The Interview that Changed My Life Forever

The following is a cross-post from the U.S. Department of Labor Blog. The blog is written by Tiffany Jolliff a past participant in the Workforce Recruitment Program.

On a crisp fall day in 2011, I donned my best professional outfit, harnessed up my guide dog Railey, and headed off for another day of college classes. I had a special appointment between management economics and business finance classes. The campus Disability Support Services office, a designated Workforce Recruitment Program site, had a federal representative making a visit and I was scheduled for an interview.

Armed with my resume, and the hopes and dreams of every graduating senior, I stepped into the office. I met with a woman named Laura, who looked at my resume and asked questions about my scholastics and work experience. She wanted to know which U.S. cities I would consider moving to for employment. Interviewees were allowed to select up to five cities, and four of mine were safe choices (close by). As a young woman with a significant disability, I was hesitant to stray too far from home. Believing the probability of getting a job offer in Washington, D.C., was slim, I selected it as my fifth choice.

Laura explained that my skills, resume and location preferences would be entered into the Workforce Recruitment Program database and would be made available to federal agencies and private sector employers. If my skills matched the needs of employers looking at the database, I could be called for an interview. I thanked Laura and headed off to finish the last two months of my undergraduate studies.

By April of 2012, I was getting discouraged. Job interviews had come and gone, and I was still sitting on my parents’ couch scouring the Internet for job openings. Then, a call from the Labor Department’sOffice of Disability Employment Policy changed everything. They saw my resume in the WRP database and were looking for a summer intern. Would I be interested in moving from Bloomington, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., next month? Now the opportunity was here, and it was BIG – could I really move 750 miles away from everything I had ever known? There would be new routes to learn, no family to help me and a metro system to navigate. Washington is a big city and I am blind.

After many sleepless nights and lots of in-depth discussions with my supportive yet hesitant parents, Railey and I relocated over Memorial Day Weekend of 2012.

My internship led to a full-time position with a nonprofit organization for two years, admission to graduate school where I am pursuing a master’s degree, and a return to ODEP as a full-time employee. I took a huge leap during that October interview and never ever looked back. Today, my outlook on life is great, and I have the Workforce Recruitment Program to thank.

Tiffany Jolliff is a program specialist in the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Editor’s note: If you are a college student with a disability who is looking for another source for employment, talk to your DSS office about the Workforce Recruitment Program today. If your campus is involved, learn how to get your information into the database. And, if your campus has not yet signed up to participate in the program, talk to your DSS office about registering — it‘s easy! to get started.

Employers can also benefit from the WRP by finding interns and permanent employees from the pre-screened and qualified students in the database. Federal employers can search the database at Private-sector employers can go to where they can post positions to which WRP students and recent graduates can respond.

For information on navigating the job search process, check out ODEP’s video series featuring young professionals with real-life experiences. To search for federal positions, visit


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What I Want for Black History Month

Headshot: Jennifer Thomas

By Jennifer Thomas, Youth Development Specialist with the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.


African-American firsts and those noted for making a difference in history are celebrated during Black History Month. I am so proud of this heritage; however, I did not always feel that same sense of pride as a member of the disability community. This disconnect wasn’t felt because I was ashamed of having a disability, at least not after my early teen years. Instead, it was because I never learned about African-Americans who had contributed to the Disability Rights Movement, unless you count the stories I would hear during National Disability Employment Awareness Month about Black Panthers bringing food to protestors during the 1977 historic sit-in in San Francisco around the signing of the Section 504 regulations.

Brad Lomax, his brother Glenn

Advocate Brad Lomax and his brother Glenn (photo courtesy of

Additionally, I never saw any African-Americans in the disability history section of school history books. Yes, in middle and high school my schools’ history books had a tiny section on disability history, usually a paragraph. Sure the Black history or African-American history sections noted Black people with disabilities who were firsts or who did great things, such as Harriet Tubman or Stevie Wonder, but Blacks noted for involvement in the Disability Rights Movement were never mentioned. I feel strongly that all contributions to the Disability Rights Movement need to be documented so that all people with disabilities understand that there is a place for them in the Disability Rights Movement, and there is a place for the movement in their culture.

In order to ensure that no one’s story is omitted, those of us who are involved in the Disability Rights Movement have to be certain that we are encouraging diversity and sharing opportunities to include stories of disability advocacy and leadership with everyone. It is also important that our various forms of media and advertisement show just as much respect for and interest in the cultures represented by the potential audience as well as the different disabilities.

