. It is a partnership with the YMCA of the USA, who are a group that I wanted to kind of kick-in-the-butt to start including individuals with disabilities. So the partnership of the YMCA/USA is to start integrating kids with disabilities into already established camp programs. We have a program now in Kansas City, at the Kansas City YMCA, and at the one at Raleigh where I worked, and one in Charlotte. We are going to provide training for the staff that already exists, hands-on stuff, and include kids with disabilities in with their regular camp program, so this will be our pilot program this summer. We will advance it further later on. We also have the Able To Serve Awards, a project with Youth Service America. For years we’ve noticed that kids with disabilities are a population that people serve, and people forget that individuals with disabilities are able to serve as well. So we have the Able To Serve Awards, which are given out to individuals and youth with disabilities who have created service projects that have bettered their community. I believe this helps to take the stigma away from “these children having to be served,” because people will see that they can give back to the community too, and see how productive and what a great part of society they are.

GB: We are very concerned about the power of language at Today’s Caregiver magazine. We never say that a person is suffering with, or victim to some issue…the disease or illness does not define the person. It is great to see you are helping people change the language they use while talking about children with developmental disabilities. Can you tell me more about that?

CA: We also, as an organization, try to do the same thing. It’s a person-first terminology; it’s a person with a disability instead of a disabled person. It’s all about changing people’s mind’s and when you start addressing people with person-first language, then it comes as second nature. Instead of saying, ‘so and so is disabled,’ say they are a person with a disability. They are a person first. They shouldn’t be labeled and categorized by their disability. When we stop categorizing people verbally, then we’ll stop categorizing them socially.

GB: What suggestions do you have for caregivers?

CA: I found it to be amazingly rewarding for myself, but you have to find the rewards for yourself within the work you do, because the pay is not great, but the benefits are more, look for that as a reward. Encourage other people to be involved, whether it’s as a volunteer or as a paid position. There are plenty of people looking for volunteer positions, as caregivers already know, you learn about yourself when you’re a caregiver. Don’t just keep it to yourself. It’s a reward, so share it with other people, get them interested, and when you do that, you get more people doing a very needed job, and you end up teaching a person how special it is, and how special all these individuals are.


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