Clay Aiken’s charity aims to expand

Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel
Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel

Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The charity co-founded by Clay Aiken, the Raleigh native and American Idol runner-up, has changed its name to better reflect its mission of integrating children with disabilities into school, after-school and summer-camp activities.

Formerly known as the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, the Research Triangle Park-based National Inclusion Project also is stepping up its efforts to better promote its work and generate more contributions to support its programs.

“Our challenge is building awareness not only about what we do but who we are, and through that awareness getting people who will support us and help others and really make a difference,” says Jerry Aiken, who is Clay Aiken’s uncle and executive director of the nonprofit.

Based on a senior project Clay Aiken worked on at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he majored in special education, he launched the nonprofit in July 2003 with Diane Bubel, the mother of a young man with disabilities Aiken had worked with as part of his student project.

When Aiken mentioned his student project during an American Idol broadcast in the spring of 2003, fans contributed roughly $50,000, even though he had not yet formed the nonprofit.

The National Inclusion Project receives support through revenue generated by Aiken’s fans wrapping gifts in their local communities, and through an annual gala in Raleigh and annual golf tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The group mainly develops a curriculum, and provides training and funding, to “help open doors” and provide an “inclusive offering” for kids who attend summer camps and after-school programs.

With assets just over $1 million, Jerry Aiken says, the nonprofit in the year ended Dec. 31, 2008, provided over $825,000 in funding for 31 different programs throughout the United States.

And with a $500,000 federal grant, the group over three years developed an evidence-based inclusive service-learning curriculum that teachers in elementary, middle and high schools can use to talk to their students about disabilities and help them select a community-service project.

Now, in partnership with Johns Hopkins University and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., the National Inclusion Project aims to integrate that curriculum with Let’s All Play, the inclusive program it developed for after-school and recreational summer-camp programs.

Tested at YMCAs in Raleigh and in Concord, N.C., and Kansas City, Kan., the program has served over 70 groups.

Overall, the National Inclusion Project has invested $4.5 million in its work, supported over 110 programs and served over 20,000 children through its inclusive camp program, says Jerry Aiken, who spent 30 years working in the telecommunications industry for companies like Nortel and Fujitsu, where he served as vice president for global customer services.

Expanding those programs will require raising more money, Jerry Aiken says.

The group’s “Wrapping for Inclusion” program, for example, generated $60,000 during the holiday season last year, down because of the recession from $100,000 it generated a year earlier, he says.

On Oct. 17, the National Inclusion Project will host its sixth annual Champions Gala at the Marriott City Center in downtown Raleigh.

The event will honor Mitsubishi Electric; Patrick Henry Hughes, a student with substantial disabilities who plays multiple instruments in the marching band at the University of Louisville; and the Sparkle Effect, a high-school cheerleading squad in Iowa that includes girls with disabilities.

And in February, the National Inclusion Project will host its annual golf tournament at the Mirasol Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens.

“We are a small foundation,” Jerry Aiken says. “We’ve got some really good things going, and we’re really trying to make a difference.”

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