Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Happy Holidays to you all! We hope that you are staying warm and enjoying this joyous time of year! We love this time of year at KYEA. The Christmas decorations go up in our office, we adopt an individual for the holiday, bring in yummy treats, and we are able to look back and be thankful for all of the wonderful things that happened in the last year.
This month, our newsletter is focused on the holidays and the new year! We couldn't pick just one specific topic to focus on, so, below, you will read about a youth who is sharing her talents this season, tips for things to do inside where it's cozy, suggestions for shopping on a budget, and more. We have also included a few things to get you pumped for a new year!
Our programs are going strong! The last few months have been focused on wrapping up our first Faces of Change program. Congrats to the four awesome graduates who made it through this program and will now go on to be amazing leaders! We are also recruiting for three programs: EMS in Wamego, KSYLF, and our next round of Faces. So, read below for details and spread the word!
We hope you enjoy our December newsletter. As always, thank you ALL for your support in this last year! Enjoy your holiday, and we look forward to seeing you in 2017!
- Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator
Through Julia's Eyes
by Julia Connellis, Executive Director
"I Can. I Will!"
It is amazing to me how, for each season of the year, our personalities shift. The most notable times that this happens are the summer and winter season. The summer time tends to ignite a free spirit mentality, fun activities are planned, and there are family reunions and vacations. Winter brings a joyful spirit, generosity, eating great holiday dinners with your family, and staying warm and cozy with the ones you love. Does anyone see a similarity here?
This is the time of year that many conversations revolve around the topic of family. When we are growing up, we are taught that a family is a mom, dad and children. As we get older, we realize that, sometimes, family consist of 2 mom's, 2 dads, 1 parent or maybe no children at all. As an adult, the light bulb goes on in our head that family has nothing to do with who is living in your household or who your parents are, but those you choose to love and to call family! Just like each person is different, each family is made up differently.
While this time of year is joyous for some and can be depressing for others, just remember that it only takes one other person to make a family that you call your own. I guarantee that you have at least one person that cares and truly loves you. So, if you feel alone this holiday season, think of that one person who has been a great support to you. Having trouble thinking of someone? Then begin thinking about who YOU can support and show friendship to so that you can build your "family." And, if you STILL have trouble figuring out your family structure, no worries... KYEA appreciates, supports and loves you as part of our family!
Sending loving warm fuzzies your way!
KYEA to Host Employment Workshop in Wamego
How can I be successful in a job?
Can I work as a youth with a disability?
Join us for a day full of learning and fun as we answer these questions and give you the tools to be successful in employment!
Saturday, February 4
10:00 am - 4:30 pm
We are joining forces with Three Rivers, Inc. to bring you this fun, informative workshop!
Three Rivers, Inc. in Wamego
Do you need to know how to find and keep a job? Spend a day with us learning all about employment in an interactive group setting. Hear from speakers, participate in group discussions, meet other youth with disabilities, enjoy hands on activities, food, prizes, and more! This workshop is open to youth with disabilities, ages 15-25, who live in Wamego or surrounding areas.
Register by JANUARY 20!
Get your chocolate... and support Kansas youth with disabilities!
Do you like chocolate? Do you like to support worthy organizations in the community? Then we've got a deal for you! KYEA is currently selling World's Finest Chocolate candy bars for only $1.00 each as a fundraiser for our organization. You can buy as many bars as you like, and there are lots of flavor options, including: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, almond, caramel, and crisp. You could even purchase the candy bars as Christmas gifts! 50% of the proceeds from this fundraiser goes directly to KYEA to help us fulfill our mission and successfully serve youth with disabilities in our state.
If you would like to purchase some candy bars, contact KYEA at 785-215-6655 or stop by our office in Topeka at 517 SW 37th St., Suite B.
KYEA Top 10 Moments of 2016!
You know you were waiting for it... our annual Top 10 KYEA moments of the year! KYEA staff are always excited to think back on the last year and pick out the best moments. Maybe you were even a part of them! Check out those moments that stand out to us in 2016...
1. Adopting our Therapeutic Manager, my daughter and office entertainer, Madonna Connellis! She has brought much joy and continuous laughter to our office!
2. Attending Disability Mentoring Day in Great Bend- this was fun to present at with Julia and then get to have dinner with an alumni.
3. All three of our Empower Me! Series workshops- it has been really awesome to get out to different communities across the state and meet the youth there!
4. Having the very first class of Faces of Change graduate from the program in November. This program has been a long time coming. Thanks to KDHE and KRS for supporting us every step of the way!
5. Soul Train dance at the KSYLF dance this summer- so funny and memorable!
6. Employment First Conference- not only was this a great, helpful conference, but all of our staff got to attend. It was a great bonding experience for our team.
7. Having my mom coordinate another successful Treats and Treasures Garage Sale for us.
8. Decorating pumpkins for Halloween staffing.
9. The months of October/November- a whirlwind of non-stop traveling and presenting at events! It was busy, but we all had a ton of fun.
