Kids with disabilities get ready for school year

DOWNEY – As high school and college campuses across the state gear up for the new school year, several Southern California students with disabilities are prepared and well equipped to tackle the challenges ahead. Through the 2014 Leadership Week for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities, organized by the Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living (SCRS-IL), students dedicated a week of summer vacation to learn new independent living skills, including managing money effectively, navigating public transportation and making healthy lifestyle choices.

“Our goal for Leadership Week is to teach 14- to 26-year-olds with disabilities practical skills they can apply to real-world situations such as in school,” said SCRS-IL’s executive director Jim Baker. “This year’s sessions in Alhambra, Downey and East Los Angeles gave 25 students the opportunity to broaden their skills in a supportive atmosphere.”

Each day of the Leadership Week focused on a different learning opportunity. At the beginning of the week, students learned money management skills and were given daily allowances of $20 donated by sponsors to spend on lunches, transportation and event entry fees. By the end of the week, the money they saved could be spent on something special for themselves.

Students also heard from a representative of the metro system about safety and options for riders with disabilities and then used public transportation throughout the week to test their newly gained knowledge and discover firsthand how to navigate the system.

“It’s powerful seeing the students learn how to problem solve, effectively interact with one another and connect with people in the community while coming into their own comfort zones,” said SCRS-IL’s Youth Advocate Jess Tourtellotte.

With a focus on emergency preparedness, participants learned about the “do’s and don’ts” from a federal spokesperson, and each student received a three-day survival kit in a bright red carrying bag containing water, emergency food rations, a non-battery flashlight and a blanket. They also toured the City of Downey fire station to learn about emergency services at the local level.

And, with a spotlight on the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices, SCRS-IL invited a registered nurse to talk with students about the value of healthy food choices.  The nurse provided students with a booklet on fast food restaurants with nutritional ratings, and they walked to lunch to apply what they had learned. In Downey, the mayor shared his vision Stay Healthy Downey 2014 initiative, a community collaborative focusing on health and nutrition and creating a sustainable approach to wellness.

The week was rounded out with a day devoted to empowerment and self-advocacy. Students had an opportunity to meet with and learn from legislators who emphasized the importance of voting, volunteering and civic engagement to influence the environment in which they live and create a positive future.

“We’re always talking about growing our youth for the future, which is why Leadership Week is so important,” commented Baker.  “In fact, the training has been so successful, that SCRS-IL recently applied for a grant to market it nationwide.”

Baker further commented, “In addition to the training offered during Leadership Week, SCRS-IL’s volunteers and staff are strongly committed to mentoring youth on a daily basis to assist them in skill development and provide them with resources for living independently.”

SCRS-IL does this in a number of ways. For example, in October during Disability History Week, staff and volunteers will share their personal stories at local public schools. And Baker and his staff recently attended a three-day Independent Living Research Utilization training on youth transition services to prepare for the newly enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that calls for providing youth with disabilities the services and support they need to be successful in competitive, integrated employment.

“Giving students the tools they need to be successful in school is a key step toward building their foundation for living independently,” noted California State Independent Living Council’s Executive Director Liz Pazdral. “Efforts, such as SCRS-IL’s, keep youth with disabilities at the forefront of Independent Living Centers’ services where they can find these tools and the training they need.”



Published: Sept. 4, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 21