Where is everyone?

So I haven’t blogged much lately, but that is not because there is not a lot of things going on in the world of youth transition and CILs. Currently our Statewide Independent Living Council’s Youth Committee is planning our first ever summer youth leadership conference for June. We are way excited to welcome youth leaders from all six of the CILs in the state. We will have a ropes course, leadership games, good food, time to build relationships, and plan for the future of youth advocacy in Utah. We have picked up great ideas from the Montana Youth Leadership Forum and lot’s of other great folks we met in Houston a year ago. If you have any great ideas for our youth conference, or questions about how we are putting our conference together, drop me a line here on the blog.

In the meantime, if you haven’t found your way to the Youth Transition in CILs Facebook page yet you are missing out on daily updates of all the good stuff happening in the world of youth transition and independent living. Get on Facebook and head to Youth Transition in CILs and like the page today. Let’s spread the word about this great resource and get those likes into the hundreds or even the thousands!… Read more

Foster Youth with Disabilities

How many people do know that came from an adopted home? What about a foster home that had more than one child in it? What about a foster home that was able to handle a foster child with a disability?

These are issues that many people in our communities, including politicians and local government agencies don’t seem to pay much attention to or think impact individuals in their own hometowns.

When an individual is raised in a foster care setting and does not have access to the resources of a traditional family during their early developmental process, it not only changes the way that individual sees society, but also how the world views that person for the rest of that person’s life.

This is especially true for someone in foster care that might have an emotional or physical disability and feels that they are alone. A report that was recently done by and United Cerebral Palsy found that over 40% of the kids who go into foster care system become dependent on government aid and do not further their education. I can vouch for that outcome as an ex-foster youth myself; this is very scary and terrifying statistic not only on a economic level but also because the data is showing it is getting worse. These youth will be our labor force in the years to come, parents to the next generation of Americans or worse they may become the majority of our prison population because the negative behaviors that they learn in their youth are behaviors that they continue to have in adulthood.

This situation and outcome can be even worse for foster youth that have a disability. All most one 1 in 3 youth in foster care have some type of disability, either emotional, physical from birth or from actions of other people. This number is huge because anyone that knows what it is like to have a disability knows that a stable and reliable support system is one of the key elements to help with day to day life and when a person doesn’t even have that it makes for a very, very tough road in the long run. So please if you have someone you know that has been in foster care and has a disability let them know you are proud of them because sometimes they need to hear from a stranger.… Read more

L.E.A.R.N. to Get Youth Involved!

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!

Empower: Empowering 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

Strategic Planning vs Wishing on a Star

Since the last time I posted to this blog (which was far too long ago…sorry), I have been eyeball deep in strategic planning around a variety of Youth Transition issues. In particular, I have spent much of my time during the last few months drafting and refining a strategic plan designed to increase the number of opportunities that students with intellectual disabilities have to participate in fully inclusive college experiences in Utah. This has been a fascinating process, meeting with all of the different stakeholders, trying to get a sense of what is already available and what people and agencies are already doing in this area, figuring out what barriers exist and coming up with strategic goals that will help all of the stakeholders take the next step forward so that we can see measurable change.

Strategic Planning can be a messy and time consuming process, as those of you who have done it before can attest too. However, what is the alternative to going through a thoughtful and detailed strategic planning process? Perhaps wishful thinking on a magic star that things will change for the better would be an easier way to plan for the future, but as those of us who have taken that approach at times can confirm, it is not always the most effective or reliable planning method. Sometimes you wish on the wrong star and other times someone beats you to the star you are wishing on and all of the wishes have been used up.

Thinking about all of this reminds me of the well-known saying: “If you fail to plan…you plan to fail”. Thankfully, I had access to some remarkable planning tools and resources to help me with the strategic planning I have been doing around postsecondary issues here in Utah. First, I had a team of other deeply committed stakeholders helping me gather and process information about what was happening across the state and where we should go next. Second, I had access to peers across the country through the Think College Project, an initiative of the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The folks at Think College have been working to increase opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to participate in college experiences for over a decade. They have developed amazing resources for students, families, and professionals. The resources at Think College helped us here in Utah connect with peers in other states that are further down this road, so that we could learn from their planning efforts. Learning from their successes and failures has helped us avoid reinventing the wheel of postsecondary inclusion.

This makes me curious about how the rest of you approach strategic planning, especially around how to work with young adults and transition efforts.

Are there things you have learned that could help the rest of us avoid costly mistakes or succeed more quickly in our youth transition efforts?

What are the best resources you have found to help you plan your program’s goals more effectively?

What questions would you like to ask your peers at other CILs, about what has or hasn’t worked for them in this area?

Are any of your centers involved in your state’s effort to improve postsecondary inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities? If so, what is your role?

One of the things we hope to do with this blog is connect peers to each other so that we can all maximize and our time and energy in supporting successful transitions to adulthood. Please take a moment and share your thoughts on this or any other topics of interest.… Read more