Getting involved in projects seeking stories from people who were involved in the Disability Rights Movement is another way to make sure diverse stories are captured in disability history. There are projects that you can get involved in if you, or someone you know is interested in sharing your story about disability advocacy. Patient No More! People With Disabilities Securing Civil Rights is a project based in California that is seeking stories and memorabilia of people who participated in the 1977 sit-in in San Francisco. The Disability Visibility Project is a partnership with StoryCorps to record and preserve diverse voices of the disability community. It’s Our Story is a digital archive of stories from disabled activists across the United States.

Ever Lee Hairston

Ever Lee Hairston (photo courtesy of

I always wondered where the images of Black people and other people of color were during recounts of the Disability Rights Movement. No disrespect to Mr. Wonder or Ms. Tubman, but I hear their stories and stories like theirs every time February comes around. As an African-American woman who has a disability, during Black History Month, I would like to hear the stories of Ever Lee Hairston; Bradley Lomax; and Margaret Irvine, Bruce Oka, and Jane Johnson (Minorities Panel members during the 1977 Federal Building sit-in in San Francisco), as well as the stories of young people in the movement, in addition to the other great stories I typically hear. I refuse to believe that the Black panthers who brought food to protestors during the Disability Rights Movement were the only Black people involved in fighting for the rights of disabled people. Hopefully during Black History Month, and quite frankly throughout the year, we will continue to hear the stories of all folks involved in the Disability Rights Movement so that each of us will recognize that we have a place in the movement, and the movement has a place in our cultures.                

Related Resources: 



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Wale Shares “Ambition” with Adjudicated RAMP Youth

The following is a guest blog by Demetrius Brown, a Coordinator with the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Washington, DC. RAMP-DC partners with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and enrolls adjudicated youth at New Beginnings Youth Development Center (New Beginnings) six months prior to release and continues working with them for six months after they return to their communities. Youth participate in weekly career preparation-focused group meetings, including peer-supported goal-setting and exploration of careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) while in New Beginnings. RAMP-DC is funded by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. RAMP is based on a variety of foundational materials developed by NCWD/Youth including the Guideposts for Success and Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities.

By Demetrius Brown

On November 21, 2014, the RAMP youth got a special treat before the holidays. In collaboration with New Beginnings, the Progressive Life Center RAMP Coordinator, and RAMP mentor Keith ‘Wali’ Johnson, we were able to bring national recording rap artist and local celebrity, Wale, from MMG music group, to speak to the youth at New Beginnings Youth Development Center.

Wale with RAMP Coordinator Demetrius Brown

Wale, who was born and raised in the metropolitan DC area, wanted an opportunity to give back to the youth who have been through the adjudication system. Wale, a product of the juvenile justice system himself, spoke with the youth to give them words of encouragement and advice on how to succeed in the many fields that exist within the recording industry, and about making better choices in life. With a great number of RAMP youth interested in careers in the performance arts, Wale encouraged them to continue building and working on their craft, all while not getting discouraged based on the current situation they’re in. Wale expressed the importance of perseverance and surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Something that stuck with a number of the youth was when Wale said, “Don’t hang around dudes that don’t have nothing going on with their lives. Start hanging around positive people that have the same interest and build on your craft. Keep writing; keep producing; keep rapping.”

One youth, whose career goal is to become a respected rapper shared, “Wale just gave me a lil bit more hope about making it out of D.C. I‘m going to take his advice on writing every day, cause it’s going to help me form songs better.”

Opportunities like this, are extremely motivating to the youth population at New Beginnings. We have a unique group of young people that require individualized attention not only from our community support workers, but from established professionals as well. These events give youth a chance to think on a larger scale, set career and other transition-oriented goals, and fulfill them, one step at a time.

Related Resources:

Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Communicating with Youth, Community Partnerships, Events, Guideposts for Success, Juvenile Justice, Mentoring, Positive Peer Influence, Transition | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

There Is No “I” in “Teach”

The following is a crosspost from Blend My Learning. The blog is written by Kristin Fiorini, a first and second grade Special Education teacher at Wheatley Education Campus in Washington, DC and a 2014 City Bridge-New Schools Education Innovation Fellow.

This sumKristin Fiorini Headshotmer, I had the opportunity to pilot a personalized learning model with a group of students. I am not your typical general education teacher with a classroom of 22 to 28 students who are at all different levels and are working towards a set of grade level standards. Instead, my job as a special education teacher is to carry out the “Individualized Education Plans” (IEP) that come with my students. My caseload normally ranges from 10-15 students at various grade levels who also work with multiple teachers in other classrooms.

