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Sandy teen earns grant through determination and online activism

Joslynn Bigelow shows her passion for helping children with disabilities


Lifetime Sandy resident Joslynn Bigelow, 18, has a passion for helping children with disabilities.

Her involvement in one online campaign has given her the chance to provide even more for one of the causes she is invested in.

Bigelow is no stranger to supporting her peers with special needs.

When her high school, La Salle Prep in Milwaukie, implemented a special needs program, Bigelow said she dove head first into helping out.

She was a peer mentor and tutor with her school’s program Signum Fidei, or Signs of Faith. She’s also helped with Project Unify, a modified sports program similar to Special Olympics, in soccer and football.

In addition, Community 101, the club Bigelow headed during her final year at La Salle, focused its efforts on disability issues last year, and she has participated in the Polar Plunge, raising money for the special Olympics all four years of her high school career.

The HuntPhoto Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Joslynn Bigelow, 18, hoped to raise awareness by challenging young people to name their best ability.

During her junior year, Bigelow stumbled across the website for DoSomething.org while looking into college scholarships.

Bigelow said she was very much into volunteering and thought it seemed so easy to get involved since it was over the Internet.

DoSomething.org is an online nonprofit organization that gets young people involved in social change through online campaigning.

The first campaign Bigelow got involved with was Thumb Wars, an effort to stop people from texting and driving. She said the organization sent her tiny thumb socks as a reminder not to drive distracted.

After working in several other campaigns — she said she enjoyed the way DoSomething.org steps up and tries to educate about issues that are sometimes taboo — Bigelow was contacted by the organization and asked to submit a campaign idea for a seven-day activism challenge.

She contemplated creating a campaign addressing child abuse, but she said she hadn’t seen anything on DoSomething.org about raising awareness of disability among youths, an area in which she is determined to bring change.

Her campaign, #WeAreAble, beat out thousands of other ideas. She drew from the fact that disabled students are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.

“It’s not about getting recognized,” she said. “That’s not what’s important to me. It’s about getting equal opportunity for everyone. Don’t focus on disability, focus on ability.”

The campaign asks young activists to declare an ability they have on a poster as a way to refocus the conversation around what people can do, rather than what they can’t.

Donating to TOPSoccer

A dedicated soccer player since she was 4 years old, Bigelow got involved with Gresham’s TOPSoccer in sixth grade, which she said was originally her mother's idea.

“My mom really pushed me toward my volunteering way of life,” Bigelow said. “It’s really stuck.”

She’s been volunteering her time with two of the organization's three programs each year.

TOPSoccer, a program through the Oregon Youth Soccer Association, offers the chance for children with disabilities to learn the basics of soccer while interacting with their peers.

Bigelow says she helps with coaching and also acts as a buddy for certain players.

Through her campaign with DoSomething.org, Bigelow got the chance to continue the work she started.

Bigelow will receive a $500 grant to continue focusing the conversation on ability. She has chosen to donate that money to TOPSoccer.

She hopes the money will go toward purchasing more equipment and expanding the number of children who can be involved in the free program.

Determination

Bigelow’s #WeAreAble campaign debuted on DoSomething.org’s The Hunt on Thursday, Aug. 7.

“My mom instantly got on and did it,” Bigelow said. The morning the campaign began, she said she was “super excited.”

Bigelow was asked to post her entry for the campaign early. She said on the Internet that her best ability was determination. She said she is determined to achieve her goals and, just as DoSomething.org advertises, she is “determined to make the world suck less.”

She hopes her campaign will help get more people involved in trying to end stigma around people with disabilities.

“We need to go beyond ourselves and focus on others,” Bigelow said. “When you do things for others, you learn about yourself.”

Since DoSomething.org has 2.6 million members, Bigelow said she expects some hefty support.

“I want to make sure everyone has a voice and it’s heard,” she said. “But they have to speak out in order to be heard.”

However, the Internet is not always friendly. Despite her positive message, Bigelow already was getting negative comments the morning the campaign launched.

But she wasn’t going to let that get her down. As long as her message was still reaching someone, “I will take the adversity,” she said.

She said everyone makes assumptions about other people and the negativity she received just made her more determined to challenge people to change the way they see things.

The Hunt’s seven-day challenge ended Sunday, Aug. 10.

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