Enabling the Disabled to Serve: How One Singer Uses His Celebrity to Shine a Spotlight on Society's Unmet Needs-And on New Ways to Meet Them

Article excerpt

People with disabilities are traditionally thought of only as potential recipients for volunteer services, but the goal of The Bubel/Aiken Foundation is to change people's minds. The new organization, founded by singer Clay Aiken, 25, is on a mission to promote a more inclusive society, supporting programs and work environments that integrate disabled and nondisabled individuals.

One particular area in which Aiken is promoting greater integration is in the volunteer sector, suggesting that the disabled community is a largely untapped resource of energy and talent for community work.

At a recent awards ceremony honoring congressional leaders for their support of youth initiatives, Aiken's foundation awarded scholarships to seven young people demonstrating their commitment to improving the future of their communities.

One scholarship recipient was 18-year-old Jean Hartman, who already has a long history of volunteer service despite having a learning disability. One of her projects was to organize a team of volunteers--other young people with disabilities--to build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly neighbor who had lost the use of her legs.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"It is people like Jean who inspire me," said Aiken, whose work toward his special-education degree led to the Foundation's launch in summer 2003--during a hectic nationwide concert tour with fellow American Idol contestants.

"It is awesome to watch you achieve so much success," Hartman said, introducing Aiken to the audience. …