Prior to completing my summer pilot, through CityBridge Foundation’s 2014 Education Innovation Fellowship, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, and Detroit to observe and learn about personalized learning practices in schools in those cities. In every school we visited, the general education teacher was leading the way, using innovative personalized learning models in the classrooms. When I asked about the role of a special education teacher within these models, it seemed clear that special education instruction was still separate and designed according to a student’s IEP.

As I thought about what I saw in the classrooms we visited during our travels, I wondered how I could incorporate innovation into my classroom instruction while still executing against each of my students’ individualized learning plans. The online content that was used in the classes we saw — Lexia, i-Ready, and ST Math — met the needs of the students with disabilities within the learning targets set for them. And they still got direct instruction in small groups with general education teachers. It was like differentiation on steroids!

Still a bit unsure about the role of a special education teacher in personalized learning, I launched a pilot this past summer using a station rotation model that had three rotations: independent work, teacher time, and online content. The online content I used was Ramps to Reading, which helped develop the cognitive skills that go along with becoming a reader. It was engaging. My students loved it, and I was able to meet the very specific needs of my students who varied greatly in their abilities.

In my summer school session, I had students who were non-verbal along with students who were on the verge of breaking through to grade level skills. Two boys in my class, who were nonverbal, were more challenging and required constant attention and teacher support. Having the station rotation model in my classroom ensured I could give those boys the necessary amount of direct teacher instruction they needed, knowing that the my students with a greater ability to work independently were still engaged in the academic learning they needed.

The next challenge was making this work for my students and my classroom peers in new coming school year. How could I show that personalized learning practices could meet the needs of every student in a class, not just my students with disabilities? How could I get my peers,—any or all of the four general education teachers I work with—to adopt this station rotation model?

All of these questions continue to come up as I work to define my role as a special education teacher and figure out how I can bring innovative ideas into the classroom for my students. I know that there is no “I” in teaching. I cannot make this innovation happen alone. What I have come to understand is that personalized learning can bridge the gap between the work of general education teachers and the work of special educators.

The school year is still new, and I look forward to continuing this journey and teaming up with my colleagues to implement a personalized learning experience for all students. Together, we will create innovative experiences that meet the needs of all students. I hope you will stay tuned to see how our teamwork will make the dream work!

An individualized learning plan (ILP) is both a document and a process that students use – with support from school counselors, teachers, and parents – to define their career goals and postsecondary plans in order to inform the student’s decisions about their courses and activities throughout high school. Many states have adopted policies that require all middle and/or high school students to develop and maintain an individualized learning plan in order to make schools more personalized and improve student outcomes.

Over the last few years, NCWD/Youth and partners have launched a multi-year individualized learning plan research and demonstration project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. The research findings have resulted in many of the below related resources.

Related Resources:

Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Education, IEP, Individualized Learning Plan, Innovative Strategies, Policy, Research, Transition | Comments Off

Mentoring Stories: Damon & Shamond

During October, organizations all around the country celebrated the annual Disability Mentoring Day event. NCWD/Youth is fortunate to be able to engage in mentoring programming all year round through the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) run by our host organization, the Institute for Educational Leadership. RAMP is based on several of NCWD/Youth’s foundational materials including the Guideposts for Success and Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities. The following is a story about the mentor-mentee experience with Damon (Mentor) and Shamond (Mentee) from RAMP Houston.

Damon and Shamond Smiling Together

How and why did you get involved with RAMP?

Damon: I found RAMP on a community website I have previously volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and I wanted a new community service endeavor. I also wanted to work with an older youth population.

Shamond: I got involved in RAMP to learn about finding a job. I needed help with interview skills, job searching and how to dress.

What are your career goals or career interests?

Shamond: I am a student athlete. I love sports and fitness. I would like to be an athletic coach. My father is a welder and I’m thinking about that too.

What were you expecting from RAMP before becoming a mentee/mentor? Has RAMP met or exceeded your expectations?

Damon: I did not expect that I would be able to as involved as I have become. I get to help with the learning activities, field trips and academics. My mentee welcomes me to his sporting events and the school faculty is very inviting. My expectation was exceeded. I have a large role in Shamond’s life but I still have my distance and balance as needed.

Shamond: I expected that RAMP would answer all my questions about school and working. I like RAMP and the time we spend together.