10. Finally getting Roger to dance with me at the KSYLF dance! Well, I should say, forcing him to dance with me. (Julia)
Getting involved this holiday season...
Do you have a passion for something? Well, our featured youth, this month, sure does! And she is using her passion for acting to bring people joy this holiday season. Read about how Erica gets involved in her local theater for a yearly holiday performance...
by Dallas Hathaway, Faces of Change Alumni
With the holiday season upon us, it is important reflect on the things we care about most in our lives. Erica Peterson, who is an alumni of the Empower Me Challenge at KYEA, is currently doing just that.
For the past 21 years, Erica has participated in a variety of ballet and dance performances around the community. One of her favorite plays to act in is Topeka's version of The Nutcracker.
"I really like doing The Nutcracker," Peterson said. "It is a great tradition."
As I was talking with Erica, she described how difficult it was to learn and remember each step during the performance. Erica also mentioned how she enjoys playing the female party guest. She explained how there is a lot of acting and dancing while playing the character.
In her spare time, Erica enjoys shopping and doing various things to help her friends. Additionally, Erica spends her time volunteering at a local school where she helps a friend who is a science teacher.
Now that Erica has been performing in The Nutcracker for several years, she has had time to perfect her skills in front of a live audience.
"It is important to make sure you have good facial expressions and that you smile while you're on stage," Erica said.
In the future, Erica will be participating in a performance for Easter, and she will also be a part of a recital in the spring. Erica said that if anyone would like to learn more about ballet and dance, there are local ballet studios in the area which people can contact for more information.
I had a wonderful time talking with Erica about her performance in The Nutcracker, as well as her involvement in the community. She is truly passionate and dedicated to her life on the stage.
Interesting Apps to Check Out!
Have some free time on your hands? December is usually a time where students get a winter break. You might be looking for ways to fill your time. Or, a snow day might be around the corner. To the right, we gave a list of fun things to do indoors. One other idea is to use your technology and have some fun or be productive. There are so many apps out there and more are being created each day. Some apps can be helpful when it comes to our disabilities and other apps are just plain fun for everyone! Check out some cool apps that we discovered:
Have you ever had a dream to be in a band? Well, this app can bring your dream to life! It provides users the opportunity to play all kinds of instruments right on your iPhone or iPad. From pianos to drums to violins, even record your voice... it's all here!
Connects people with visual disabilities who need assistance with sighted volunteers who want to help via a direct video connection. Need help checking the expiration date on a milk carton or making your way around new surroundings? Try out Be My Eyes!
Have something to say? Mixlr is a simple way to broadcast, share and listen to live audio. Create your own podcast, live audio, or explore audio from others across the country.
An app that helps to translate the speech of someone with a speech disability. Talkitt recognizes each user's vocal patterns and then "speaks" their words in an understandable way.
Want to make your photos more exciting? Over allows you to add typography, icons, and designs to your photos. Check out all of the cool stuff that you can do!
Your ultimate how-to guide. Discover new recipes, DIY projects, fashion ideas, make-up tricks, tech tips and lifehacks. You can even create and share your own guides.
Question of the Month
What is the best thing that happened to you, or that you experienced, in 2016?
Passing the written driving test.
- Meg Sitz, KSYLF Alumna '15
I've gotten even closer to a lot of my friends lately!
- Kelsey Johnson, KSYLF Alumna '14
Becoming an activist and fighting for marginalized people!
- Christian Roberson, KSYLF Alumni '08
Finding out that I'm going to be an aunt for the first time.
- Katie Horrell, KSYLF Alumna '12
My whole family took a trip together to Florida. We were very fortunate to spend that one on one time together for a week. Break from reality is what we needed. Family is truly what's important and sometimes we forget with our busy lives. Always tell your loved ones you love them because you never know when it's your last time to tell them.
- Danielle Willcott, KSYLF Alumna '07
I was on a service mission for the church I am in and got to meet someone who was also on a service mission and with the same disability as me too.
- Allison Wilkes, ICON Alumna
The biggest thing was there were 4 weddings I attended. Got to celebrate four of my friends who are to spend their lives with the o
nes they love!!
- Kyle Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11
News and Events
Opportunities in Kansas
- Do you know an adult woman or a young lady who is wheelchair mobile and has a voice that they need to share?
Ms. Wheelchair Kansas
is currently searching for women of achievement to serve as contestants in the 2017 event. They are also searching for
Little Miss Wheelchair Kansas
contestants. Little Miss recognizes young spirited girls, ages 5-12, who are wheelchair mobile. Both chosen titleholders have the unique opportunity to empower and educate people in our state. Applications for both programs are due by January 7, 2017. For full details, visit the
- Do you have an interest in helping fight the influence of tobacco in our society? The
Resist Youth Council
is currently seeking new members throughout the state. Resist is a youth-led, statewide movement created to fight against big tobacco's influence on Kansas' youth. Council members plan, implement and participate in statewide events, activities, and marketing strategies for Resist. Members get to meet new friends, travel, build their resume, attain leadership skills, hold advocacy events, fight Big Tobacco and have a blast while doing it. Interested? Apply soon! Applications are due by December 21.
