This is the official FACT “Hall of Fame.” Here you will find stories about great people doing great things. Here is where people choose to share their inspirations with others instead of simply keeping their experiences to themselves. This is not a place for the side liners or the gentle observers. No-this is reserved for the Movers and Shakers.
The Fab Four
Meet the Fahey’s. At FACT, they are celebrities. Their son Daniel, now 22, is one of our Camp Gonnawannagoagin’ veterans, as his first day with us was almost 16 years ago! From day one, Daniel was one of the most charismatic individuals you would ever have the pleasure of meeting. He is that rare type of person that exudes so much enthusiasm that is impossible to be unhappy while in his company. He is the guy that will cheer the loudest for his team, laugh the hardest at a joke, and put forth the most tireless effort during any marathon (which he happens to do quite often). Although Daniel’s Camp Gonnawanngoagin’ days are behind him now, he is certainly no stranger to FACT. Daniel attends just about every single Social Club outing, Family Celebration, and Sporting League that FACT has to offer- bowling being a particular favorite of his. More often than not, Daniel’s parents- along with his sister, Maddy- are right there with him. The Faheys are essentially the “Fab Four of FACT.”
We chose Autism Awareness Month to write about the Faheys because of the exemplary way they’ve chosen to embrace their son’s diagnosis of autism. They have chosen to view their son’s autism as a blessing rather than a disability. Take Daniel’s little sister Maddy, for example. After volunteering to be a peer buddy at Camp Gonnawanngoagin’ every summer for the last decade, she also managed to encourage her high school to support FACT. Because of her influence, Kempsville High School’s Leadership Retreat culminated in designing and creating dozens of sensory integration toys for Camp Gonnawanngoagin’. Meanwhile, their parents, Laura and Jeff, are among the first we lean on. Whether it’s flipping burgers at a Family Celebration, or chaperoning at one of the many Social Program outings, they are there for anything we need. They have each other’s back, they have Daniel’s back, and they most certainly have FACT’s back. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, FACT is thrilled to feature this Fab Four as April’s “Movers and Shakers,” not only because they have inspired us, but for the way they have inspired our community.
Atta Girl, Miss Pam
This month, Executive Director of FACT, Pam Clendenen, was chosen to receive the Virginia Beach Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities Award. This prestigious recognition is awarded annually to those who display an outstanding commitment to improving the lives of citizens with disabilities in Virginia Beach. For those of you who know Pam, you are most likely not surprised that she was chosen for this honor. That’s because one of the best parts about being human is human nature, and our own good nature dictates that we get a warm and fuzzy feeling when good things happen to deserving people. This begs the question, what makes Pam Clendenen deserving? Why is she set apart from the rest?
“Commitment:” which once had a powerful connotation has somehow lost its impact. Too often the word is used interchangeably with “obligation”. A true commitment is a dedication of time and energy to something you truly believe in. While we may have an obligation to look out for those less fortunate than ourselves, Pam believes our commitment should be to embrace and include individuals with disabilities. She believes in the potential of children with autism and has committed herself to serving their families.
There is no need to create a laundry list of what Pam does to keep FACT and Camp Gonnawanngoagin’ running and growing year-after-year for 20 years. As a matter of fact, the list would be so long and overwhelming to read, that you would be at risk of losing your “warm and fuzzy” out of pure astonishment. What is important is how she does it, how she treats people, and the way she keeps people motivated and inspired to serve alongside her year-after-year. We don’t know how she does it, how she puts forth the same energy and dedication each day as she did 20 years ago, or how we got so lucky to have her on our side.
Jahleel Gardner is simply one of our favorite people. He is one of those rare souls that epitomizes “Carpe Diem.” Because he is so intrapersonally equipped, campers, volunteers, and staff are easily drawn to him. Recently Jahleel was given a supervisory position as Head Coach of our FACT soccer clinic. It got us thinking about how long we’ve known him and how far he’s come. We reached out to Jahleel and asked him to describe his experience in his own words.