What do you like most about the relationship?

Shamond: I like that we have fun and games! Even with being cool we still have to learn.

Damon: I like that you are receptive to my ideas and advice. I like that I can easily get in touch with you and that you invite me to your football games. You are very affectionate and we never have fights or major misunderstandings.

What is one of our most memorable moments together? Why?

Shamond: I liked when we went to Olive Garden last year. We laughed, played around, learned and ate good food. We took that happy picture that was put on Easter Seals website.

Damon: Other than Olive Garden, my most memorable moment was when I attended your first football game. You lit up when you saw me on the field. I was proud to be there for you and you were proud that I kept my promise and came.

What would say to someone to convince them to become a mentee/mentor for RAMP?

Damon: I would tell community volunteers how rewarding it is to be a mentor. You have flexibility in scheduling and the amount of effort you have to put in. I choose to go to the school every week and see Shamond outside of the school, if your schedule does not accommodate this, that’s ok too.

Shamond: I would tell a student that being in RAMP will teach life lessons. You will learn how to interview, get and keep a job.

How would you like our relationship to grow in the future?

Damon: Shamond and I have a very healthy relationship. We have a good time together and we have a mutual understanding. Going forward as he matures into a young adult, I would like to learn more about his likes, dislikes, and internal struggles that he does not verbalize.

Shamond: Stay cool with each other. Give me advice from time to time to keep me going on the right path.

What are some of the goals that have been set since being involved with RAMP to help you with your career path?

Shamond: Keep good grades and get ready for graduation. Keep my body healthy and study fitness.

What changes have you recognized in your mentee since the early stages of the relationship?

Damon: Shamond went from being a class nuissance to a respectable young man. In the beginning Shamond would be put out of every class I attended, and showed gross disrespect for others or authority. Now Shamond is a leader on his football with both character and grades. Shamond also knows compassion now and can see the misdeeds of others.

What is the most interesting thing about your mentee/mentor?

Damon: Shamond is a talented athlete. Shamond has a shoe fetish!  Shamond has a caring spirit and has learned patience and the rewards it brings.

Shamond: Damon makes me smile and laugh. He teaches and shows me what I need to do, and I get it done.

Related Resources:


Posted in Career Exploration, Career Preparation, Communicating with Youth, Disclosure, Guideposts for Success, Mentoring, Positive Peer Influence, Soft Skills, Transition, Youth Development, Youth Leadership | Comments Off

The School-to-Prison Pipeline for Children of Color with Disabilities: Diversifying the Fight

Do The Right Thing Movie Poster (From year marks the 25th Anniversary of Spike Lee’s iconic film, Do the Right Thing.  I recently watched it on cable for what seems like the hundredth time.  One of my favorite scenes is when the character Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito) is eating a slice in his neighborhood pizzeria, in his predominantly African-American Brooklyn community, and challenges the Italian owner Sal (played by Danny Aiello) with the question that would set the stage for the movie’s pivotal moment:

“Hey Sal, how come you don’t got no brothers on the wall here?” 

The question expresses Buggin’ Out’s resentment at not seeing photos of any black or brown people – “people” that looked like himself – on the Wall-Of-Fame in Sal’s shop that he regularly patronizes.  Tension builds, heated words are exchanged, drama ensues – end scene.

The films depiction of this incident speaks to our need to feel included; our desire to see ourselves reflected in and represented by those institutions that share space in our communities.  And, the animosity that can build when we don’t see anyone that looks like us – our identifying group – on that institution’s proverbial wall, or at the discussion table in the board room, or at the workplace, or in the classroom, etc.

Similarly, the issue of ethnicity came up at last month’s National Council on Disability / Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund’s meeting focusing on the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Children of Color with Disabilities.  In particular, the discussions centered on the overuse of the “10 Day Rule” discipline provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which permits schools to remove a student with a disability from school for up to 10 days – providing an all too convenient justification for getting rid of students with disabilities without an assessment (i.e., IEP team meeting, behavioral intervention plan, functional behavioral assessment) or any other service or support.  To put it another way, the 10 Day Rule constructively harms the very students the IDEA was intended to help.  Unsurprisingly, the Rule tends to disproportionately impact children of color.

