Thursday, March 31, 2016

On Air with Radio VSA Texas

Hi blog readers! This is DJ April here to tell you about our exciting new internship opportunity for young adults with developmental disabilities. We have been partnering with KOOP 91.7 Hornsby Austin - Radio for People, Not for Profit to mentor transitioning age youth in the art of radio production. We piloted this project in Fall 2015 with Jorge Reyes, a young man who was finishing his last semester at ACC for Radio/Television/Film and needed an internship to fulfill his requirements to graduate. His semester at VSA Texas included working with Julie Retersdorf, another ACC student, Undercover Greg, a DJ at KOOP Radio, and me. Together Jorge and I attended KOOP volunteer training and apprenticed under Greg on the Reflections of Community Outreach show. With Julie, Jorge did research and recording for a podcast. Julie reflects on her time working with Jorge below:

“The morning that I first met Jorge he was very shy and did not make eye contact. As April described the project I could see Jorge begin to take deep slow big breaths as he ran his fingers through his hair. I could see that he was becoming slightly overwhelmed with the assignment. Instinctually I wanted to pat him on the back and tell him we would make this fun. But, I resisted the physical contact and we moved to our little space in a back room where we worked throughout the semester.

“First, we discussed a DJ name, and that seemed to lighten the stress. After some discussion he chose Star Lord. We spent some time listening to podcasts to explore their purpose, enthusiasm, and formatting of the speaker’s topic. The first podcast was to be about celebrities with Autism. He spent some time researching different actors but really enjoyed writing about Tim Burton and Temple Grandin. We took breaks from the writing and watched YouTube videos from the people he was going to speak about. After watching several trailers from Tim Burton, Jorge commented on how Tim’s creativeness revealed his feelings of being 'different in the world.' During the afternoons Jorge went to the KOOP radio station for recording instructions and practice.

Jorge at a local event recording session
“By the end of our time together, the discouragement and frustrations Jorge had initially experienced in the first weeks, had resolved. He demonstrated confidence in his podcast script choices and enthusiasm in wrapping up his ACC internship by recording the podcast in the radio studio.
I was thrilled for the opportunity I had to work at VSA Texas with Jorge and watch him gain confidence and enthusiasm. After graduation he hopes to go onto another internship in film and broadcasting to finalize plans for a future career. I learned a lot that I might not have ever known had it not been for this fieldwork. I’m hopeful it was a successful pilot program for VSA Texas and other students have a chance for this great experience.”

Jorge finishes his internship with VSA Texas and KOOP Radio.
(L-R: Undercover Greg, Julie Retersdorf, Jorge Reyes, April Sullivan)
Thanks to Julie and Greg for working with Jorge! We think it was a successful pilot program, and we are opening up the opportunity for 12 other young adults ages 15-22 to learn about radio production this summer in a two-week paid internship. See more details and the registration form on our website at deadline to apply is April 29th! We want to hear your voice on the radio!

Listen to Jorge’s PSA for KOOP Radio below:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Keep Your Eyes on Houston!

Hi all! Remember me, Nicole Cortichiato? Well if you don’t, I’m the Project Facilitator for the Opening Minds, Opening Doors program. What’s new, you ask? These glasses for one but I am getting used to them. I just wanted something a little more bold and with color, ya know? I think I’ve accomplished that. Yes, they are prescription.

Me and my brand new green glasses!
What else is new? Our second round of Houston classes!!! Eric and I have been Skyping into all of our OMOD classes in Houston, and we know you’ll be excited about our upcoming show on May 14th. I guarantee the stories will entertain you. But I can’t reveal all the details, so let me just give you a few appetizers before the main dish. Here’s a taste of what you can look forward to in our Houston showcase:

  • From Alisha's "Kemah Boardwalk" Story: The safety bar locks into place. I feel the pressure of the bar against me. My head fills with excitement. I can't wait for The Inverter to flip me upside down. I can feel the sun on my face as the ride starts to move. The ride goes upside down really fast! Then it flips me right side up again! Flipping and flipping like a pancake. 

  • From John's "Learning to Swim Again" Story: At first, I hesitated. I just froze, and smelled the chlorine, and listened to voices echo on the water. I thought: do I really want to go in there? I wasn’t sure I would remember how to swim. But I got into the special chair by the pool edge, and it lowered me into the water.

