Portraits promote awareness and acceptance of autism
Written by Deborah Stone
In 2001, Charlie Cotugno’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.
Photo by Charlie Cotugno. Camden
The Woodinville man, who was a photographer, wanted to do something to raise awareness of the disorder, as the rate of diagnosis was skyrocketing.
Four years later, he began a portrait project aimed at this mission.
“The original plan was to create about 12 to 15 large-format black and white portraits to exhibit around the community,” explains Cotugno. “Then things got a little bigger than I expected.”
By the end of 2008, the local man had amassed close to 50 pictures and had invested nearly $40,000 in time, materials and new equipment.
Photo by Charlie Cotugno. Dean
There were also costs associated with framing, keeping up with the demand for exhibits and requests for interviews from all over the country.
Cotugno says, “It was taking a considerable amount of time from my photography business and I just couldn’t afford to continue with it. I was ready to shut down the project when some parents and organizations I had been working with convinced me to establish a non-profit organization to help raise funds and keep it going.”
In September 2009, the Woodinville-based organization, Stories of Autism, was founded with the goal of promoting awareness, acceptance and inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorders in their communities.
Cotugno explains that this is done by matching volunteer professional photographers from around North America with children and adults with autism spectrum disorders in their area.
They coordinate a day and time for a portrait session and either the subjects or parents are asked to provide a short narrative about life with autism.
He adds, “They are free to write about whatever they’d like — anger, frustration, breakthrough moments, their love for their child —whatever moves them. As a whole, we want the project to be a balance of art and journalism that honestly portrays all aspects of dealing with autism.”
Currently, there are 64 photographers from the U.S. and Canada who have contributed 207 portraits to the project.
Photo by Charlie Cotugno. Maggie
Finding the subjects, according to Cotugno, can be the most challenging aspect of the work.
Those involved in the project look for organizations and service providers they can contact and ask for help in identifying potential subjects.
Participants choose to become involved mainly because they view it as a safe context for them to share their experiences, as they know there will be a level of understanding, connection and support from others who can relate to their situations.
“Sharing experiences is a basic human need,” comments Cotugno, “especially for those who have just received a diagnosis and don’t know where to turn or what to expect.”
He adds, “For many, Stories of Autism has provided a virtual community for learning and sharing through our social media presence. Many people just find it a great opportunity to educate others about autism by telling their story.”
Photographing the subjects can also be a challenging experience, notes Cotugno. He comments that preparation is essential in photographing anyone, but when working with individuals with special needs, it is even more crucial. “In my business,” he explains, “I always make sure I meet my clients beforehand to learn something about them and plan exactly how we’re going to create a portrait that shows them as being relaxed and at their best in front of the camera. You need to do the same thing with a special needs subject, but you’ve also got to understand any limitations or opportunities you are going to be presented with at the time. You need a plan A, B and C all figured out and ready to go. And you have to be ready and willing to throw them all out the window because there’s a good chance you’re going to be presented with a challenge you never anticipated.”
He adds, “But finding that one portrait that tells the story of your subject in the 1/250th of a second slice of time that your shutter opened and closed makes the whole experience worth every moment of panic.”
Stories of Autism photos have been exhibited in numerous places around the Seattle area. Coffee shops are popular spots, according to Cotugno, as they provide the most exposure and are the source of most of the feedback that the organization receives.
He says, “People generally frequent the same coffee shop and they may read one or two of the stories each time they visit. That type of repeated exposure seems to have the most effect on people.”
There have also been long-term exhibits at the Seattle Children’s Autism Center and both the Seattle and the Bellevue locations of Mosaic Rehabilitation, as well as for Special Olympics, Families for Effective Autism Treatment and most every other major autism service provide in Western Washington.
To date, most of the showings have been in the Seattle area, with just a few east of the Cascades and in the Vancouver area.
Cotugno notes that moving an exhibition around the country is an expensive proposition, which requires diligent and focused fundraising efforts.
He admits though that fundraising is not the primary mission of Stories with Autism, yet it is an important part of continuing the organization’s work.
