Hadley Kronick, one of the 2022 Dinah F.B. Cohen Fellows, interviewed Partners for Youth with Disabilities to learn about the resources they offer to youth with disabilities. The below article is written by them.
In high school, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that caused a lot of issues in my personal life. Before being diagnosed I was a member and a leader in many clubs, an A student, and a high achiever overall. After my diagnosis, my positions were taken away from me, I was largely separated from the rest of my peers, and discriminated against. It left me feeling extremely isolated and that I was a burden to my friends and family.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) offers support to help with issues like these. With PYD you can gain a community of peers who can understand what you are going through. You also gain mentors who can help give you support and find the right resources for your specific situations. These resources are why I believe everyone should be aware of the support PYD offers. This led me to interview Kristin Humphrey, the Director of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition which is part of PYD.
To start, please describe your organization and signature transition support programs/services.
PYD’s goal is to create a world where young people with disabilities will be able to live with dignity and pride in who they are and lead self-determined lives filled with purpose. To make this happen, we build the skills and abilities of young people with disabilities and increase the inclusivity of workplaces, organizations, and communities.
PYD programs all provide youth and young adults with disabilities with three key things: self-confidence, community, and purpose. We build disability pride, leadership skills, healthy relationship skills, and community involvement, and ensure that youth are successful in school and in seeking employment.
We currently run programs focusing on mentoring, career readiness, theater arts, and leadership development. These programs largely serve youth in the Greater Boston area, but our mentoring program has an online component that is open to young adults from across the United States.
All programs have a transition focus. The Mentoring Program matches youth with an adult mentor. In terms of what we do to create the matches, we interview mentees and find their goals and then match them with mentors that will become resources for those specific goals. Matches work on goals relating to building positive and healthy relationships, community involvement, self-esteem, independent living skills, and educational/career skills. It might not be explicit but it gives support in general to navigate stressors that come with transition.
We also have the Theater Arts Program. Access to Theater is an award-winning inclusive theater program for teens and young adults. Its purpose is to develop communication, artistic, and leadership skills, and lasting professional and personal friendships. It is held over the summer as a two-week theater camp, and throughout the year as a weekend program. The main focus of the program is performing arts exploration and experimentation. Access to Theater participants explore all aspects of theater throughout their involvement: acting, directing, improvisation, choreography, music, costumes, set design, and more. In addition, Summer Institute participants create an entirely original show, where participants develop everything from the dialogue to the sets. Again this is not an obvious focus on transition support but, it helps develop communication, leadership, forming connections and creativity.
We also have the Career Readiness Program, an inclusive job-readiness program that addresses barriers to employment for youth and young adults with disabilities. This program has existed for over 20 years and impacts the lives of over 100 youths annually. This one is more explicitly focused on finding a job, interviewing, and self-advocacy. This program also has a mentoring component where they have guest lecturers come and talk about their career(s). They also have a job lab where they can experience the actual setting of different careers.
Finally, PYD’s Young Leaders Rising (YLR) Program is an 8-week youth-led leadership program for high school students with any type of disability (ages 14-22) that leverages both live virtual workshops and an online learning community to develop leadership, career readiness, and self-advocacy skills. YLR participants build leadership skills and leave better prepared for future employment, higher education, and independent living.
PYD is also the leader of the MA Youth Leadership Forum (YLF); a national model that over 20 states have in place. PYD collaborates with organizations across the state to give high school students with disabilities a chance to experience a college campus and independence while learning with peers about disability pride and self-determination. The YLR program builds off the YLF conference model that builds leadership skills and prepares participants for future employment, higher education, and independent living. YLF is very intensive; it deep dives into independent learning and uses online modules that are a mix of live and online. This program has Peer Leaders/Delegates/Fellows that are paid to plan, recruit, interview participants, and lead workshops, similar to a camp counselor.
What are key experiences that assist young people in accessing quality and impactful transition support?
Key experiences are mentorship, which is a big part of creating a positive transition experience. Mentorship can be informal, in community programs or formal where it is much more structured and specific. You can also have peer mentors or online mentors. Mentoring can play such a big role because they can share experiences of navigating something similar. It also helps with finding support which can be a very difficult aspect of transition.
What lessons or tips do you have to share with other service providers to learn your innovative ways?
A tip we offer is coalition building. With limited resources and much work to be done, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. That’s why PYD is proud to house the National Disability Mentoring Coalition, a place where practitioners and organizations come together to learn, share and build more inclusive mentoring programs so all youth and young adults can live the lives they want. We encourage everyone to explore NDMC and join us to access and share inclusive mentoring resources. NDMC also has access to PYD’s Learn, an online learning community with disability inclusion courses, webinars, guides and more.
Does your program/organization include elements of self-advocacy, self-determination, or mentoring? If so please describe the significance of this content for the participants.
PYD has elements of all of these. Our mission is for youth to lead lives, mentoring is the very first section in the bridge to create a more accessible world and so mentoring is infused within all of our programs. It started with noticing there was a need that wasn’t being met so the program began and then the waitlist grew and as a result so did the program. It grew with new models to meet many different needs like; social, recreational, peer, mentoring, and career. We also have lessons on self-advocacy as it is an important part of the courses provided.
What is a key attribute your programming offers to help young people find community? Describe how relationship building is centered in your model.
Mentoring is the heart of the program so even if it is not formally included in the program, it has a place in all of our programs. For example; hearing from other leaders, peers, and even casual chats. As part of the NDMC, we honor excellence through the Susan Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame, established in 2015 to honor individuals and organizations and extend to the whole community, including multiply-marginalized community members, rural colleagues and organizations doing important work that are often overlooked. We encourage you to visit the online Hall of Fame to learn about these leaders!
How does your organization center multiple-marginalized populations? Does your organization intentionally make space for intersectional identities?
Yes, PYD has been working hard since our launch to reach multiply-marginalized groups in our Boston-based work. We also work hard to listen and learn from all communities and take those learnings to provide more perspectives and voices into our content, including the Learn courses, the Career Readiness Academy, YLR and YLF activities. Importantly, the NDMC also centers intersectional identities in its advisory council, keystone events, and outreach activities. And, bringing it back the Dinah Cohen DREAM Fellowship Program, we identify and seek applicants/groups that are multiply marginalized so the Fellows can participate in developing new tools and resources that will resonate with communities who have been previously impacted by cumulative discrimination.
Does your organization help participants learn about civil rights and disability rights laws? Accommodations?
Yes, this happens in a variety of ways. One way this occurs is through the learning modules on PYD Learn. These modules, many designed by disabled consultants and writers, include content on disability rights, laws and a wide variety of disability inclusion content and are used by professionals across the country. Through Young Leaders Rising we have live workshops and panel discussions that focus on these same topics. You can also access these programs through online mentoring where you can sign up online via the PYD Youth Application.
Do you feel you are part of a larger pipeline helping youth/young adults move into successful careers?
Absolutely! We are paving the way! We are constantly growing in all of our programs which creates a pipeline where once people join they continue to move into different roles within our programs. For example, mentees often later become mentors for new mentees. This leads to an ever-growing community!
Is there anything else you’d like to share/highlight? Are there any other ways people can get involved?
I have to highlight the Dinah FB Cohen DREAM Fellowship Program and how grateful we are to everyone at GEICO for helping to encourage others to join. We will hopefully just keep growing! If you are interested in joining a future Fellowship cohort, please fill out the Fellowship Interest Form and I hope we can bring you into the pipeline to build self-confidence, confidence and purpose!