The BACKBONES Youth Summer 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, Storytelling & Social Media, Employment, Recreation & Travel, Dating, and many more! It is a fun opportunity to connect with other individuals with SCI/D and learn directly from leaders and professionals in the disability community.  This program is funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation

About the Program

  • Program participants meet weekly via Zoom from mid-June to mid-August
  • Guest speakers and interactive activities
  • Meet other teenagers with SCI/D, make new friends, and receive and provide unique support 
  • Receive a $500 stipend and Photo session with a professional photographer

For questions contact Amanda Russel at

Meet the 2023 Youth Program Participants

Jacob Pagel

Jacob is from Murfreesboro, TN and is the oldest of three boys. Jacob is a recent homeschool graduate with plans to attend Motlow State in the fall. He plans to pursue a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences before transferring to MTSU to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Child Development And Family Studies with plans of becoming a Child Life Specialist. He enjoys wheelchair basketball, where he spent four years playing for UAH and most recently Music City Thunder. He also enjoys playing video games with his brothers, fishing and going to the beach.

Marie Surprenant

Marie is a determined, funny 17-yr-old girl with a spinal cord injury. This self-proclaimed night owl loves to dance, cuddle with her orange eyed cat and plays on many wheelchair sports teams. Marie has been active in the Atlanta disability community since the young age of 2. Marie has served as a mentor to other disabled children at Georgia disability camps, volunteers at the local children's hospital and works in a pediatrician's office part-time. This rising high school senior excels in math, language arts and science. Her future plans include getting a service dog in 2024 and continuing her education.

Anthony Guzman

Anthony is fifteen years old. Anthony was born in Lawrence general hospital in Lawrence, Massachusetts on June 12, 2007. He is the type of person who would rather look at the positive than the negative. His favorite quote is “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” This quote is by Thomas Edison. Anthony lives by this every day, he would rather fail trying than not try at all. He goes to Central Catholic High School where he is pushed to do his best everyday. One of his biggest achievements is going rock climbing and horseback riding for the first time. One of Anthony’s hobbies is learning to play piano. He is never scared to take on a challenge and tries new things everyday.

Malik Childers

Malik is very hard working he believes that he can do the impossible. The doctors told Malik he would never walk again but that didn’t stop him from trying day and night even though some days may be good but other days bad - just kept going the way you supposed to do. Malik met a lot of people with similar injuries going through it also so he stayed in contact any time they wanted to talk or needed help. Malik answered the phone and helped them and they even helped Malik when he needed it. Long story short, Malik just a young man trying beat the odds for his family.

Davis Taylor

My name is Davis Taylor, and I am a sixteen-year-old male. I live in Columbia, Missouri, with my parents, my older brother, and my younger sister. I suffered a T-3 complete spinal cord injury on September 4th, 2021, when I was fourteen years old. I was just a few weeks into my freshman year of high school. Shortly after my injury, I was admitted into Shirley Ryan rehabilitation facility in Chicago, and I would later move on to Frazier rehab in Louisville, Kentucky. Both places helped me tremendously in making progress in my rehab. I was an athletic kid who played sports my entire life, so naturally I picked up wheelchair basketball to stay competitive and try to once again be the athlete I once was. I have come to love wheelchair basketball and look forward to playing in the future, hopefully for a college program.

Magali Vargas

My name is Magali Vargas. I was in a car accident in 2019 that led me to be paralyzed from my shoulders down. I am 18 years old and have a dog named Teddy he is around four or five years old. I have five nephews. I also have a duck

My’Kael Byrd

Mykael Byrd is an excelled student from Kansas City Missouri. His personal goals are to be able to graduate with the class of 2024 and work towards his career with real estate, through hard times My’Kael has pushed himself to be the best scholar and brother he can be for his fellow peers and family. Some of his best hobbies are basketball and physical therapy. He has great problem solving skills and is always a helping hand with anything.

Lathan Robinson

My name is Lathan Robinson and I am a 15-year-old freshman in highschool at Hansberry College Prep. I was born in Chicago. I have been playing wheelchair basketball for 8 years, and I enjoy listening to music, watching movies/tv shows, working out and making beats.

Arthur Gatica

Hi I’m Arthur and I enjoy making new friends and taking pictures of nature and going to the fair with my best friend. She helped me be more out there and being involved and I love hanging out with my friends.