Jenell Theobald, 14, of Beaverton, Oregon, an eighth-grader at Whitford Middle School, has served more than 600 volunteer hours over the past three years, primarily as a dedicated volunteer for the special-needs camp that she attended many summers, and as the founder of a nonprofit organization that advocates for people with disabilities. Jenell is mindful of the challenges of living with a disability; due to high-functioning autism and some physical challenges, she’s had to switch schools often, making it difficult to maintain friendships and build social skills. Then she discovered Camp Meadowood Springs. “Those summers were the happiest of my life,” said Jenell. “I was able to relate to and make friends with kids who were similar to me, and I felt like the counselors truly understood me.”
Wanting to give back, Jenell began volunteering to get Meadowood Springs the “attention it deserves.” She authored a Wikipedia article for the camp, took its promotional fliers to seven school districts, gave speeches at various events, helped with fundraising, and worked to recruit 35 volunteers to spend three days helping the camp prepare for its next summer session. Then she formed a charity called “Let’s Peer Up” to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are not overlooked. One of its first successes was persuading the Beaverton City Council to reinstate a disabilities advisory board that had been disbanded years earlier. Under Jenell’s leadership, “Let’s Peer Up” is now setting its sights on state-level advocacy for people with disabilities. “Our goal is to empower people with disabilities across Oregon, and provide them with the opportunity to advocate for themselves,” said Jenell.