“We really want to have a core collection of about 50 large-format images we can exhibit, not only in cities around the U.S. and Canada, but other places around the world,” he says. “Expanding the reach of the project is one of our primary goals. There’s no reason why every country in the world can’t be represented in this project. We also want to continue to elevate the level of photography by implementing very high standards for acceptance into the project. Without any of the stories or even knowing what the project is about, we want this to stand on its own as a world class photographic exhibit.”
He adds, “We’ve already got some absolutely amazing photographers associated with the project who are pushing us in that direction. To keep moving forward, our photographers need to continue pushing the limits of their creative thinking and break a few artistic rules. That’s the mindset we need to have in every aspect of the project to get it where we want it to be.”
In the interim, the organization is developing an app for the iPad that would present the best work from the project, allowing people to easily navigate between stories, subjects and photographers.
Cotugno hopes that the first version of the app will be available at the end of the summer. Future versions will allow users to search for images and photographers by geography. The app will be free and will include a convenient method of donating to the project.
Currently, photographs from Stories of Autism are on display in the lobby of Woodinville City Hall. The exhibit will run through July 31.
For more information about Stories of Autism: www.storiesofautism.com.
French bakery, market, boutique coming to Woodinville
Written by Deborah Stone
Starting one small business is challenging enough in this economy. LeeAnn Belarde, however, is getting ready to open three businesses on a five-acre parcel of land off of Woodinville-Redmond Road.
LeeAnn Belarde will open The French Bakery and The Market at the Vineyard July 4. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
The Vineyard, “A New Destination in the Heart of Woodinville Wine Country,” is a multi-faceted venue that contains The Market at the Vineyard, The French Bakery at the Vineyard and The Boutique at the Vineyard.
The project has been almost three years in the making and the Woodinville woman is thrilled that her dream is finally becoming reality.
“I’ve wanted to create a culinary destination promoting Washington agriculture and viticulture for quite a while,” says Belarde. “Initially, I was looking for a building, not property, but then a friend of mind found this piece of land. When I saw it, I just knew. It’s a very versatile property and it’s really special with great views of Mt. Rainier and lots of natural vegetation. I was able to see the potential. I could see through the neglect that it was a beautiful treasure.”
Belarde’s father, John J. Belarde, helped her get the ball rolling and she began researching the property’s potential.
The local woman, who has years of experience in sales, event coordination and facility management, has ran several businesses in the past, mainly bakeries.
She and her former husband, a Frenchman, owned and operated The French Pastry Place on Mercer Island, The French Confection and Belle Pastry in Bellevue and The French Oven in Anchorage, Alaska.
Anticipation for the opening of The Vineyard has been building. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
“I know a thing or two about running a bakery,” Belarde says with a smile.
The French Bakery at the Vineyard will feature a complete array of traditional French baked goods, cheeses, Caffé D’arte coffee, artisanal teas, freshly squeezed orange juice, European chocolates and a variety of picnic goodies.
It will be open seven days a week and although currently there isn’t any indoor seating in the establishment, customers are welcome to munch on their purchases al fresco, on the nearby patio.
“Everything is freshly baked,” comments Belarde. “It’s baked daily using the best ingredients. We don’t skimp on anything. This is true French baking.”
As for The Market at the Vineyard, Belarde describes it as an outdoor marketplace that will offer locally sourced produce, flowers, honey, specialty olive oils, homemade sauces and a variety of artwork, including jewelry, yard art, glass and more.
“It’s a place for local vendors to sell their goods,” explains Belarde. “Right now, it will be open weekends only.”
And then there’s The Boutique at the Vineyard, a doll-size shop that will specialize in selling Washington wines and microbrews, along with an assortment of wine-oriented accessories and handcrafted chocolates.
Belarde plans to hold different events at The Vineyard, including culinary classes, Native American cultural activities and live music.
“I’m really excited about making this place into a venue for people to come and enjoy the outdoors, eat good food, buy local and even learn a thing or two if they want,” she adds. “It’ll be a place that offers a number of experiences.”
The Vineyard will also be available to rent for special occasions, such as weddings and reunions. Anticipation for the opening of The Vineyard has been building in the community, with most of the interest generated by the bakery.
