“We believe that mentoring is a combination of relational skills that allow youth to take risks and try things out in a safe environment, receive feedback, and improve moving forward. It is learning to authentically know enough about an individual that we can find opportunities that align with their dreams, help them prepare for that experience, and then get out of the way. Most of all, it is realizing and being open to receiving just as much from the mentee as we give by being a mentor.”
We are proud to induct I’m Determined into the Susan Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame.
The I’m Determined Project is a state-directed initiative funded by the Virginia Department of Education focusing on allowing youth with disabilities to practice self-determination skills at home, in school, and in their community. Utilizing resources such as videos, case-studies, paper and electronic forms and tools, and events for youth, families, and educators, the I’m Determined team helps youth establish their voice and take more control of their education and lives. This looks like being active participants in important meetings where decisions are being made, creating and attaining goals that align with their strengths, preferences, interests, and needs, and developing practices that allow their voice to be heard.
The I’m Determined team is composed of university faculty (called Determinators) employed at the Training and Technical Assistance Centers, including transition-aged youth with disabilities (called Youth Leaders) in Virginia. Geographically, the universities represent each of the eight state superintendent regions so that services can be delivered across the state. Each region provides professional development (PD) to youth with disabilities and the educators and families connected to those youth.
The first layer of mentorship happens between Determinators and Youth Leaders. Requests for PD come in many different forms, and whenever possible, Youth Leaders are asked to help deliver training. Youth often start out by sharing their stories, whether it is demonstrating one of the I’m Determined tools, such as the Goal Plan, or by sharing their experience around a concept, or how they were able to self-advocate in a situation or be part of a decision. Youth Leaders consult with Determinators to figure out how to deliver their story, refine their talking points, or create presentations in a way that aligns with the audience. Monthly check-ins, facilitated by Determinators allow the teams to discuss self-determination topics, reflect on current life events, and practice problem-solving situations. Over time, Youth Leaders’ social capital begins to expand, their relational skills improve, and they begin seeing opportunities to provide PD.
The second layer of mentorship happens when the Youth Leaders take these new skills, and share them with their peers. This can happen naturally with close friends and family, as well as at a youth event such as the annual 3-day I’m Determined Youth and Family Summit, where Youth Leaders facilitate all youth sessions, lead small group activities, and hang out informally with youth participants.
The I’m Determined Project uses strengths-based, youth-focused relationships in a supportive, encouraging environment to engage youth where they are. Through this support, youth with disabilities are finding a sense of belonging, increasing their own feelings of competence and autonomy in the variety if environments they find themselves as young adults.