Growing up in a small town with a
disability was difficult. There weren’t many other young people who were
going through what I was going through. Sure, I found ways to connect
with my peers but there was always something missing. None of my peers
understood the concept of “going blind” or being “legally blind.” When I
was 17 I joined the “sheltered” workforce at a blind-work organization.
While this was only a stepping-stone for me to gain experience and get
through college, I also found a group of peers who understood my unique
struggle. Through this organization I helped start a support group for
youth who faced vision-related barriers. This is where I gained a true
peer experience. I learned much from my peers and even mentored many
individuals through some significant struggles. I was empowered… and
there was no stopping me.
Currently I work at Access to
Independence, an independent living center (ILC) in central New York.
For the past five years, I have worked to build peer support initiatives
youth and have developed some excellent tools. Getting youth involved
in ILC activities can be as simple as helping a young person to
L.E.A.R.N. That’s Lead, Empower, Advocate, Recreate, and Network!
Lead: Leadership is
perhaps one of the most powerful ways to get young people involved.
Through leadership on a board of directors, peer group facilitator,
volunteer, or even a staff member, can boost their confidence and build
essential life and career skills. Not to mention, you’re giving a young
person a voice in how services are run for young people. That is the
independent living philosophy!
young people comes from helping a young person find “internal value.” By
this I mean believing in your ability to see what you want and go after
it with motivated energy. It means knowing that you, as a young person,
can make a difference and have the power to improve a community. It
means you want to help others become empowered.
Advocate: It is not
easy having a disability. There are stigmas and barriers we face on a
daily basis. As young people, we need to advocate against the
discrimination, both of our ability and of our age. Helping youth to
advocate for themselves and others is empowering and helps them feel
comfortable with leadership.
Recreate: We all want
to have fun! Recreation, especially with our peers, helps us learn about
each other. It connects us on a human level and helps us develop
life-long friendships. Often, recreational events will help build strong
teams and will be the energy that keeps a youth group motivated.
Network: Through an
ILC and the above concepts, young people will have opportunities to
network. They will meet other young people, community leaders,
government officials, and role models. Networking creates opportunities
to be successful and to help others succeed. Remember: “it’s not what
you know, it’s who you know.”… Read more