As it stands, both The French Bakery and The Market will officially open July 4th, and The Boutique is slated for later on in the summer.
“It’s been crazy getting it all ready,” admits Belarde. “There’s just been so much to do and there still is so much more, but it will eventually come together. It’s an incredibly exciting time for me to finally see my dream come true.”
Local vendors are still needed for The Market at the Vineyard. If interested, call LeeAnn Belarde at: (206) 992-4099.
2012 Duvall SandBlast Festival of the Arts — Let the Music Muse You!
Written by Robin Akkerman
Gerry Kollman is much more than the musical director for the 2012 SandBlast Festival of the Arts.
Gerry is a renaissance man. Few know that Gerry is an engineer who has seriously elected to challenge himself to discover the right side of his brain, allowing for a wonderful merging of his analytical and musical talents, bringing a uniquely blended musical awareness and theatrical energy to the valley.
Gerry has been involved with the SandBlast festivals since 2001 and has assumed many roles to support the festival including music director, musician and impresario. Gerry, a dedicated guitar and mandolin player, considers himself more of a singer than an instrumentalist.
Gerry maintains personal and professional relationships with the significant musicians in the valley, and along with assistant musical director Cheree Harder, has carefully arranged the quality and presentation of this year’s performers.
“The Snoqualmie Valley is rich with artists of all kinds, and SandBlast is an opportunity to make art together, ”said Gerry. This year’s festival offers talent from all ages and genres from reggae to classic rock, blues to country roots.
Let the music muse you at McCormick Park in Duvall, during the festival hours of Saturday, July 21, noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday, July 22, noon To 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 21, performances:
• noon -12:20 p.m. opening by Peter Ali;
• 12:20 - 1:10 p.m.; Marc Bristol & Okie Doke;
• 1:30 - 2:20 p.m. Cool Water Duo (Brooke Pennock and Wendy McDowell);
• 2:40 - 3:30 p.m. Budget Funeral Band;
• 3:50 - 4:40 p.m. BOWI;
• 5 - 6 p.m. Noisy Neighbors
• 7 - 9 p.m. Cascade Community Theater
Sunday, July 22 performances:
noon - 12:50 p.m. That’s Cashed
• 1:10 - 2 p.m. Felonious Monk
• 2:20 - 3:10 p.m. Rick Ravenscroft Trio
• 3:30 - 4:20 p.m. Susan Burke Band
• 4:40 - 5:30 p.m. Kate Phillips and Americana Soul
• 5:40 - 6 p.m. closing by Peter Ali, a Native American flutist who will also play between performances.
Free family fun for all! In addition to the musical element, the festival features artisan exhibits for display and sale and specialty food vendors.
The main event is the annual interactive sand sculpture directed by Kali Bradford, master sand sculptor.
SandBlast Festival of the Arts is brought to you by many local sponsors: the Duvall Foundation for the Arts and the City of Duvall.
For more information. contact Duvall Foundation for the Arts at www.duvallarts.org or email email@example.com.
The Duvall Foundation for the Arts promotes creativity, diversity, and cultural awareness by supporting the arts and arts education in the lower Snoqualmie valley. (Festival musicians and times subject to change.)
Outdoor learning opportunities abound at Woodin
Written by Deborah Stone
If you haven’t been to Woodin Elementary in a while, make it a point to stop by and take a look at the school.
Actually, take a walk around the outside of the place because that’s where some unique and exciting things are happening.
The site is blooming with gardens, from beds chock- full of edibles to an area devoted specifically to plants that attract butterflies.
And then there’s the outdoor classroom, an additional learning space for teachers and students, as well as a gathering area for parents before and after school.
Soon, student-constructed totems and cedar fence boards made on Northwest Coastal art day will be installed on the property, along with a large scale painted map of the state of Washington, created by one of the fourth grade classes.
And in the future, there’ll be more gardens, each with a different theme.
“We’re going to have a Native Northwest one,” explains parent volunteer Angela Johnson. “It’ll contain edibles that the Northwest Native Americans ate, such as huckleberries. There’s also going to be a colonial garden with corn, beans and squash, and then we’re going to have a cultural garden in honor of the Hispanic holiday, Dia de los Muertos. It will be full of marigolds, the symbolic flower of this celebration.”
