By Anna Jeffries, Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities
ALEXANDRIA – COVID-19 hasn’t stopped Jason Turner from sharing is love of reading with others.
Jason Turner has always been an avid reader.
In middle school he placed highly in his school’s Battle of the Books and his literary interests continued through high school and beyond.
“I love to read,” he said. “I love the freedom of where stories can take you so I want to share my love of reading with others.”
The coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping him from doing that.
For the past few weeks, Jason, of Alexandria has been recording videos of himself reading books using his communication device.
His audience — made up of about 50 children who attend Columbus’ Summer of Fun Adventure Day Camp — love the videos and look forward to them, said Katie Atkinson, a therapeutic recreation specialist at the camp.
“It’s been going really well,” she said. “All the kiddos love it.”
Jason, is a junior in the TOPS program at Ohio State University.
TOPS, which stands for Transition Options in Post-secondary Settings, is a program of the OSU Nisonger Center that allows students with developmental disabilities to participate in academic classes and work experiences while also gaining independent living skills.
The program requires students to do community service and complete internships.
To fulfill this, Jason started going into local schools — in Gahanna, Reynoldsburg, Westerville and Whitehall and reading books to the children, using his device.
He was reading to a variety of ages, said his mother Kathy Turner.
“The feedback was just amazing,” she said. “The questions and the engagement from the kids, the humor — it was just heartwarming to be a part of.”
Jason was introduced to the Franklin Park Adventure Center, and had approached the facility about reading to the children participating in its day camps when the coronavirus pandemic began.
It has been important for Jason to stay home to protect his health, but he and his family came up with a plan to continue to read to the children virtually.
They reached out to day camp leaders to find out the themes for each week of camp. Then they selected books from the Alexandria Library and Jason — with help from Kathy and his nurse Cindy Hickey — typed the books into his communication device.
With Kathy recording on her iPad, Jason uses his device to read each page. Once they have captured the perfect take, Kathy uploads them to Youtube and sends the link to the daycamp.
So far they’ve recorded books about science, the Olympics, the American states, water, community service and talents. They have about ten more to go to get through the rest of the summer, Kathy said.
In previous years, the day camps would have guest speakers come in before or after lunch to do activities with the kids, Katie said.
This year, pandemic restriction had camp organizers rethinking that option, so Jason’s books were the perfect solution. The campers watch them on an iPad or projected on a screen.
Summer of Fun is an inclusion day camp, made up of campers with and without disabilities.
Organized by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Therapeutic Recreation department, the camp has three locations at Thompson Community Center, Dodge Community Center and the Franklin Park Adventure Center.
All three locations have been enjoying Jason’s books, Katie said. It’s been great for the campers to see a reader using a communication device that might be familiar to some of them.
“Every day we are having those conversations about how people communicate,” Katie said. “It’s a great opportunity for our campers and for him.”
Jason always tries to start the books off with something personal and friendly, Kathy said. At the beginning he told the campers, “I have cerebral palsy and use a communication device but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I like to do.”
When he isn’t recording books, Jason has been writing articles for the LENN Foundation’s newsletter. He is hoping to write a book someday.
“This will give him all kinds of things to write about,” Kathy said.
To hear some of Jason’s stories, go to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCplaTbjGSv9HkauaNMxeeoQ.