Foundation to publish work that showcases Lower Nazareth classmate with a disability.
*this article has been edited from its original version*
By Arlene Martínez
Of The Morning Call
One by one, the Lower Nazareth Township Elementary fourth-graders were called to the stage.
Joining them last was a brown-haired girl in a wheelchair. It was their schoolmate, Mikayla Resh, who once was a curiosity, even a bit scary, to the young students.
Mikayla has cerebral palsy and brain damage, the result of a lack of oxygen at birth. She’s fed through a tube. She can’t talk.
But she’s also a cheerleader, an ‘’American Idol’’ fan and the inspiration for a book to be published later this year. The 19 students, most of them 10 years old, learned Friday in a gradewide assembly they are soon to be professional authors.
‘’Our Friend, Mikayla’’ tells the story of a girl with disabilities. She’s just like you and me, the students wanted to show in words and in drawings of a girl in a wheelchair at the playground, licking lollipops and playing.
The authors modestly accepted the praise bestowed upon them by school officials, guests including Nazareth Area School District Superintendent Victor Lesky and state Rep. Craig Dally, R-Northampton, and most of all, their cheering, shouting classmates.
Author and artist Melissa Mastro, 10, learned her drawing was the cover after she saw an image of it on the large celebration cake. She explained what inspired the drawing, two girls playing with Mikayla near a swing set. ‘’I felt when someone could see it people could see that you could have friends like this,’’ she said.
In helping put together the book, Mastro ‘’learned you could be friends with someone who has a disability.’’
The book is being published by The Bubel/Aiken Foundation, a nonprofit started by ‘’American Idol’’ runner-up Clay Aiken. Its mission is to include people with disabilities in everyday activities. The book, said foundation Chief Operating Officer Kristy Barnes, tells the foundation’s ‘’exact story and the mission for us.’’
The driving force behind the book is Mikayla’s mother, Kimberly Resh. In the spring of 2005, she met with the then third-graders several times, asking them to honestly talk about her daughter, what they thought when they saw her and what they thought of people with disabilities.
By November, she had received the support of Aiken’s foundation but was sworn to secrecy.
Emotional and ecstatic, a tearful Resh addressed the fourth-graders. ‘’I need to thank you for being honest,’’ she said. ‘’I have to thank Mikayla for being her sweet little self.’’
The foundation gave $12,500 toward the initial book run of 3,000 books. The Nazareth Blue Eagle Education Foundation contributed $2,000, which will be used for the book’s dust jackets.
It’s the first book for The Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which works to create summer camps and other youth programs.
Eventually, Resh would like a copy of ‘’Our Friend, Mikayla,’’ in every elementary school in the country. She’s run price estimates for the approximately 50,000 schools and doesn’t see the goal as too lofty.
Ten-year-old Logan Houptley believes in her. ‘’I feel really excited for Mikayla’s mom because she had a hard time with Mikayla at first and now she just made a book,’’ he said. ‘’I’m really proud of her.’’
And even if Mikayla may not fully understand her classmates are publishing a book about her, ‘’she probably feels the love around her,’’ said Resh. ‘’She knows there’s something going on and it’s good.’’
The authors are Michael Allen, Alayna Berardi, Mackenzie Dilsaver, Megan Gangewere, Kevin Garzillo, Joshua Golden, Brian Gorrie, Logan Houptley, Melissa Mastro, Ryan McDonnell, John Nemeth, Mikayla Resh, Taylor Rigante, Tatiana Sampson, Jonathan Sandone, Devon Saul, Joseph Schepis, Brandon Shipper and Ashley Werkheiser.
The book will be available for sale online at www.bubelaiken.org.