The National Inclusion Project grew out of the relationship between Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel and Diane’s then 13-year-old son, Mike who had been diagnosed with autism. The bond between them grew strong as they shared a vision of a world where children like Mike could be fully immersed in society. They had both witnessed children with disabilities repeatedly turned away from activities opened to typical children.
As Clay pursued a degree in special education from UNC-Charlotte, he completed an independent study project where he created a foundation that focused on providing the support system for recreational and educational programs around the country to open doors to children with disabilities that had thus far remained closed. Both Diane and Clay realized that an organized effort could encourage and facilitate community inclusion and empowerment of individuals with disabilities.
This shared goal grew into reality on July 28, 2003. Since that time, the National Inclusion Project has established itself as a leading voice for inclusion working with a “Who’s who” list of youth organizations – YMCAs, Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Clubs, CampFire USA, 4H, the ARC – as well as many other local parks and recreation departments, community centers, and privately-run programs. They have also formed partnerships with Johns Hopkins University’s National Center for Summer Learning, the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Center for Social Development and Education, the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center.
In 2008, both of the Project’s cutting edge inclusion models – Let’s ALL Play and the K-12 Inclusive Service Learning Program – were closely evaluated with overwhelmingly positive results. Children with and without disabilities in these programs saw growth in motor skills, social skills, and self-esteem, and the impact of the friendships made will last long into the future.
The National Inclusion Project has worked with hundreds of programs, trained numerous staff members and leaders, and provided inclusive opportunities for over 50,000 children. This far-reaching impact would not have been possible without the dedicated support of countless volunteers and supporters. With their help in raising awareness and funds through projects like Wrapping for Inclusion and Dancing Like the Stars as well as local fundraising efforts like cookbooks, gatherings, and online donation drives, the National Inclusion Project has dedicated the vast majority of every dollar into making an impact with our programs.
The National Inclusion Project is poised to continue to make an impact with thousands of children nationwide as well as raise the national consciousness about the need for and benefits of inclusion.