Everything we do is made possible because of our amazing volunteers. We highlight many of these great individuals throughout the year in our Volunteer Spotlight. For more information on this program or to suggest a volunteer to spotlight, click here.
Volunteer Spotlight – Michelle Manson
Michelle is from Chicago, Illinois and a member of the Illinois Voices for Inclusion volunteer group supporting National Inclusion Project activities and initiatives. With Illinois Voices for Inclusion, she has participated in a variety of fundraising and inclusion activities. The group designed and sold National Inclusion Project window stickers as well as holiday cards with children’s drawings depicting inclusion. The group also provided copies of “Our Friend Mikayla”, a book written and illustrated by third-graders about their classmate with special needs, to 29 special recreation associations across Illinois for use in their programs.
One National Inclusion Project event in particular resulted in Michelle unexpectedly learning a new skill for the Marbles Museum children’s carnival during the 2011 Gala weekend. Illinois Voices for Inclusion created a clown-themed booth with games, red clown noses and clown certificates for the children. Thanks to a crash course watching online videos, Michelle was a balloon animal making “artist” for a day, with each child receiving his or her own balloon animal.
Michelle began volunteering in 2004 at the Wrapping for Inclusion site in Lombard, Illinois and has co-led the wrapping site since 2009. Over eleven years of wrapping, organizing volunteers and interacting with the public, she has imparted awareness about the benefits of inclusion and National Inclusion Project programs to a wide cross-section of the Chicagoland community.
For the past 10 years, Michelle has also volunteered at the Hobart, Indiana YMCA Summer Inclusion Camp, one of the Project’s legacy and longest running camps. In fact, the camp is holding its 10th anniversary celebration this August, the theme for which will be “Celebrate 10 Years of Summer Fun!” Along with her fellow Hobart summer camp volunteers, Michelle has attended Let’s All Play training, planned curriculum for a day and designed a project each year for the campers which encapsulates their summer camp experience. One project was helping the campers create memory books with pictures of each child having fun at camp with new friends. The children then decorated their books in their own special way and took home a lasting memento of summer camp. Another year, the middle-school campers decorated a chair with words and pictures of what inclusion meant to them and the pre-school campers decorated their inclusion chair with their colorful hand prints. The chairs were then donated to the YMCA where they were kept on display in support of inclusion.
Michelle feels fortunate to have participated in these and other National Inclusion Project activities, including the opportunity to volunteer at and attend the annual Champions Gala where inclusion champions are honored and the year-round accomplishments of the National Inclusion Project are celebrated. But Michelle states the greatest blessing of all has been to witness through the Hobart inclusion camp the lasting, positive effects of inclusionary social activities for children with special needs as well as their typical peers, families and communities. She’ll never forget the profound words of parents in panel discussions who expressed their joy and newly found hope when, for the first time in their young lives, their children were able to participant in fun and play with other children of typical abilities. One parent shared that inclusion camp drew out socialization in his child which he had never witnessed before. Another parent found the encouragement to enroll her child in a mainstream school as a result of her child’s success at inclusion summer camp. Her daughter is now thriving in her school and has more friends than her mother ever thought would be possible. Two young girls—one with special needs and the other with typical abilities—first met at pre-school inclusion camp at age 5 and nine years later are still best of friends. For Michelle, these real life stories are testament to the fact that inclusion does make a positive difference and not just in the lives of children with special needs. Michelle firmly believes children of typical abilities who have the opportunity to have fun with other children with special needs learn acceptance and understanding and will take their inclusion experience with them into adulthood and their community.
Michelle wishes the National Inclusion Project many years of continued success, as measured by the growing number of lives which have been changed for the better because of the inclusionary opportunities which the Project makes possible, and she thanks the Project for enhancing her own awareness as well.