  • From Russell's "Chicken Suit" Story: I walked the streets, passing out coupons. And nobody knew it was me in the costume unless they saw me get dressed. And this one girl said, "Thank God they got someone else to wear that costume!"

The Houston speakers posing for a photo
after their first class showcase December 19th
Well that’s it. No more appetizers for you. Save room, my pretty’s. And be sure to join us at the Alley Theater in Houston on May 14th to hear the complete stories and mingle with our OMOD speakers. Perhaps you might even be encouraged to write one of you own. We certainly hope so! Stay tuned to our Facebook and website for more details!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Art of Photography

This week we are hosting our Spring Break Side by Side Photography Internship. This involves a large crew of people including the Intern Supervisor (or chief head counter), me April Sullivan, our instructor, local photographer Jo Ann Santangelo, five dedicated volunteers, Jeff, Robert, Michelle, Mary, and Yannik, three sign language interpreters Shea, Naomi, and Bethany, and twelve young adult interns with developmental disabilities, Berk, Ben, August, Kamand, Stephen, Thaddeus, Ricardo, Natalie, Rachel, Shelby, Kacie, and Lewis.

Together we are studying the world of photography. Jo Ann told us one of her favorite quotes by photographer Dorthea Lange, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” We practiced this concept as we took still life, nature, portrait, and animal photographs.

On Monday we learned still life photography. Here is one of Natalie’s still life images. She says, "I held the bird close to the camera when I took this photo. I wanted it to look like the viewer is looking down at the elephant from a birds eye view, literally. I wanted to show that the elephant travels a long way and I wanted the audience to be a part of that."

"Journey" by Natalie
Ricardo really enjoyed the photo shoot we did outside. He says, “My shots came out nice and clear. The scavenger hunt gave me a lot of opportunities. Trees and flowers were aesthetically pleasing. I really want to take more pics of nature to be clearer. I like how this is going.” Here is one of Ricardo’s photos from our scavenger hunt on the second day.

"House of Ages" by Ricardo

We took a field trip on Wednesday to a local urban farm, Hausbar Farms. Here is a group portrait from the farm. We took photos of bunnies, chickens, geese, donkeys, and plants.

Group photo at Hausbar Farms taken by Naomi

We have just a few more days of photographing and editing our images. The hard part is choosing a selection of photos for our portfolios and for display at our final showcase on Saturday, March 19th, from 3:30 – 4:30 pm.

Ben shows Mary the photo he has edited.

Friday, March 11, 2016


The OMOD team went on the road the 1st of March. Shaniqua, Jordana, and Kamand sallied forth with me at the wheel to speak at the annual TRAPS (Texas Recreation and Parks Society) conference in Galveston. The drive down was uneventful as we were trying out a new route that bypassed the Houston traffic. I was very happy about that! Well, it was almost uneventful, except I neglected to read the second page of the directions until we found ourselves in Freeport, in the parking lot of a huge refinery. Thankfully, we live in the 21st century and the little woman that lives in my GPS knew exactly where we were and carefully guided us over the 2-mile long levee that connected us back to the road through the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.

Driving over the levee
Dinner at Landry’s when we finally arrived at the hotel was very much enjoyed.

The view from our hotel
After a late night swim in the pool and relaxing in the hot tub, everyone was ready for the next day’s presentation. We were well-prepared and delighted to speak to a standing room only crowd. The audience was mainly recreation therapists and other parks and recreation staff, and the panel of OMOD presenters shared some good advice about working with individuals with diverse disabilities. It was Texas Independence Day, so it was wonderfully appropriate that everyone learned that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to recreating with young women who live independently and have definite opinions on what they want to experience and learn. And Kamand’s personal assistant Kasera had an opportunity to talk about the reciprocal partnership she and Kamand have forged over the few years they have been working together. More good information for people who do this for a living.

Shaniqua, Jordana, Kamand, and Kasera
wait for their presentation to begin.
Immediately after our presentation we raced across the street to the Gulf of Mexico to dip our toes in the water. We didn’t care about the wind and the sand between our toes!

The ladies stand barefoot in the wet sand
with the Gulf of Mexico behind them.
Sadly, after leaving a sandy puddle in the hotel bathroom, we piled back into the mini van to begin the long drive back to Austin. With numerous bathroom stops and great gales of laughter, we relaxed into the satisfaction of a job well done, smiling all the way home.