One of the most memorable comments I received when telling people that I was moving to Portland was, “Think of all the experiences you will have.” This phrase has proven to be true in countless ways, but one of the most impactful experiences I have had so far was the week I spent volunteering for Islands of Brilliance.
After being in Portland a few weeks, I went to my first networking event for designers. This is where I met Brian. He is a designer who recently moved to Portland and was trying to launch a program he had participated in back home, here in his new city. The program was developed specifically for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to provide them with focus, socialization and sense of accomplishment. Children are paired with a mentor and together they create a poster project using the Adobe Creative Suite.
This was exactly the type of opportunity I was looking for to become active in my new community. On top of that, the program began in Wisconsin, just launched in Minneapolis, and now they were embarking on Portland. The coincidence of these all being places I have lived really attracted me, and I was in.
Fast forward two months to August, and it was time for Islands of Brilliance. Every day for a week I would get on my bike after work and head over the bridge downtown where I would get to spend a couple hours with some amazing people.
I was partnered with Kimi. She is a very friendly, affectionate and happy girl. The door to the classroom would open at 5:15 and she was always one of the first kids through. She’d excitedly walk over to our work station, sit down and say, “Hi. Let’s get started.”
Over the course of the week we worked together and created a collection of posters that were inspired by a mind map in the Pixar film Inside Out. We made posters about her family, friends, unicorns, bicycles, and other things that meant something to her. When she needed a break from the computer there was an art station in the room where she could spend some time contributing to a group painting.
At the end of each class we would have a share time where each student showed the class what they accomplished that day. On Friday, the last day of the program, family was invited to a final presentation where each child got an opportunity to display their poster on a projector and present their idea and experience with the audience.
The friendship and connection I made with Kimi over the course of the week was really meaningful. She made me a very thoughtful thank you card, which made it all worth while.
But my week wouldn’t have been what it was if wasn’t for the amazing people leading the program. It was their passion and dedication that attracted me in the first place. Before this week, I really had no experience working with children with Autism, but I knew that the type of people that believed in an idea so strongly to start a program like this, as well as those who would volunteer their time to participate, were people I wanted to be around.
Even though it was only a week, my experience with Islands of Brilliance was the first community of people I felt a part of here in Portland. I’m thankful for all the people who participated and were willing to try something for the first time: The organizers who came all the way from Wisconsin to launch this program, the parents who enrolled their kids, the kids for being open and excited to participate, and for the other volunteers who helped it all come together. I’m also thankful for the insights I gained into what life is like for a child with Autism, and what it’s like being a parent caring for that child.
If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re from Wisconsin, Minneapolis or Portland. Check out Islands of Brilliance and see how you can get involved.