Which is why the issue of ethnicity is so ironic in this instance because while Latinos make up one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and are disproportionately overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, there was apparently only one Latino person in attendance at the meeting.  And it was that lone Latino who made a point of posing the rhetorical question out loud to the group, in true “Do the Right-Thing”-esque fashion, “why are there no other Latinos in the room”?  Furthermore, young people – as in high school age youth – were another key group noticeably absent from the event as someone else quickly pointed out.  And while the temperature of the room remained congenial rather than accusatory (no garbage cans were thrown as in the movie) the passionate discourse that followed concerning the lack of Latinos and missing youth voice at this otherwise diverse meeting, was powerfully candid.  In other words, the conversation turned very real!

“Nothing About Us, Without Us” 

Diversity, or the lack of, is something we all like to think we are adequately sensitive to.  I know what it’s like to be in a professional setting and be the only African American in the room.  I recognize how important it is to have the active involvement of other people of color in the planning of strategies and policies that affect our lives.  Having worked in the adult and juvenile reentry worlds, I understand why it’s critical to have input from formerly incarcerated people when the subject is criminal justice policy reform.  I also get how absurd it would have been to not have people from the disability community well represented at this meeting.  Yet, in all my ‘sensitivity’ I failed to immediately recognize and address the elephant in the room – that, youth and Latinos were almost entirely absent, adding particular irony to any discussion about school discipline for children of color, let alone those youth with disabilities.

This is not an indictment of the efforts to assemble a diverse audience.  On the contrary, many of the guests – present company included – acknowledged that this meeting was one of the most racially diverse gatherings they had ever attended on the subject of disability.  But diversity is more than race, and diversity is not the same as inclusion.  And when it comes to inclusion, we are all complicit when we fail or even inadvertently neglect to recognize the voices that are missing from the conversation.  Part of our due diligence as practitioners fighting for juvenile justice reform and disability rights is to make sure that whenever we sit down to formulate policy recommendations, the following questions are always asked:  “who” else needs to be involved in the discussion; “why” are they not here; and “what” needs to be done to get and keep them involved.  There is no moral victory in merely being more diverse or inclusive than in years past.  Broader diversity and inclusion along a range of individual variables (i.e., types of disabilities, ethnic background, gender, age, etc.) is the necessary precursor to any meaningful progress for students with disabilities.  More importantly, the issues surrounding race, ethnicity and disability are often inseparable as the stigma and discrimination that correlate with any one of these designations is palpable by itself.  When you combine racial and disability discrimination together, the results are devastating for school children as multiple school suspensions reduce the chances of graduation from high school and increase their chances of incarceration.

Given the disproportionate number of youth with disabilities caught in the juvenile justice system, it is important to identify specific interventions that address their many needs for successful transition.  The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth’s Making the Right Turn:  A Guide About Improving Transition Outcomes for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System highlights experiences, supports and services that all youth need, and distinguishes the particular needs of youth in the juvenile justice system.  IEL’s Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn) is based on the Guide along with other IEL-created foundational materials, and is currently being implemented across the country in five communities.

Understanding, implementing and ensuring greater diversity and youth voice along the adult-youth partnership spectrum expresses the conviction of people with disabilities, and people of color, and people of different ethnicities, and formerly incarcerated people, etc., that they all have particular insight into what is best for them and are ultimately the agents of their own progress.  That said, it’s important to also realize that diversity and inclusion are ongoing journeys rather than finite destinations.  As leaders in the juvenile justice reform and disability rights movements attempting to curb the School to Prison Pipeline, we must always be mindful to ensure that our brothers (and sisters) “on the wall” are present and part of every conversation that affects them.

By Byron Kline, Project Manager for the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

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Start early, get wiser, and end up better!

The following is part one of a two part guest blog series written by brothers Chris and Clement Coulston from Wilmington, Delaware. Chris is a senior at Concord High School and Clement is a Teacher Education major at the University of Delaware.

Start early, get wiser, and end up better.

By Chris Coulston

It is critical that students understand what transition is and the best place to get this information can be by going to your state transition conference. I attended my first transition conference in 7th grade and I wish I started earlier because there is so much to learn, time needed to practice skills, and plan for my future.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states transition planning must start no later than a person’s 16th birthday, but I think that students could be working on transition skills earlier if they knew what it was. Self-advocates, parents and teachers should go to their state transition conference every year.

Jonathan Mooney with Chris and Clement Coulston at the 2010 Delaware Transition Conference

Jonathan Mooney with Chris and Clement Coulston at the 2010 Delaware Transition Conference

Transition conferences are the best place to gather knowledge and information so I can have a better today AND tomorrow! I learned about self-advocacy, self-determination and grit by attending workshops lead by youth leaders like Everett Diebler, Jonathan Mooney and LeDerrick Horne. School was hard for all these leaders yet they developed self- determination skills to make it. Self-advocates need to listen to these stories and use them to create your own self- advocacy and transition plan. These stories are not taught in school.  