“I’ve been volunteering and working for FACT since 6th grade. The teen nights were kind of like teen nights for me also because at that age I didn’t realize I was helping their social development, I was just hanging with my friends and all my buddies from camp. Last year I received my Bachelors in Speech Language Pathology and I plan on receiving my masters in the future. I currently work one on one with several peers and children on the spectrum, throughout Virginia Beach. I’m also currently taking courses to receive certification as a Registered Behavioral Technician. I’ll never say my future is set in stone, but I know for a fact I will remain heavily involved in the Autistic community. This is a passion that motivates me and I think when you have passion for something, the sky is the limit. I can foresee myself creating an organization or facility that children and adults with Autism can go to meet equally passionate peers, where they can create a legitimate relationship and naturally develop social skills. I understand the skills and strategies that can be used when working with an individual on the spectrum, but just like typically developing people, they can learn a substantial amount about socialization through a caring, sincere, meaningful relationship. I also wish to travel the world with one of my many friends on the spectrum at a comfortable point in my life. As far as volunteering, I feel it’s my duty/responsibility as a human, to help my fellow human pursue the happiness they wish for. I realized working with F.A.C.T that there are people that can’t live life the way they want to due to mental, emotional, or physical limitations. I enjoy using my abilities and energy to help people acquire that joy in everyday life.”
So you can see why he’s among our favorites and why we consider him a “mover and a shaker”.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Starting new programs for the ASD community…it’s what we do, it’s why we’re here, it’s how we know we’re making a meaningful impact. Without our volunteers, our programs would be mere pipe dreams. Our volunteers are truly what gets FACT’s programs off of the ground. However, among these volunteers, there are a few who really stand out. It isn’t simply because they worked harder or longer, it’s because of their ability to connect with and engage children with autism.
When veteran volunteer Emma Shartle first suggested her mother Karen as a candidate to coach FACT’s volleyball league, we had no clue what to expect. As it turns out, since Karen had never worked with a special needs population before, she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect either. She could’ve fooled us. Like her children, Emma and Bryce, Karen is a natural at working with individuals with autism.
It is said that the best teachers are the observers. After each session, Karen met with staff and volunteers for feedback, new ideas, and constructive planning. She was able to tune into the students’ needs, assess which methods weren’t working, and devise a new plan accordingly. This collaboration and compassion quickly resulted into a tailor-made volleyball league for athletes with autism, complete with excellent sportsmanship, teamwork, and positive attitudes. In no time, our athletes were introduced to a “word of the week,” “skill of the week,” and enthusiastically celebrating individual goals, such as making 20 “bumps” in a row.
People tend to look at volunteering in one of two ways. One person does it to fulfill an obligation, to gain accolades from peers, or even to develop connections. Meanwhile, there are others that understand that being of service to others is the reward in itself. So many of us try to teach our children that “giving is better than receiving,” however only a few of us take the time to actually model volunteerism to our children in order to make sure they really get it. But if you’re anything like Karen, one day your children will reciprocate your noble example by inspiring you to get involved in the very charity they hold close to their hearts. FACT is inspired by and grateful to the Shartle family. Great job guys!
How do you Bat Mitzvah?
Local teen donates Bat Mitzvah money to her favorite camp: Camp Gonnawannagoagin’
This summer, Camp Gonnawanngoagin’ welcomed an exceptional new volunteer, Jody Bartel, who was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah in the fall. Over recent years, many synagogues and Jewish families have chosen to add a special component to their child’s Bat Mitzvah preparation, referred to as “tikkun olam”- or fixing the world. The notion of taking on social projects not only satisfies the Jewish ritual of social action, but also instills the “mitzvot,” or commandments, to which these Bat Mitzvah candidates will be obligated to uphold.
While volunteering as a peer buddy at Camp Gonnawanngoagin’. Jody had the opportunity to get to know our campers with autism on a deeper level. She was humbled by the number of her peers that also chose to volunteer, and delighted to see quite a few of her old friends, while also making new ones.
When FACT learned about Jody’s intentions to donate her Bat Mitzvah money to Camp Gonnawanngoagin’, we immediately made the decision to author our first “Movers and Shakers” article in her honor. Between event planning, years of Hebrew school, and countless hours mastering prayers-a Bat Mitzvah is monumental to a child. We applaud Jody’s generosity and hard work and look forward to hearing about her continuing success. Mazel Tov!