ISSUE ONE: THE VOLUNTEER ISSUE - FALL 2015
Focusing on Ability—Not Disability
An Interview with Josh Fields
Article By: Maria Corr
Both Students at CB South
Central Bucks High School South senior, Josh Fields, has been an active member of his community for several years. Working with special needs students, he has learned the two most important lessons in life: that “different” is not a bad thing, and to “reach for the stars.”
When he was in sixth grade, Josh Fields befriended one of his classmates, Lily Bowman, a girl who has Down Syndrome. “It was weird at first, because I had no idea how to interact with someone with a disability.” As the years have passed, however, Josh and Lily have remained best friends, their bond growing stronger each year.
Josh’s relationship with Lily proved to him that “someone who appears different may not be so different, after all,” leaving him inspired to get involved with his community, and create stronger connections with those with disabilities.
Just a senior in high school, Josh has dedicated years of his life to community service; involved both inside and outside of school, he has worked tirelessly to “get kids with disabilities to have more social interaction.”
During his years at Tamanend Middle School, Josh was involved in the “Buddies Club,” where he visited special needs children twice a week to spend time with and get to know them. As a sophomore at CB South, he joined the Titans Connect Club, where students participate in “activities that any other club would do, except [they] make sure to include kids with disabilities.” These activities include weekly board game days, monthly movie nights, holiday parties, karaoke nights, a Thanksgiving feast day, and an annual Titans Connect Prom. When Josh joined Titans Connect as a sophomore, “…it was only about 60 members, and now we have 250.” Today, as a senior at South, Josh is the Co-President of Titans Connect. Josh says his favorite part about being in Titans Connect is that, “it’s something that the community is obviously engaging in, and it is so cool to see how these kids with disabilities, who were not social a couple years ago, now walk up to peers and have conversations with them.”
Josh’s involvement with students with disabilities does not stop in school, however. After getting involved with the Buddies Club in middle school, he joined Friendship Circle—a local organization where he volunteers to go to a peer’s house once a week to “basically hang out with them and build a relationship with someone with a disability.” During his summers, he volunteers with PALS Programs—an overnight camp for young adults with Down Syndrome. This year, Josh volunteered at three different Camp PALS locations: Princeton University; Cabrini College; and the University of Scranton. At each camp, Josh was a Head Counselor, where he led fellow PALS volunteers, as well as Down Syndrome campers, on trips to the beach, Franklin Institute, and Dave and Busters.
This past year, Josh started his own nonprofit organization, The Next Step Programs (TNS). This organization works to help kids with special needs transition after they graduate high school. TNS partners with colleges, universities, and other corporations in order to assist individuals with disabilities in finding jobs or attending further education, ultimately helping those individuals in “taking the next step” in their lives. Josh and his friend Ricky Price, a graduate student at Michigan State whom he met at Camp PALS one year ago, started TNS after they both agreed that they had an interest in business, but also a passion for working with kids with disabilities. After months of video chatting, discussing, debating, and planning, Josh and Ricky fundraised through family, and put their own money into starting the foundation, as well. Once enough money was collected to pay for the state and legal fees necessary in starting the nonprofit organization, Josh and Ricky made a TNS website (www.tnsprograms.org), and advertised via social media in order to spread the word and hopefully raise more money. At their most recent banquet fundraiser, Josh and Ricky raised over $2,000 for TNS.
This year, TNS is hoping to start implementing three new programs: The Resource Directory; Project Inclusion; and Invisibly Invisible. The plan for the Resource Directory is to branch out to different organizations and companies, creating connections to them in hopes that TNS can place kids with disabilities into desirable jobs following their high school graduation. The second program, Project Inclusion, serves to accomplish TNS’s main goal: to spread inclusion nationwide. TNS aims to help communities come together and create safe, judgment-free zones where everyone feels appreciated and accepted. Project Inclusion would help to create these safe zones by aiding schools in creating inclusive clubs or afterschool programs, similar to CB South’s Titans Connect. The last program, Invisibly Invisible, is to be run primarily by TNS co-founder Ricky Price. His goal is to use this program to make people more aware of the shocking fact that “83% of females and 49% of males with disabilities are most likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.” TNS is modeling the Invisibly Invisible to advocate for individuals with special needs who are sexually assaulted.
So, what’s the “next step” for The Next Step Programs? “We want to implement these programs within the next year, and start actually finding the people and organizations we want to branch out to.” A TNS board of directors is in the works—this board will include the four to eight people that will plan out year-to-year goals for Josh and the rest of TNS, assisting in the processes of fundraising, building connections, and creating action in the community. Josh says that the first board meeting “will be a big turning point for TNS,” since it will officially establish a team of collaborators for him and Ricky to begin working with. The five-year plan has mainly one goal: stop talking, and start doing. TNS hopes to begin actively helping young adults with disabilities in their transitions into the real world sooner than later. Another TNS goal for the future includes creating a scholarship fund for students with special needs to help them afford and have the opportunity to go to college to continue in their education post-high school. “There’s a plethora of scholarships for typical people, but there’s really none out there for kids with disabilities, so we feel like if we can offer that financial assistance, then it will help those kids truly take that ‘next step’ into college or into a career.”
Throughout his active involvement in his community, Josh has been exposed to many other opportunities, such as getting involved in different leadership, autism, and special needs-related conferences, receiving college scholarships for exhibiting outstanding leadership, and meeting and connecting with new, amazing people. Starting his own nonprofit organization at the age of 17 definitely proves Josh’s ambitious and dedicated nature—but it has certainly paid off. He says that, through his learning how to better interact with adults in a business-manner, connect with special needs children on a personal level, and find volunteer outlets to make his community stronger and more unified, he has “grown so much as a person, a leader and a communicator.”
Josh leaves us with four crucial pieces of advice to ensure success: never doubt yourself—“if you have the time and energy to accomplish your goals, remember that anything is possible”; remember that age is just a number—“a lot of people are scared to do things because they’re young, but I’d say it’s actually easier to do things when you’ve got time ahead of you, so don’t let that hold you back”; don’t go in it alone—“having a friend or a role model to base your ideas off of will always allow for better ideas”; and reach for the stars—“I didn’t think TNS would grow as fast as it did, but we’re starting programs in multiple states next year, which I am so proud of.”