Transition conferences teach self-advocates, teachers and parents about the power of getting work experience before leaving high school.

Getting work experience is critical because you:

  • gain a bigger social network;
  • learn how to work with people;
  • develop soft skills, and;
  • observe a glimpse at other people’s careers.

Work experience looks good on your resume whether it’s volunteering or paid. Both types of work are good because it gets your name out there, plus people will see how hard you work.  It is also good because you learn other skills from the people you work with. I wouldn’t know how important job experience is before leaving high school if I didn’t attend transition conferences.  

In my opinion, the best place to get knowledge about transition and your future is going to your state transition conference. Resources, self-advocates who share stories on how to advocate in school, and presenters who tell you the importance of getting work experience before leaving high school are the highlight of every conference. The more I learn about transition the better off I am. Transition is really big but I don’t think people understand it.  Remember, the goal of education is getting a job which means freedom!

Self-Advocates, start going to your state transition conference when you are 12 years old so you can get hustling for a better life! Educators, parents, and administrators we need YOU to help engage self- advocates but not over-power us.

Related Resources:


Posted in Advocacy, Career Exploration, Communicating with Youth, Disability History, Education, Postsecondary Education, Soft Skills, Tools, Transition, Youth Leadership | Comments Off

Bouncing Back: “Fall”ing Into Workforce Development Again

September goes by in such a rush. Summer is over and everything begins again: school, conferences, and fall program activities. Maybe that is why September is Workforce Development Month; it feels like we are all going “back to work.” As September began, I must admit, I was feeling a little tired and sad—not ready to let the summer laze go and certainly not excited to jump back in to the whirl of workforce development yet again.

But then I watched my foster child, who has been through too much already for such a young person, march bravely off to the first day of kindergarten. I heard the plenary speaker at the Nevada Transition Conference talk about growing up with a learning disability and ADHD as the child of two parents with mental health needs. I listened to the youth panel at the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) Youth Symposium share their educational, workplace, and personal successes in spite of homelessness, court-involvement, and teen pregnancy.

Slowly, a theme emerged: resilience and renewal! If these youth can keep coming back, tough day after tough day, work week after work week, school year after school year, how can we, the youth service professionals, teachers, transition specialists, parents, family members, and other caring adults, do any less? As my foster child said to me recently, “You always come back – I like that about you.”

The Nevada Transition Conference plenary speaker, Christian Moore, shared a story about his friend’s parent, who found him out in the streets late at night, fed him many meals, and made sure he got to school each day. Similarly, the youth panel talked about teachers who stayed late to show them the same math problem one more time, program staff who really listened to them, and family members who always encouraged them. When asked what advice they had for the youth service professionals in the room, a youth on the panel replied, “Don’t give up on us. You never know how much influence you have – just one thing you say or one thing you do can change a kid’s life.”

That response struck a chord with me and brought the whole month together. We youth service professionals can often feel so frustrated and exhausted that we just want to give up. How many times can we talk about continuing education, interviews, resumes, career exploration, soft skills, and work-based learning before it feels like a continuous sound loop in our heads? We start to wonder if anyone is listening – our colleagues, families, youth? But then it happens: you bump into a youth from your old college prep class who is now attending community college, you hear from the youth with a learning disability you tutored who has now graduated from a four-year university, a parent from your career-focused mentoring program says they can envision their child having a job someday, or your foster child says, “I love you.” You realize that you are making a difference and you can go on. Just like all the youth who come through your home, office, classroom, or program, you have that resilience and you can feel that renewal. Every day is a new day and every interaction is another chance for another change. How can we give up when they never do?

Resilience comes from past successes and future ones that are developing right now. It comes from having the real strategies and resources for youth in the foster care system, youth in the juvenile justice system, youth with learning disabilities, and youth with mental health needs. The resilience comes from having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work with all youth and connect them to opportunities for that same success. That resilience comes from taking these resources and skills to make an intentional and individualized plan for youth that connects them to their developmental and career goals. Finally, that resilience comes from the understanding that the one resource you share, the one encouraging thing you say, or the extra few minutes you take could be just enough for someone to change their life!

Related Resources:

By Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

Posted in Communicating with Youth, Professional Development, Tools | Comments Off