Camp Encourage was founded by Kaye Otten, Ph.D. and Kelly Lee, M.S.Ed. in 2007 due to the community expressing a dire need for a quality overnight camp opportunity for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and due to their leadership in a similar camp in the Kansas City area. The initial camp session was held in 2008 and provided a camp experience for 36 local children. Following the session, the organization received a flooding of positive feedback. Interest grew rapidly despite little marketing and recruitment. By 2011, nearly 100 youth from Missouri and Kansas between the age of eight and eighteen were placed on a waiting list following a lottery for acceptance. In anticipation of the continued growth, the Camp Encourage Board of Directors developed a strategic plan and focused on the development of a second camp session. In 2012, services more than doubled—providing two sessions of camp and allowing space for 86 campers.
As interest continued to grow and as the rates for ASD continue to increase, growth at Camp Encourage again occurred in 2017. We welcomed campers and volunteers to Mini Camp overnight sessions—allowing a) first time campers the chance to "sample" camp before jumping into a four-day summer session and b) returning campers a continuation of the goodness of Camp Encourage. We know future growth is on the horizon again and we are eager to see what the future will bring. Growth challenges include recruiting quality volunteers to support the needs of additional campers while also providing increased scholarship funds to meet the needs of the high percentage of applicants that seek and deserve financial support.
Kelly received an undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in Special Education (K through 12) and a master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in autism and Asperger syndrome from the University of Kansas. Past experiences include teaching, serving as an Autism Education Consultant, designing and facilitating social development groups, and serving as a summer camp counselor and director. After being in the nonprofit world since founding Camp Encourage in 2007, she has gained knowledge and experiences to strongly lead our organization with heart and expertise.
Aimee began her career in education as paraeducator for the Lee’s Summit R-7 school district, working under the direction our Executive Director, Kelly Lee. It was there her passion for working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder was ignited. Aimee earned undergraduate degree in Special Education from Graceland University and a masters degree in Assessment with an emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Missouri Western State University. She has served as a special education teacher in classrooms for individuals with autism spectrum disorder for the Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit school districts for the past 10 years.
Sandy earned an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Special Education in the area of Behavior Disorders (K-9). While working on her master’s degree at Kansas University, she worked as a graduate assistant in one of the University’s very early teacher training programs in the area of autism. Recently retired, she taught for 40 years in the field of special education.
Kristi received an undergraduate degree in Psychology from MidAmerica Nazarene University and a Master’s in Special Education (K-12) along with a Master’s Certification in Autism through Pittsburg State University. She currently works for Olathe Public Schools as a Behavior Coach and has also served as a Program Coordinator & Resource Teacher. Since joining the camp family as a volunteer in 2011, Kristi as loved growing and learning from the amazing people that make this place so special!
Bekah is a native of the Washington, DC suburbs where she developed art programs and educational outreach for neighborhood cultural institutions and later taught high school Art. Bekah has a degree in Media Arts and Design and Studio Art from James Madison University, and continued her education in child development at The University of Virginia. She has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including The Dupont Kalorama Museums Consortium, Fashion Group International, and Brookside Mothers’ Association, helping to plan charity events.
JO ANN BLEVINS
Jo Ann has a BS in Nursing and a Master’s in Intercultural Studies. During her nursing career she has worked in almost every area of Nursing, including 4 years in Manzini, ESwatini as the director of a hospital emergency room. She has been a School Nurse for the last 26 years. Jo Ann filled in at Camp Encourage at the last minute as Medical Staff for one of our weekend camps three years ago and she never wanted to leave. She loves the opportunity to work with campers in a setting that is created just for them!
Brooke graduated from the University of Central Missouri in 2016 with undergraduate degrees in Special Education and Spanish Language and Culture.Since graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Brooke has worked as a Special Education Teacher in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. She returned to UCM to receive her master’s degree in Behavior Analysis and Therapy and received her Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification in 2021. Brooke began volunteering with Camp Encourage in 2017 and immediately fell in love. Over the past 5 years volunteering with Camp Encourage, she has filled many roles and is excited to help Camp Encourage continue to grow in this role!
Brady is very active and loves to be in the community and around people. He participates in organized basketball, bowling and baseball. A fantastic swimmer, Brady loves to go the lake to ride in the boat and on the jet ski and especially to go tubing. Brady has an identical twin brother that he lives with and they love to go shopping and spend time on the weekend with family. Brady has a great sense of humor and loves to be the center of attention. He is joyful to help around the office with various tasks and is a valuable team member.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Registered Respiratory Therapist - NPS, Children's Mercy Hospital
OPERATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIR
Attorney at Law, Littler Mendelson
Vice President of Business Strategy, MMGY Global
Employee Relations Business Partner, Meta
COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS COMMITTEE CHAIR
Chief Financial Officer, Kansas City Art Institute
College Student and Camp Encourage Counselor
KAYE OTTEN, Ph.D.
CO-FOUNDER OF CAMP ENCOURAGE
Private Behavior Consultant
Assistant Professor of Special Education; University of Central Missouri
SARAH OTTO, M.Ed., M.P.A.
Targeted Case Manager; Case Management Services, Inc.
Adjunct Professor; UMKC School of Special Education
District Manager, The Buckle
Parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum