BOSTON, MA – Over the next three years, Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) will be launching a new online, professional mentoring program to support community college students with disabilities across five states.
According to the Department of Labor, Office of Disability Policy, people with disabilities continue to have an unemployment rate over two times that of people without disabilities. While higher education often improves employment opportunities, college graduates continue to face barriers when seeking employment, which can lead to unemployment or underemployment. Thanks to a three-year grant from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, Partners for Youth with Disabilities is planning to address this issue by expanding professional mentoring opportunities to community college students with disabilities in five states.
PYD will offer e-mentoring to 330 young adults with the goal of improved employment outcomes through partnerships with Business Leadership Networks in Massachusetts (Work Without Limits), Connecticut (Connecticut Business Leadership Network), Maine (Maine Business Leadership Network in partnership with the Maine Chamber of Commerce), Wyoming (Unita County Business Leadership Network), and Kansas (Greater Kansas City Leadership Network), as well as community colleges in these areas.
Community College students will access professional and peer mentors to increase their networks, receive advice, and gather support about achieving goals. They will also participate in topical webinars related to employment readiness, and engage in live networking and interview fairs hosted by the Business Leadership Networks.
According to Regina Snowden, Founder and Executive Director of Partners for Youth with Disabilities, “For 31 years, PYD has witnessed the transformative power of mentoring in the lives of youth and young adults with disabilities in their efforts to gain employment and achieve independence. We are thrilled to be expanding our program model beyond Massachusetts through e-Mentoring. We know that this effort between many collaborating partners will result in increased employment opportunities for the participating young adults.”
About Partners for Youth with Disabilities
Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) empowers youth with disabilities to reach their full potential by providing transformative mentoring programs, youth development opportunities, and inclusion expertise. To learn more, visit www.pyd.org.
About Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation
The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, based in the Washington, DC area, was established in 1991 by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and the Mitsubishi Electric U.S. companies, which produce, sell and distribute a wide range of consumer, industrial, commercial and professional electronics products. The foundation has contributed more than $15 million to organizations that are empowering young people with disabilities to lead more inclusive and productive lives. To learn more, visit the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s website at www.MEAF.org.
This week is now officially the last work week being at PYD as a Summer Scholar (sob, cry, sniff sniff). The experience for the past six weeks has been nothing short of engaging, educational, and has some of the most memorable moments during this summer. I learned about how to be a professional writer for a company and collaborate and discuss my writing to be put out on the website; I’ve been involved in PYD events such as the Youth Leadership Forum, and Access To Theatre; and I attended an event to raise money for HIV/AIDS research hosted by Kiehl’s. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve seen a lot, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity–and hopefully, even more opportunities like it in the future.
As a part of my role, I had to attend bi-weekly seminars hosted by the MLK Summer Scholars program and John Hancock. During each of the Friday seminars, Summer Scholars from across multiple organizations each participated in community building activities under the motto “Seize today to own tomorrow.” The first session focused on physical and mental health by bringing in a motivational speaker before the scholars went out to the football field for exercises and yoga. The second session focused in creating a model of what Boston will be like in the year 2030. We received a bag of random items such as sticky tape, pipe cleaners, plates, and even an old floppy disk to create this model. The third session (which I was not able to attend due to my commitments to ATT) focused on financial literacy and how to better manage your money.
This entry is the ninth, and final, during my time as an MLK Scholar. But I’m sure from time to time I’ll contribute to PYD again in the future. I have many big plans ahead of me–can’t say what exactly–but no one has seen the last of me yet.
One last thing I would like to say is thank you to the Partners For Youth With Disabilities staff for accepting me as your own for the brief period of time I had, and for helping me navigate this sometimes wacky job. I can’t say enough about how great the experience has been, and I hope to work with all of you again soon.
During the Peer Leader training for the Youth Leadership Forum, Kristin Humphrey introduced our group what a “Zine” is. They are described as being self-published works of art that can focus on any topic of interest, whether it’s sports, LGBTQ rights, cartoons, or any other topic in-between. She asked our group of peer leaders to create our very own zines with a whole table of supplies at our disposal: scissors, glue sticks, colored pencils, paper, magazines, etc., to help us self-express.
After exploring the magazines, I carefully picked out many images of what I wanted my zine to be. This was the end result:
The following was written during the day of Wednesday July 13th 2016, the actual third day during the Youth Leadership Forum.
It’s Day 3 at the YLF and we began the day’s activities with a Job Search and Networking Workshop presented by some of the PYD staff learning about resources to help with the job hunt and how to network.
The delegates as well as the peer leaders had the option of going to either one workshop or the other. The first workshop available was continued by the PYD staff and discussing Professional Communication and Soft Skills, or a workshop helmed by Federation For Children With Special Needs representative, Becky Rizoli involving Achieving Goals and Higher Education opportunities. I decided to go to the soft skills work shop and how to apply skills necessary to network.
Next was the big event of the day: The Career Mentor Luncheon and a brief ceremony for the Disability Hall of Fame. I would like to note that PYD’s own Nancy Bazanchuk and Regina Snowden received certificates for this high honor. Soon after, many of the career mentors introduced themselves and sat in many of the various tables around the room. Each of the peer leaders, and delegates with their appropriate work attire, received a card that had listed which table they needed to go to that was marked with a number. Each discussion lasted about 20 minutes or so and then the peer leaders and delegates had to switch to their next assigned table.
After a 15 minute break, all of the delegates met in their small groups to discuss advocacy in terms of introducing policy ideas to people involved in politics. Speaking for my purple group, during the activity we had a lot of really great ideas that the delegates contributed to the activity. My fellow Peer Leader Dustin tried very hard to make sure that we as a group were on task with what needed to be done, which was really good, but I had to communicate that everyone’s energy level was a bit low and that we needed to modify the activity just to be respectful of peoples needs. It was a challenge that Dustin, myself, and Rachel had to really overcome, but overall I thought we did as effective of a job as possible.
Next, we had an Adaptive Sports workshop hosted once again by Jeff from EPIC. The activity was that there were two separate groups on different ends of the room, with 4 pieces of tape on the floor. Each group was on an island and were given 10 “magic stones” or pieces of paper to help get across to the other side. We each had to cross the “chocolate river” and if a persons body part, like their feet, or elbows, or in some cases wheels, weren’t touching the stone, that person would be washed away and the whole group would have to start over. We as peer leaders were also given a rule as well, we were not allowed to talk to the delegates or other peer leaders to strategize. Only the delegates had to figure out how to get across. And so as far as I saw, both groups tried to strategize together and some people were more vocal than others, others were a bit more quiet, and some felt like they were put off to the side because they didn’t feel included. Both teams at some point in the game nearly made it across, but then something happened and both groups had to reset. Jeff then asked everyone to gather in a circle to talk about the activity, and he mentioned a lot of the points that I made just now, and made a very impactful point that this kind of problem does happen in other settings in life. It taught the delegates as well as the peer leaders a lesson in inclusion and how each of us can be vocal and step up, even when others can’t.
Soon after dinner, and an hour in between to get ready, was the YLF Dance! There was a DJ, a table with cookies and water, a dance floor for people to enjoy themselves, and if there were people who didn’t want to dance, they could sit back and do their own thing at some of the outside tables. The theme of this years dance that the peer leaders selected was all about “Peace” and many of the PYD staff dressed for the occasion by wearing hippie costumes as well as providing glow sticks and even rainbow heart stickers to support the LGBTQIA community. If people did not want to be at the dance, they also had the option to go into the Dunn Conference Room where Deep lead a music workshop called “The Beat Goes On” which let people play with the instruments provided for a music jam session.
Later in the night during my peer leader check in I shared about our group experience during the small group activity. I mentioned to Nancy and everyone that the delegates worked hard thinking of ideas for what they wanted to improve in their communities. In the past, we were shown the movie “The Great Fight for Disability Rights”, which was narrated by Easter Seals’ Colleen Flanagan, which gave context about disability advocacy history and how our voices as people with disabilities need to be heard. I learned that several groups had very successful conversations for the policy activity.
8:00am, Yesterday, July 12th, was the first day the delegates would come in and get acclimated into the YLF setting to meet with each of the groups and get introduced to the program and week activities. We began by gathering in our small groups and doing ice breakers to get to know the delegates, where they came from, and if they wanted to, share why they came to YLF. Some expressed interest in making new friends, others about getting experience and so forth. After that, we went into the Dunn Conference Room for our welcome reception which consisted of Massachusetts Rehab Comissioner Osborne, PYD’s Executive Director Regina Snowden, and New Easter Seals President and CEO Paul Medeiros to introduce the Youth Leadership Forum to the delegates.
After gathering for this years group photo, Jeff Lafata of EPIC lead a workshop on ableism similar to when the peer leaders did his workshop yesterday. This activity was different, as each of us had to hold 7 note cards, on each card was a specific identity that you have, he asked us for our full legal name, gender, sexual preference, religion, disability, and what a goal in our life would be. Jeff one by one would tell people to give up a card that you could live with out until only one remained. For myself, the only card that was left was my name. I explained to my group the reason was because with all the identities that I discarded, they could be applied or identified by any single one person, but without my name to symbolize this is how I identify, those cards mean nothing. It was a very powerful exercise about identity and how we are all on different journeys, but here together to overcome many obstacles.
Next was the assistive technology workshop which featured many of the Easter Seals staff, including Desi Forte and a technology specialist named Flemings, about how to use apps on our smart devices in order to find better accommodation uses to make our lives easier. Flemings’ presentation was about the Amazon Echo as well as an assistive technology designed game controller called the SharpEdge so that people with mobility issues can play video games. This soon transitioned into a game of Jeopardy quizzing each group about what they learned with the information of assistive technology.
Transitioning from that was a workshop run by Access To Theatre’s Movement Director, Maureen (Moe) Finnerty. She lead a workshop of theater-based games that are traditionally used in the program to demonstrate to the delegates how we can communicate by expressing ourselves. It was classic ATT right off the bat and everyone was having a really good time playing the games and sharing their Rose (positive thing of the day) and Thorn (one improvement or negative for the day.)
Because there was a lot we had to do today, and because during lunch I had an unfortunate incident where I bumped my drinks into the sneeze guards *twice* and got embarrassed by what happened, I was feeling socially/emotionally drained and needed to refresh before we did our Peer Leader Check-in for the night. To make up for recharge time, I got permission to not go to tonight’s Open Mic Night, so unfortunately I cannot report what happened or who performed, but I can still explain in the past what that’s been all about.
YLF invited a poetry group called “Flatline Poetry” to host their first Open Mic Night two years ago when I was first a delegate. They would introduce the night and tell the delegates they have the opportunity to perform for each other as an audience. They would have a sign up sheet, and each delegate or peer leader would line up and talk to one of the guys with hooking any device up to sound equipment if they wanted to sing. It ranges from that, to comedy, to skits, to dancing, and every other performance that they want to share. the two years I saw these, they were overall very successful, though last year one of the delegates decided to take over the show for about half an hour and it was a bit tedious to say the least.
Finally, to end our day, each peer leader gathered for the second of three times to check in about our progress and of how our day went.