Mikayla’s Voice

By Nancy Moffett

Inspiring kids of all abilities to share the message of inclusion…

Mikayla Resh was five days old when doctors told her parents, Kimberly and Michael Resh, that she had severe, permanent brain damage. Mikayla is now 18 and the inspiration for Mikayla’s Voice, an organization whose purpose is to promote inclusion for children with disabilities.

Our society has come a long way since the 1950s when my cousin, who had spina bifida, was not allowed to attend school. He was tutored at home with little chance to interact with other kids. Kids said they were afraid of him because he used a wheelchair and crutches. They never got to know him as I did. Better understanding and school policy changes have made inclusion more widespread, but there is still more to be done.

That’s where Mikayla’s Voice comes in. Through assemblies for elementary schools, visits to colleges to talk to future teachers to events like “Tri for Inclusion,” the organization spreads the word about inclusion and, more importantly, gets kids involved. Its mission is to “educate, empower and inspire kids about inclusion.” Mikayla’s Voice encourages everyone to believe that diversity builds understanding, compassion and acceptance, making us better human beings.

“We looked at Mikayla’s life and wanted to give back. She had the best doctors, therapists and teachers; and the most important component of her life was the inclusion she experienced,” says Kimberly Resh, director of the organization. “We wanted to start a non-profit aimed at kids with multiple disabilities, to make sure that no one is left out.”

When Mikayla was in third grade, her classmates wrote and illustrated “Our Friend Mikayla,” first published in 2006 and since been read across the country. The book is used by teachers and parents to help kids lose their fear or intimidation when they meet a disabled child. A second book, “High Fives and a Big Heart,” was written and illustrated by fourth graders and addresses having a friend with a disability. “The message the kids wanted to get across is that ‘all kids are different… so kids with disabilities are no different than us’,” says Resh. The success of these projects was the inspiration for founding Mikayla’s Voice, she explains.

Other products have been developed to help kids remember the essence of inclusion: pendants, keychains, Incluzion Bandz (in the shape of a clover or ladybug) and ladybug pins and pendants. “We chose the ladybug as the symbol of Mikayla’s Voice because it – like Mikayla – never speaks, and it’s the only bug most people aren’t afraid of,” Resh explains. The ladybug has one yellow spot among its black spots. “Our ladybug may be different, but she is just as beautiful as any other,” Resh points out.

Mikayla’s Voice has more than 100 volunteers, a board of directors and a junior board of directors made up of middle and high school kids.

“Kids know best how to reach other kids,” Resh says, citing the example of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation that grew from cancer patient Alexandra Scott’s desire to raise money to find a cure for children with cancer.

In addition to educational outreach, events are another way to experience inclusion. What better way to show kids what it means than through a fun activity? “Wheels of Friendship” was developed in art classes at Nazareth Middle School to allow Mikayla and her classmates to paint large canvases using the wheels of her wheelchair. A grant from Crayola enabled Mikayla’s Voice to work with two more children with disabilities and their classes to make paintings using wheelchairs and the paws and tail of a service dog. The paintings will be on display at the Banana Factory from January to March of 2014.

On June 29, 2013, Mikayla’s Voice held its first “Tri for Inclusion” triathlon at Parkland High School. More than 140 participants swam 100 yards, biked three miles and ran 0.625 miles. “We had 34 athletes without disabilities,” Resh says, “and 31 relay teams that included a child with a disability.” Mikayla’s sister, Lauren, pushed her in the run portion, while three other kids helped her complete the swim and bike portions. Resh was inspired to organize the event by brothers Conner and Cayden Long from Whitehouse, Tennessee. Conner has helped Cayden, who has spastic cerebral palsy and can’t walk or talk, compete in more than 14 triathlons. Resh was thrilled when the Long boys agreed to serve as race ambassadors and compete in the event.

“It was awesome,” Resh says. Among the event’s sponsors were IronPigs Charities, Just Born and the Cetronia Ambulance Corps. The event’s motto is: “It doesn’t matter where you finish as long as you cross together.” Resh says, “Their [the participants’] efforts show our entire community that there is always a way to include everyone in everything.” Next year’s Tri for Inclusion will be held on June 28, 2014.

As for Resh, she is amazed what Mikayla’s Voice has accomplished in three years. “We are honored and privileged to teach life’s important lessons about love and friendship through children like Mikayla. Our world is richer because of them.”

For more information about Mikayla’s voice visit mikaylasvoice.org.

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