A Portland, Oregon, boy was denied a trip to the United Nations that he won through an essay contest because he has autism.
Niko Boskovic was chosen from a selection of Portland contestants to win a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth -- joining a few hundred other kids from across the world for the 10-day program in New York. He first was one of five finalists judged for the contest by members of North Portland’s Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge.
Lodge secretary David Scheer said Niko was the winner, but things quickly changed when Nko’s mother, Loreta, wrote an email to jurisdictional chairman Charles Cloud.
“My son Niko Boskovic was selected as a recipient of the UN pilgrimage," Loreta wrote. "As you may be aware, he is on the autism spectrum, and I will be traveling with him to support his communication on a letterboard."
At first, the mother didn’t get a response. She followed up to no avail, and then decided to call Cloud herself.
“He told me that it wasn't a done deal that Niko was going to be able to attend,” she told Oregon Live. “The U.N. program's board of directors was reviewing his application, and would make a decision. This was surprising, to say the least, because there were no details outlined about further eligibility criteria. Nothing about disability, nothing about case-by-case determinations in the information we received or on the program's website.”
The boy’s mother subsequently received an email informing her that Niko would not be allowed on the trip because the organization does not have the “staff and knowledge to be accountable for someone with a disability.” The offer to invite him was rescinded.
Scheer said the decision to exclude Niko from the trip was “ridiculous.” He and statewide members of the Odd Fellows wrote a letter and left voicemails to no avail.
“For 20 years, I worked with the Portland Park Bureau's adaptive recreation program,” he said. “I've taken disabled kids on so many field trips and recreational outings. They were never a problem.”
Niko’s mother said she spoke with Charles Renninger, chairman of the U.N. pilgrimage program and offered to pay out of pocket to join her son on the trip.
“He told me he was fully aware of who I was,” she said. “He told me he was under instructions not to talk with me. We haven't received anything in writing explaining why Niko isn't allowed to go on the trip. The local lodge has been a huge support.”
The story quickly went viral, with many calling on the officials in charge of the pilgrimage to make the situation right.
“This was so unnecessary, this could have been a huge PR opportunity for the contest promoter. Instead now it's a nightmare and probably a lawsuit,” one Daily Mail reader commented.
“Absolutely ridiculous and cruel! They should just let his mother go too so she can give him the help he needs,” another added.