Youth Summer Program

The BACKBONES Youth Summer Program is for teenagers (ages 14-18) 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! This is a new virtual program that 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. If you are between the ages of 15-18 and are living with SCI/D please complete the form below to apply!

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 and make new friends
  • Receive a $500 stipend
  • Photo session with a professional photographer
  • Weekly sessions are 2 hours long every Wednesday at 11am PST / 1pm CST / 2pm EST

PROGRAM DATES: June 15, 2022 to August 17, 2022

For questions contact Michael Maruzzi at

This program is funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation

Meet the 2022 Participants

Dany Vargas (California) is 17 years old and currently in high school. She was born and raised in Sacramento, CA but currently lives in Elk Grove. Her goals and accomplishments are to help others with the same situation and to inspire others. Dany’s hobbies are video games, fishing and collecting funko pops.  She is hardworking and kind to others and wants to hear others stories. By joining Backbones, she hopes to be inspired by many.

Maria Velat (Michigan) is a senior at Houghton High School in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She will be attending the University of Michigan on a pre-medicine track and as a member of the varsity adaptive track and field team. Maria is an avid athlete, enjoying Nordic sit skiing, sailing, and wheelchair track and field. She competes nationally and has won numerous races in these sports. Maria is also an advocate for adaptive athletes, lobbying the Michigan High School Athletic Association to create a category for adaptive athletes so that they are fully integrated into school sports, and can compete and score points on their high school teams. She also spreads awareness about adaptive sports in her community by organizing adaptive clinics and helping acquire equipment for local athletes. Maria hopes to show everyone that people with disabilities can be athletes too.

Jordynn Woods (Georgia) is a 17-year-old disabled girl. Jordynn and her friend were hit by a car on March 8 of 2021. Jordynn suffers from the spinal cord injury which has caused her to not have function in her body from the neck down but can drive her wheelchair. Jordynn is a junior in high school.  She loves to watch anime and collect stuffed animals for fun. During the summer Jordynn will be doing physical therapy. Although Jordynn is disabled she doesn’t let that stop her from finding her dream. She has accomplished a lot. School, friends, and relationships were all obstacles for Jordynn, but she pushed through. Jordynn is so grateful to be in this program to meet other teenagers who are dealing with the struggle of being disabled.

Lenny Kobilca (Illinois) is a current student at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School. When he was 15 he had a C1/C2 spinal cord injury following a mountain bike accident. He is graduating this year and is looking forward to attending University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to study biomedical engineering. He loves the outdoors and enjoys spending time with his friends.

Kendall Tongate (Florida) is a high school freshman who lives in Maitland, Florida. She lives with her mom, sister, and dog. In her free time Kendall enjoys reading, being outdoors, spending time with her family, doing musical theater, or playing the bass, acoustic guitar, or ukulele. The most important thing in Kendall’s life is her faith and relationship with her Heavenly Father. Kendall is very passionate about working on her recovery and helping the spinal cord injury community.

Ray Zhao (Illinois) is an incoming freshman at the University of Illinois where he will be studying aerospace engineering. Previously, a three-time national champion in the high jump, he suffered a spinal cord injury during training. As a C6 quadriplegic, his return back to school was driven to be the best in his class. Having become a National Merit Scholar finalist and scored a perfect score on the ACT, his success is undeniable. His passions also include Formula 1 racing, various facets of technology and accessibility.

Schuyler Whitney (Michigan) resides in Wayland, MI, and is a Wayland Union High School student. Schuyler was diagnosed with transverse myelitis as an infant. Schuyler enjoys adaptive sports and has played wheelchair basketball since he was seven. He hopes to play in college, become a Paralympian, and pursue an education to become a veterinarian. Schuyler enjoys basketball and sports camps, traveling with family, and fishing with his grandpa during the summer. You can often find him outside shooting hoops with his brother and around the fire with his family. He also enjoys gaming with friends and watching Marvel shows and movies. He looks forward to connecting with peers in the SCI/D community and learning self-advocacy skills to help him achieve his goals.

Zy’Heem Shy’lik Haywood (North Carolina) is a 16 year old sophomore at Enloe Magnet High School. Zy’Heem was born in Raleigh, NC. He loves Basketball, but his passion is Football. He has played football since he was 5 years old. He dreams of one day playing for his favorite football team the Dallas Cowboys and becoming a police officer. Zyheem loves hanging out with his little sister, big brother, and his family. The day after his 16th birthday Zyheem had a Spinal stroke that has left him paralyzed from waist down but this has not stopped his determination and willpower to live out his dreams.

Angelo Di Corpo  (California) is a T5 paraplegic.  He lives his life in a wheelchair. He is a huge sports fan. He likes baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. His favorite teams are the Angels, the Kings, the Lakers and the Rams. (Super Bowl champions!).  Angelo loves to play video games and hang out with his friends and family.

Emily Mills (Alabama) is a high school student that was injured in a car accident and is now T1 paraplegic. She lives in Clarksville Alabama, Emily would love to meet more people that are like her.  She works hard in school to get straight A’s and looks forward to going to college.