Teens4TS Showcase: Teaching others how to advocate for themselves

Tess Kowalski, right, and Grace Hawruk are National Tourette Syndrome Youth Ambassadors.

Since joining the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) as a Youth Advocate more than 18 months ago, 13-year-old Tess Kowalski has been busy traveling all over the Garden State – and even outside of it, as her home-school schedule allows – to spread the message that kids with TS are no different than anyone else; they just happen to face different, often difficult challenges.

One of Kowalski’s most recent appearances was May 23 at the Dare To Dream Student Leadership Conference at Middlesex County College. Kowalski teamed with Montclair State University student Katie Delaney, NJCTS Youth Advocates Dylan Teator and Tommy Licato, NJCTS Education Outreach Coordinator Melissa Fowler and NJCTS Medical Outreach Coordinator Jamye Shelton Pelosi to educate attendees about the importance of considering how their experiences and stories with a disability might be used to help them advocate for others and themselves in a positive way.

Kowalski told the scores of attendees that their stories can be used to empower others and as a tool for change and a way to generate greater understanding.

“Something that is so special about the Dare to Dream Conference is that every kid, teen and adult can really connect with every speaker because we’re all going through something hard – something that we struggle with – which sets us apart from ‘normal’ kids,” she said. “But then again, no person is truly normal. So when we all are there together, everyone feels comfortable and relaxed, and they can just sit back, cheer on the speakers and truly relate to them.”

Back in March, Kowalski sojourned with her father, Tim, to Washington, D.C., for the annual National Tourette Syndrome Youth Ambassador Conference. The three-day event presents Youth Advocates such as Kowalski and fellow New Jersey Youth Ambassador Grace Hawruk with training on how to better speak publicly about TS and advocate not just for themselves, but for all individuals living with Tourette.

Tim Kowalski believes his daughter was well-prepared to speak to the Dare To Dream Conference attendees following her training March 19-21 in Washington.

“Taking part in this year’s Youth Ambassador training with Tess, and meeting families affected by TS who came from all over the country, was inspiring,” Tim Kowalski said. “I was certainly the ‘proud father’ as I watched my 13-year-old daughter explain the importance of funding for TS education, research and advocacy to congressional staff members. She and Grace did a terrific job relating what it’s like to live with TS and why we need to do more to help others dealing with this disorder, often without support and surrounded by people who simply don’t understand Tourette.”

During the trip to Washington, the Kowalskis met with representatives from the offices of Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ12), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Their visit to Senator Menendez’s office on March 20 was especially timely, as that very morning the Senator had just reintroduced the Collaborative Academic Research Efforts for Tourette Syndrome Act of 2013 to the Senate.

“The Youth Ambassador training was very helpful and meaningful to me,” said Tess Kowalski, who also spoke to children and families affected by TS at NJCTS’ 9th annual Family Retreat Weekend on June 7-9 at YMCA Camp Bernie. “I got many great ideas for improving my presentations, and I met some really wonderful people. I was thrilled to be a part of this program. This experience is something I will never forget.”

Summer’s here, and I’ve got a lot of awesome stuff going on!

Hi everyone, it’s been a crazy exciting few weeks. I GRADUATED high school! It was bittersweet, as I will miss the safe cocoon that high school gives to us, but I am ready to get out there and experience new things in life.

I was asked to perform my song ‘I Can Do Anything” at graduation, and it was a great experience. We had about 4,000 people in attendance, and the crowd had a good time. Check out the video here.

I am all set for fall college, and I’ll be majoring in Theater Arts. I am also officially in the studio recording my new single, and I’m in a show called “Guys and Dolls” this summer — all while enjoying time with my friends.

Then, on July 20, I’ll be singing the National Anthem at the Somerset Patriots game! I’ll be doing the same thing on August 16 at a Camden Riversharks game. Come on out and hang out with me at both events!

I also want to thank Josh Klapper and his mom Susan for having me out at the Terrill Middle School for the walk they put together to raise money for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome. It was a great time. I’m sorry I missed the NJCTS Family Retreat Weekend at Camp Bernie, too, but sometimes my super human powers fail me and I get sick.

Have a great summer, and I’ll be back soon!

The future is bright

Hi everyone, I can’t believe how quickly summer is approaching. What’s new in my world? Well…I can’t wait to see everyone at the weekend retreat. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and singing for you and WITH you this weekend.

My senior year of high school is almost over. I am nervous and excited for the future and also sad to say goodbye to my friends. The future is bright.

I have been so busy. I had my senior prom. That was A M A Z I N G. Last year, I was afraid to ask a girl to prom, I thought that no one would want to go to prom with the “Autistic Kid”. This year, I found my confidence and realized that the only person holding me back was me. I went and had a great time with my date Joanna and our friends.

I have been singing a lot! My favorite gig recently was singing at the Memorial Day services. I love singing the National Anthem, but to be surrounded by Veterans and on such a somber day — well, it is an honor. Here is the video.

Last week, I was blessed with pinkeye. They say real men wear pink…I sure did.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Terrill Road Middle School to help my friend Josh and his teachers put together a walk for Tourette Syndrome. I am looking forward to supporting his efforts and meeting his friend, teachers and classmates.

I have been following everyone on the blogs, it’s great to see so many teens getting involved and making a difference. The more we use our voices the more we will be heard.

Follow me on twitter @corysings and check out my event page. I am looking forward to posting pictures on my website soon, especially of my NJCTS teen friends.

I hope you all had a great weekend, and see you this weekend!

I WON!!!!

doanything-300x195I won!

Can you believe it?  A kid who tics, has Asperger’s and other disorders, won a National singing competition on the Kandi Factory!!!!

I was so proud and very proud to represent our community.  It was a hard secret to keep, as I knew I had won the competition in December. One of the best experiences of my life!  It was so great to work with Kandi and her team, and I love my song.  It was an honor in itself to have Kandi write me a song and even more humbling when I heard the lyrics for the first time.

Here is my video, tell me what you all think.  I can’t wait to see the campers at NJCTS’ annual Family Retreat Weekend at YMCA Camp Bernie on June 8!  I’m looking forward to visiting and singing for all of you!

If anyone has a song request, respond to the blog!

NOTE: NJCTS will have much more on Cory and his story of winning the Kandi Factory competition next week, and it’ll be all right here on the blog. Stay tuned!

WANTED: Teens to participate in upcoming events!

Here are a few events coming up that are associated with the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome. NJCTS offers many programs and services to the TS community., many of them geared toward kids and teenagers. We strongly encourage you to check out these events and consider signing up for, supporting and/or attending as many of them as possible!

April 5: Deadline for the NJCTS Children’s Scholarship

April 5: Deadline for the Educator of the Year nominations

April 7: “Mirror Mirror” to be shown in sensory-friendly format

April 11: Webinar on classroom accommodations for those with Tourette

April 29: Tourette Syndrome Awareness Day with the Somerset Patriots

May 11: Deadline for YMCA Camp Bernie retreat applications

May 21: Dare To Dream Student Leadership Conference at Rutgers

June 8-10: Eighth annual YMCA Camp Bernie family retreat weekend