By: Kate Brinko, Parent and Board Member
As soon as he could stand, my son fell in love with art and spent hours painting at his kiddy easel. Now as a young adult, Mieszko Kwiatkowski creates images that rival those in national galleries.
Because Mieszko was born with Down Syndrome, my husband and I enrolled Mieszko in every therapeutic activity available-physical, social, speech and language, equine, expressive arts, and Special Olympics. From infancy on, countless therapists, teachers, and service providers worked with Mieszko to give him every opportunity for a full life. There were never fewer than 10 interdisciplinary team members around the table at our IEP meetings. When referring to raising children, the old saying is "It takes a village." In our household, we say it took two villages!
All of this support was critical in helping our child succeed. It was Mieszko's high school advisor who nominated him for the Pioneer Spotlight Award for civility and character. (This was unimaginable in pre-school where Mieszko was a mini-Godzilla creating havoc wherever he went!) It was Mieszko's physical therapist who recommended him to the football coach to serve as the water boy-or as we say, "hydration manager." For six years he loved and supported "his" team, earning him 60 "brothers" and a letter in Sports Management. It was the support of his high school interdisciplinary IEP team who helped Mieszko make the Honor Roll all six years, earning him recognition for his art and another letter, this one for Academics.
Looking to extend his education, Mieszko then enrolled in Appalachian State University's Scholars with Diverse Abilities program (SDAP) which provides a collegiate experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. SDAP's interdisciplinary staff include graduate students in Special Education who modify course requirements to a student's cognitive abilities and a bevy of undergraduates from all disciplines who serve as academic and social supports.
At Appalachian, Mieszko focused on the visual arts and studied with three very supportive and talented faculty. In his senior semester, he had a very successful one-man show and later won the People's Choice Award in the Student Art Expo. Building upon Mieszko's experience with athletics, SDAP found a placement for him as a student manager of women's soccer and the women's softball teams. For two years he was loved and supported by "his" coaches and "his" teams-and even received a SoCon Championship ring with his team!
As Mieszko completed his studies, teachers, friends, and family recognized the quality of Mieszko's images and suggested the business potential of transferring his designs to products.
The director of SDAP approached the director of Appalachian's Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) about business possibilities for SDAP students with artistic talents. Partnering with the Student Association of Entrepreneurs (ASE), SDAP and CFE founded Creative Unbound, a unique entrepreneurial e-platform. Creative Unbound 1) provides an opportunity for neuro-typical students to interact with and collaborate with neuro-atypical students; 2) gives ASE students real life experience in business, finance, marketing, social media, hospitality, and apparel design; and 3) serves as a retail outlet for artistic SDAP students to become more financially independent.
Because Mieszko had many images ready for production, his work was the first to be piloted for this whole enterprise. CFE staff, SDAP staff, ASE students, Mieszko, and we parents collaboratively researched and determined the business model, print-and-ship companies, logo, website content and imagery, products, finances, and launch party. ASE students then implement the plans for each.
With the support from a variety of people across disciplines helped foster a well-rounded and well-loved individual who is experiencing success well beyond what he-or his parents-ever imagined possible. With the help of both villages and all of the Interdisciplinary Support the dis- has been effectively taken out of Mieszko's disAbility.
Explore Mieszko's page for more information. creativeunbound.com