(KMAland) — Nearly a dozen Iowa youth with disabilities are taking newly developed leadership skills out into the world. A summer academy wrapped up this month, and organizers say this year’s class displayed impressive strength in self-advocacy.
The Youth Leadership Academy just saw the graduation of his third class and was able to hold closing ceremonies in-person for the first time after COVID disrupted the previous events.
In interactive sessions, students from ages 14-21 learn about things like goal-setting and civic engagement.
Francine Pace, a college student who was diagnosed with autism at a young age, said she liked the networking training.
“You want them to hear your side, and it’s great to hear other people’s side and combine and make teamwork happen,” Pace explained. “You can overcome a lot of things.”
Pace feels the program is a great approach in trying to enact change at the community and state level. She will keep pushing for policies to reduce the state’s waiting list for those with disabilities seeking home- and community-based services.
Event organizers say this summer’s students already had a range of advocacy experience, which allowed them to bolster the curriculum.
Sebastien Janelle, another college student and academy graduate, said the program helped him focus on personal goals as he looks ahead to his future while living with autism.
“If I want to buy a house someday or, like, if I want to get there, then it is a huge priority to live up to that moment to reach that goal,” Janelle emphasized.
The Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council helps lead the academy, along with several partners, including the Center for Disabilities and Development, ASK Resources, the state Department of Human Rights and Access to Independence.