Islander makes final four in $10,000 challenge


Jake Palches found his calling in life a few summers ago here on Martha’s Vineyard when a family friend recruited the 24-year-old Oak Bluffs native, now studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to work at Camp Jabberwocky.

Mr. Palches knew something of the summer camp for disabled children and adults in Vineyard Haven, but not a lot. He agreed to try it for a few days.

“After an hour, I was like, this is amazing,” Mr. Palches said. “I was encouraged, I was encouraging other people, helping people challenge themselves.”

At Jabberwocky, Mr. Palches does everything from driving the big red bus, to organizing concert outings, to fixing wheelchairs. Sometimes, he said, even eating lunch is a lofty achievement for a disabled camper. “There are all these little triumphs. I feel like I’m climbing the mountain.”

Mr. Palches is now applying his aptitude and attitude at U-Mass, where he is entering his final semester. Mechanically inclined since childhood, he has fashioned a course of study to learn skills in designing, funding, and marketing adaptive equipment for disabled people.

“Most of the classes have been geared toward business,” he said. “Fundraising and making something commercially viable is a lot more difficult than making something that works well.”

Active in the University of Massachusetts Outing Club (UMOC), he recently saw a chance to help more disabled people enjoy outdoor adventure. Polartec, a company that makes synthetic fleece and other outdoor fabrics, offered $10,000 to a college outdoor program, and invited schools to compete for the prize. Mr. Palches made a video illustrating how his club would use the money to begin an adaptive sports program at U-Mass.

He landed his university in the final four of the competition, along with Middlebury College, the University of Idaho, and Appalachian State University.

Jeff Caruthers, a special needs teacher at Martha’s Vineyard High School and Camp Jabberwocky’s administrator, said Jake’s campaign to win $10,000 for his outing club is completely in character. “He’s quite innovative, and a hard, hard worker,” Mr. Caruthers said. “He can look at any problem and come up with a solution, no matter if it’s mechanical, personal, whatever.”

Facebook users will pick the winner of the Polartec contest with their votes.

(Links to view the video or vote available on

“We’re trying to get out the vote, big time,” Mr. Palches said.

Voting continues until midnight on November 30.