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Dancing Away The Stigma receives award, helps others
by DJ Kauffman Correspondent · December 7th, 2017

"Through all my experiences working with individuals with special needs, I began to see a stigma where people believe that individuals with disabilities are not as capable as those without disabilities," said Linn-Mar senior and Dancing Away The Stigma visionary Kaleb Cook.

According to Cook, he is concerned and frustrated with the mistreatment of individuals with disabilities as it relates to the above stigma; and has seen firsthand how it is not disabilities holding these individuals back, but rather a lack of opportunity that is stifling their involvement. "I began to realize that this issue is a national issue, and I wanted to help solve it," he said.

Throughout his active life, Cook said he has worked with individuals with special needs. He has been the President of Linn-Mar Buddies (a non-profit organization at Linn-Mar that links general education and special education students to create friendships and leadership skills), has been a Special Olympics of Iowa Coach volunteer, has worked as a respite worker for individuals with special needs, has taught dance therapy to students with special needs, and has volunteered as a Camp Counselor at Camp Courageous.

One weekend while Cook was volunteering during a Camp Courageous dance party, he realized how inclusive dance is and how it has the potential to solve this social issue. "Everyone was participating regardless of their disability. This is when the idea of Dancing Away The Stigma was formed," he said.

Inspired with the revelation "that this societal stigma could be lessened by the power of dance," and with the support of his parents, Cook began researching dance therapy and designing his Dancing Away The Stigma program.

Cook's program has two parts. The first, he said, is fundraising for Camp Courageous. This includes door-to-door solicitation and a dancing event. "We have had many fundraising efforts for Camp, one being the Dance Party event on April 15, 2017," he said.

The Dance Party was held at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena from 6 to 10 p.m. It was free to families with special needs individuals and $10 for general admission. All proceeds from the event went to Camp Courageous. "We had tons of help from organizations that funded our event. We had a large amount of volunteers from Camp Courageous and the Linn-Mar Community School District at our Dance Party," Cook said.

The second part of Cook's program is offering dance classes to students with special needs. "Dancing Away The Stigma focuses on the tool of dance therapy, which is an adaptive form of dance that allows all students the chance to dance. Dance therapy is so advantageous for individuals with special needs, especially in the school system," he said.

Cook's team designed a 10-lesson dance therapy curriculum for adaptive P.E. and special education classrooms nationwide. "We have facilitated dance classes in the Linn-Mar, College Community, and Cedar Rapids School Districts. And our curriculum is available for free to anyone who has internet access, via our website," he said.

During Cook's junior and senior years of high school, he attended Iowa BIG. "Iowa BIG is an initiative-based program where students gain agency and time management skills by solving community problems with non-profit, business, and government agencies for high school core credits," he explained.

Moreover, "At Iowa BIG, there are no grades, walls, or bells. It places students in the real world to solve real-world problems. Linn-Mar partnered with Iowa BIG last year, which allowed me to be amongst 13 other Linn-Mar students to be a part of Iowa BIG. Dancing Away The Stigma is one of the projects that I founded at Iowa BIG," Cook said.

The Dancing Away The Stigma classes are taught by Cook's Iowa BIG team throughout the entire school year. It offers dance classes to teachers who want the team to teach the dance in person. According to Cook, "The dance therapy curriculum that was created through Dancing Away The Stigma is available to anyone free of charge."

One full-time partner is Ginger Halverson from Linn-Mar. She has allowed Cook's team to pilot the curriculum in her adaptive P.E. classes. Cook said he believes all students should have the chance to experience dance therapy, and "the school system was a great target."

Cook was recently nominated by Student Voice Director Ian Coon for a U.S. Cellular 2017 The Future of Good award of $1,000 for his outstanding work. He said after learning of his nomination for The Future of Good award, he talked about his Dancing Away The Stigma efforts during an interview with four people on Skype.

Cook was one among several who were subsequently chosen for this award. He donated the award money to Camp Courageous, where the funds will "provide inclusive activities to the over 7,000 campers it serves."

In addition, Cook said, The U.S. Cellular's The Future of Good program has set up a mobile giving campaign for Camp Courageous. "I am encouraging people to text COURAGE to 20222. This will donate $10 directly to Camp Courageous."

Cook's future goal is to start and run non-profit entities serving individuals with special needs. He said he plans to enroll in non-profit management and disability studies in college, but has not yet made a decision on where to attend.

For more information about Dancing Away The Stigma, visit
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