Words have power
Jennifer Adams is well aware of the power of words.
She knows how they can harm or discourage someone, and she knows how they can strengthen a person and motivate them to accomplish things that seem difficult or impossible.
Adams delivered that message to students at Barnes Butte and Crooked River elementary schools Wednesday during two assemblies at each school, inspiring and amazing the young children in the process.
"I think it was really awesome," said Barnes Butte second-grader McKyah Johns.
Adams was born with four partial limbs and has consequently had to overcome physical, mental and circumstantial limitations throughout her life. Because she has forged strength and greater abilities while facing these challenges, she prefers the term extra-ability over disability.
A nationally known speaker and author of two books, Adams communicates a message of inclusion and adaptability by telling her personal story and life experiences. She is a guest speaker for universities, schools, businesses and conferences all over the United States and provides consulting services for individuals, families and businesses.
"I felt that I wanted to be a motivational speaker since I was a kid," she recalls. "So this is something that had been on my mind for a very long time."
In 2011, Adams started a motivational speaking business, SHIFT. Drawn from her personal experiences with bullying, her first pro-inclusion campaign was The Power of Words — an anti-bullying campaign designed for schools which demonstrates to students the power behind words and how they affect their peers and themselves.
In 2013, Adams was named Ms. Wheelchair Washington, and one year later, attained the title of Ms. Wheelchair America. In 2015, Jennifer founded Making Dreams Come True, a nonprofit that provides adventure and life resources for people with extra-abilities that have a dream to ski, surf, dance and more.
As a child, particularly during her middle-school years, Adams struggled and faced bullying from other kids in her school. She told students that words can indeed hurt people. But she went on to stress that words also have the power to encourage people and inspire them to achieve.
Offering proof of this power, she told the young children that she is able to dance, surf and ski, despite having partial limbs. The kids gasped as she showed pictures of her in action.
"You know how I knew I was good at these things? People told me." Adams said, urging the students to use their words in the same way. "If you see someone doing something good, say it."
The message hit home quickly. During a brief Q&A session, several students chose to compliment Adams instead of ask her a question.
Adams took time from speaking to demonstrate her dancing skills, a portion of the assembly that was particularly memorable for some of the students.
"The dancing was great," kindergartener Matthew Russell remarked on his way back to class.
She also taught the kids a song, and invited a group of students up front to lead the rest of the kids through the hand gestures associated with the tune. This was Adams' favorite part of her presentation.
"The energy in the room increases," she gushed.
The inclusion and anti-bullying message that Adams delivered remains a focus of the Crook County School District, and something that the elementary schools continue to impart on students.
So when Barnes Butte Principal Jim Bates learned several months ago from a Barnes Butte parent, Jennie Quinn, that she could help bring Adams to the schools, he eagerly embraced the idea. Quinn, who manages Prineville's Secure Storage with her husband, knows Adams personally and felt she would resonate with students.
Bates was excited to bring a speaker and person of Adams' caliber to the schools to interact with students. As he points out, "She is a national speaker. It's not like she is just some neat neighbor down the street."
Adams didn't disappoint and made a strong impression on children and staff alike at both elementary schools.
"The kids were thrilled. In fact, they gave her an extended applause," Cheri Rasmussen, Crooked River Elementary principal recalls. "She was very inspiring. It was pretty nice to see somebody who has partial arms and legs show everybody all of the things she can do because she has that perseverance, that drive and that motivation."
And the feeling was mutual for Adams, who had never visited Prineville prior to Wednesday.
"The kids were just amazing," she said, "very receptive to the message and really well-behaved."