Johnson notes that 26 percent of the student body at Woodin is Hispanic. The local woman, whose two children go to the school, has been at the helm of these outdoor projects, contributing hundreds of hours over the past few years to bring them to fruition.
She says, “My mission is to create gardens that are curriculum-related and artistic outdoor areas that give kids a place to rest, learn and enjoy being out in nature.”
Realizing that she would need to get community support for her ideas, Johnson began connecting with various organizations and companies that offer grants for environmental, educational and cultural purposes.
The first grant she received came from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs, who gave $650 for the creation of an edible garden. Next came a $5,000 “Toolbox for Education” grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement, which went toward the construction of the outdoor classroom space that was completed last summer.
Several Woodin fathers constructed the tables and benches and a group of moms and kids dug trees out and spread ground cover.
Mack Ohnemus, a past Woodin student, who is now at Leota Junior High, built planter boxes around the space for his Eagle Scout project.
The butterfly garden was created with additional grant funds from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs and the Woodinville Garden Club added a special dish rock, which holds water for the butterflies.
And then there’s a grant from Annie’s Naturals, which is being used for a summer sunflower growing contest.
“Think of all the learning that can take place with measuring, journaling and also the social connections whereby students need to develop a care plan for the seeds/plants with their current set of classmates to ensure maximum growth over the summer,” explains Johnson.
Materials for the additional three theme gardens, which will be completed next year, are courtesy of a $2,000 Yes to Carrots grant.
“We could never do any of this without grants,” notes Johnson. “What’s funny is that I had never written a grant before I started doing all of this. After doing the first one, I realized that it’s not that hard. You just follow the instructions. I like to write so it came pretty easy to me, but I didn’t know whether we’d be able to get any money. I was so happy when I got that first one. It made me want to apply for more and then the ideas have just kept rolling in.”
According to Woodin principal, Jill Crivello, Johnson is an excellent resource for the entire school community. She says, “When it comes to securing grants for outdoor educational spaces, Angela is a ‘money-making machine.’ She is all about providing environmental educational opportunities for our students and we sing her praises every day!”
The local woman, who grew up in Minnesota and spent summers on her grandfather’s farm, feels that it is important to instill an appreciation and respect for the environment in young children.
She says, “I want them to have a close relationship with nature. Nature is good and we must make sure to take care of it. We must be responsible caretakers. I also want them to understand where their food comes from and to show them how easy it is to grow your own food.”
Many of the students and teachers at Woodin refer to Johnson as the “Nature Lady” or “Garden Teacher.” She is a familiar presence at the school, where she spends upwards of 15 hours a week volunteering in a variety of capacities, but the gardens are her passion.
“Gardening provides a wonderful, hands-on learning experience,” comments Johnson. “And, there’s so much you can do to tie it to the curriculum. The first graders, for example, have a plant unit in the fall, so they come out to the gardens and learn about the parts of a plant. They see the roots, stems and petals, and they touch and feel them with their hands.”
Second graders study the life cycle of the butterfly and use the butterfly garden as an observation site. In third, fourth and fifth grades, there’s an emphasis on Native Americans.
“The theme gardens will be ideal for them,” adds Johnson.
Sixth graders took part in a plant sale fundraiser that the school had this past year. They planted the seeds, tended the plants as they grew and then subsequently sold them.
Librarian Stephanie Dunnewind created an entire research project for the sixth grade classes to engage in during the process.
Johnson stresses that she is not a one-woman operation. Her partner in crime is parent Dorothy Higashi. “She’s good with schematics and tools,” says Johnson. “My strengths are ideas and writing. We make a great team.”
She adds, “But, none of this would happen without all of the other people who put in the time and effort to help make things happen around here, from the kids and their parents to the teachers and staff. And then there is the community, which has been very supportive. It really does take a village.”
Johnson’s grant writing days are far from over. She believes such funding is necessary in order to continue to enhance Woodin’s learning environment.
She remarks, “I want people to know that even a Title I school can be fantastic and really big things can happen here even when the PTA is not the most lucrative in the district. This is a good school. We can be proud of this school.”