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 autistic children 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 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 autism rates continue to increase, growth at Camp Encourage again occurred in 2017. We welcomed campers and volunteers to weekend overnight camp 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. Future growth continues and we are eager to see all that 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 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 a paraeducator for the Lee’s Summit R-7 school district, working under the direction of our Executive Director, Kelly Lee. It was there her passion for working with individuals on the autism spectrum 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. Prior to joining the Camp Encourage family, Aimee served as a special education teacher in classrooms for autistic individuals in the Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit school districts for 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!
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 and as a School Nurse since 1994. Jo Ann filled in at Camp Encourage at the last minute as Medical Staff for one of our very first weekend camps 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. After filling many roles as a volunteer with Camp Encourage for years, she joined our staff as a Behavior Specialist and is excited to help Camp Encourage continue to grow while 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 to 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
Chief Financial Officer, Kansas City Art Institute
Vice President of Business Strategy, MMGY Global
Attorney at Law, Littler Mendelson
District Manager, The Buckle
Registered Respiratory Therapist - NPS, Children's Mercy Hospital
Teacher, Congregation Beth Shalom Preschool
Employee Relations Business Partner, Meta
College Student and Camp Encourage Counselor
Sr. Communications Strategist, Parson + Associates, LLC
INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING OR JOINING OUR BOARD?
Each year, roughly 300 individuals join together and give more than 20,000 hours to make certain that Camp Encourage is a memorable experience for each camper. Some serve on our Board of Directors; volunteer prior to, during, or following camp; raise funds; and/or prepare the numerous details of planning and providing this overnight opportunity. Without these volunteers and their generous gifts of time and talent, Camp Encourage would not be able to offer our campers the quality experience they deserve. Consider joining the volunteer efforts of Camp Encourage. Many roles are available year round as well as during the sessions of camp. We promise you that your effort will benefit both the campers and YOU! If interested or for further information, contact us at 816.830.7171 or email@example.com.