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Have you thought about …LIFE?

by Mary Mazzoni on November 22, 2011

This question prompted youth, parents, school and agency folks to come together for the first annual transition conference organized by the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) Center for Independent Living.

The power of collaboration

Times are tough. Jobs are scarce. “Intake and eligibility determination” for various systems are confusing. Legal protections change after high school. Government funding for adult support services doesn’t come close to meeting the need.

Thinking about Life after IEPs can be… daunting.

But many powerful stories of creative collaboration were shared at this conference. During workshops, and in conversations between sessions.

  • Young adults from the PA Youth Leadership Network (PYLN) shared their experiences and encouraged teens to plan and take action for their own future
  • Through strategic volunteering and internships, youth are gaining experience, contributing to their community and creating personal and career networks
  • College and high school staff  are working together, supporting kids to take college courses while still in high school
  • Young entrepreneurs are starting their own businesses (check out Silent Majority Clothing here)
  • Youth and families are using evidence-based strategies such as WRAP to proactively plan for their own wellness

The importance of relationships

The conference was a great opportunity to share ideas and resources. But it’s clear that ongoing relationships are key to transforming ideas into action.

Person to person connections were made at the conference between youth and people from various agencies.

That’s great. But it’s particularly encouraging to see connections develop between families. And between youth and adult mentors. Fact is, personal networks of mutual support can make a real difference in the quality of our lives. Not just funded professional services.

Small local groups are forming. Teens and young adults are connecting with one another and with adult mentors who have disabilities. They’re learning important skills, forging life enriching friendships, and supporting each other to take specific steps toward their own goals.

Sometimes these groups are started through local Centers for Independent Living or other advocacy groups. Other times, they are begun informally by self advocates and their families. During one session at the conference, two recent high school graduates spoke about how much they value being part of such a group as they begin their adult lives.

Keep the vision in mind

One of the highlights of the conference for me came during lunch the first day.

We were seated at large round tables. Youth, parents, agency and school folks.  And we were asked to share our thoughts and listen to one another around four questions:

  • What does independence mean for me?
  • What are my greatest challenges?
  • What helps me the most?
  • What are my dreams?

It was good to listen to and share with people at my table. So often we relate to people from our roles. Rather than as persons.

What still stays with me are the words of Liz, a recent high school graduate who is working with children as a volunteer.  When asked about her dreams, Liz said she wants to “help people and be happy”. 

I was struck by the wisdom and clarity of her vision. Frankly, it’s my vision, too. But I never stated it as clearly as Liz. Not even to myself.

There are many challenges to face. But having a clear vision for our lives helps us to set priorities. And make choices. One day at a time. The specific ways we live out our vision will change. As new circumstances and opportunities present themselves. But keeping our vision in mind will make all the difference.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m grateful to Liz for reminding me to tend my own vision. And thankful for all the people who made this conference a time of learning and encouragement.

May each of us reach out and develop supportive connections with others as we live into our own visions.

Your thoughts?

Does your child have a clear vision of what’s most important to him or her?

If a particular path toward that vision is obstructed, are there other routes to take? Are there ways for you and your child to develop connections with other families and adult mentors who have traveled this path before you?  Have you contacted your local Center for Independent Living or other advocacy organizations?

What will be your next step as you think about Life after IEPs?

Please leave your thoughts or questions in the comment section. We can learn from one another.

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