The BACKBONES Youth Program is for teenagers (ages 15-18) with spinal cord injuries and disease (SCI/D) to build self-advocacy skills and learn about topics important to youth with disabilities. Some topics include Going to College, Employment, Recreation & Travel, Dating, Advocacy, Disability Identity and many more! This virtual program meets weekly from June through August. It is a fun opportunity to connect with other individuals with SCI/D and learn directly from leaders and professionals in the disability community. For more information about the program contact Program Coordinator, Amanda Russel at 

Meet the 2024 Participants

Ashley Brooker-Roach (Nevada)

Ashley (17) just migrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the United States. Despite her recent challenges, Ashley is a vibrant young woman with a keen eye for fashion and makeup. She often spends her days putting together her clothing and experimenting with new makeup and hairstyles. Ashley is eager to make new connections and embark on new experiences in her adopted home. She is excited about exploring the city, trying new foods, and learning about different cultures. While Ashley's journey has not been without its obstacles, she remains determined to overcome them and live life to the fullest. She is a source of inspiration to those around her and continues to pursue her passions with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.

Weston Fuller (Florida)

Weston Fuller is an 18 year old, senior, staying in Fort Myers, Florida. In April of 2023 he was in a motorcycle accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. In his free time he likes trying new restaurants and playing video games with friends. He hopes to get back into cars, to continue his further education after high school, meet new people and find new ways to enjoy life despite his circumstances.

McKenzie Anderson (Oregon)

I’m a 16 year old neck down quadriplegic on a ventilator paralyzed by EnterovirusD68/Acute Flaccid Myelitis when I was 6 years old. I’ve had to work twice as hard to prove myself since and have learned that anything is possible. Advocacy along with helping others is a passion of mine that I’m pursuing by writing for Youth Journalism International and working on various projects geared toward making society increasingly adept to Persons with Disabilities. My future aspirations include attending Undergraduate school, attending Graduate school, being a professional journalist, working as a scientist, becoming a disability rights activist and attorney. I’m looking forward for these opportunities to live my life to the fullest.

Colin Goracke (North Carolina)

Colin is a rising junior in high school in Mooresville, North Carolina. After being injured in September of 2023, Colin did his rehabilitation at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to that he was an avid lacrosse player and very active in the water sports community, something he still does now. He plans on going back to school full time in the fall and wants to join a local quad rugby team. He recently regained the ability to walk with crutches and his main physical therapy goal is to not need crutches by the time he goes to college.

Bella Wong (California)

​​Bella is a kind, optimistic, 15-year-old girl. She was born in China with spina bifida. Bella spent her first 21-months of life in a special, American-funded, medical-care orphanage just outside of Beijing where she received compassion and care. She was adopted and came to America. Bella has endured ten surgeries so far in her lifetime. She just finished her sophomore year of high school and enjoys studying science. Whenever she is not studying, she can be found baking,babysitting, or communicating with her friends. Bella has spent several summers volunteering in programs like Vacation Bible School, Chinese Culture School, and a community outreach program for children from low socioeconomic areas. Bella will be working with young children in Day Camps this summer and aspires to be an Elementary School Teacher.

Cecil Tuakoi (Utah)

Talofa, malolelei and howdy, my name is Cecil Iakopo Keith Tuakoi, I am 17 years of age. I am from Salt Lake City, Utah. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 8 years old. When I turned 11 I underwent spinal surgery to correct the curve in my spine and I ended up with a T2 level spinal injury (I have no control movement from the nipple line down and no feeling). I want to be the voice for kids and teens like me. I want to show people that being in a chair is not who I am, or the only thing that I am about. I want to learn more about living in a chair and how to do it with my style. I want to show the world that I am who I am, and I’m freaking great at it.

Irene Schumaker (Wisconsin)

Irene Schumaker is a freshman at Grafton High School. She lives in Grafton Wisconsin, and in October of 2022 she suffered from a spinal cord injury and fractured her C-4 and damaged her C-5 and C-6. Irene has been in physical and occupational therapy on and off since 2022 and now she is able to walk, and do many things the doctors claimed she wouldn’t be able to. Irene is 15 years old and goes to school full time and starting this summer she's starting up intensive therapy again. Irene enjoys baking, beekeeping, reading, and engineering. Since she was young it was her dream to be a mechanical or biomedical engineer and she still intends on persevering with her dream!

Jacob Rosenquist (California)

Jacob is 18 years old. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He was injured in a hiking accident a year ago and sustained a T7 spinal cord injury. Jacob has rock climbed for a few years and is now an active member of the para-climbing community. He loves nature, camping, and anything outdoors.

Jayna Marcus (California)

Jayna is a rising high school senior from Costa Rica who is passionate about STEM and looking forward to pursuing a career in Mechanical Engineering. In addition to her hobby of reading and involvement in her local community, she also prioritizes enjoying the outdoors by exploring accessible forms of travel and recreation. Since her spinal cord injury almost 5 years ago, she has traveled to 6 different countries, participated in an adaptive sports program, started handcycling, and visited many national parks in Costa Rica.

Colin Hutton (Washington)

Colin Hutton is a sixteen year old sophomore at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Washington. He lives with his mother, father, and younger brother. He also has two pet cats and a pet dog. Colin enjoys making things, hanging out with friends, and playing video games. He has a disability called Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) which affects his hands and feet and makes it hard to do some things. His favorite dinner meal is grilled medium rare steak and potatoes. Colin is a team member on his high school's robotics team, Steel Ridge Robotics. He is on the design subteam in charge of designing the mechanical parts of the robot. A goal of his for the future is to become a mechanical engineer and learn to drive.