JOB OPENING: Communications and Development Director at NAMI
This person will work to develop and maintain strategic partnerships that advance the NAMI mission and help to increase advocacy in the mental health community. They are looking for someone with fund development experience and good communication and marketing skills. Interested persons can email
- The Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) of the Council for Exceptional Children is currently seeking applications for graduate students conducting research related to the career development and transition for students with disabilities. All graduate students
conducting research related to transition
are encouraged to apply. Grants are available for up to $1000 and can be used to support thesis, pre-dissertation, or dissertation research related activities. For more information or to submit a proposal, contact Dr. Allison Lombardi at
or (860) 486-2213.
- The Kansas School for the Deaf wants to hear from
parents of youth who are deaf or hard of hearing
. They are doing a Needs Assessment Survey in order to improve their services. They would like feedback on what it takes to successfully raise and educate children who are deaf/hard of hearing. The deadline for the survey is December 20.
View the survey
- The KS School for the Deaf is also hosting an information series for parents of youth who are deaf/hard of hearing. On February 16, their workshop will focus on
Partnering with Your School
. This event will be in Salina.
View the flyer
- Are you a parent of a youth with a special healthcare need or disability? If you would like more information about coordinating healthcare for your child, then you might want to attend
KDHE's Care Coordination Training
. This training will cover topics like resources, insurance, medical homes, transition, etc. It will be held on January 28 in Overland Park.
Opportunities on a National Level
If you have an interest in advocacy and would like to talk with other youth across the nation about this topic, then APRIL wants you! The Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living is now hosting
Youth Advocacy Committee calls
. This is a great chance to have your voice heard and become more engaged on a local and national level. The purpose of this committee is learn about the issues effecting the disability community and how we can learn to speak up and make effective change. For more information, contact Sierra Royster at
Do you have an interest in international development or foreign affairs careers? The
Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program
will bring a group of talented U.S. citizen graduate students, recent graduates, and rising college juniors and seniors with disabilities from across the U.S. to Washington, DC, for nine weeks. Participants go through a one week training course and then work with a major international development agency for eight weeks to learn more about foreign aid and development.
Check out this unique opportunity for students with visual disabilities to travel- the
2017 "Leading the Way" program
! A group of 22 young adults will be selected to receive scholarships for a once-in-a-lifetime leadership adventure: Grand Canyon Sound Academy. Over the course of 12 days, students will journey into the heart of the Grand Canyon, learning and participating in various environments and honing their leadership strengths. The final application deadline is January 13.
- Apple has announced a
new accessibility website
geared towards those with various disabilities. The site is focused on showing all the various accessibility features available to both iOS and Mac users. Users can click on the available Apple products and see what accessibility features are built into each product.
- The US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is gathering
feedback from voters with disabilities
about their experience on Election Day (or earlier if you participated in early voting). Sharing your experience will help the EAC determine what went well with accessibility during the election and identify areas for continued improvement to ensure that all people with disabilities are able to vote privately and independently.
Sharing all things new in our KYEA world...
KSYLF Extends Deadline for Delegate Applications
It's that time again! KYEA is currently searching for potential youth leaders to attend our 17th Annual Kansas Youth Leadership Forum (KSYLF), and we have extended the application deadline to February 3, 2017. Are you a youth with a disability who has an interest in leadership, who wants to become a better advocate, or who would like to meet other youth leaders with disabilities? Then consider applying to the KSYLF! The 2017 KSYLF will be held July 10-15 at Washburn University in Topeka.
All students who are interested in attending the KSYLF must meet the following criteria:
- reside in Kansas
- have a disability as defined with the Americans With Disabilities Act
- be in the 11th or 12th grade, or in an 18-21 transition program, as of December 31, 2016
- have demonstrated leadership potential in school and the community
Interested students must fill out an application that will be reviewed through a competitive selection process. The application deadline had been extended and is now February 3, 2017.
Print a KSYLF application
View our poster
Seeking Participants for 2017 Faces of Change Class
Now that the Faces of Change team of 2016 has graduated, we are looking for the next team of young adult leaders who want to make a change in their community and world! Faces of Change is taking applications for our 2017 class.
Faces of Change is a leadership program offered by KYEA, designed for young adults between the ages of 17 and 25 years old. Faces is an advanced leadership training and focuses on community change and commitment to others.
The goal of Faces is to prepare you to make a difference in your community by using your leadership skills to make it better! This program is geared to assist you in learning about motivating others, various communication styles, working as a team, using mentors for guidance in leadership and creating a community change project. You will make new connections with peers and with innovative speakers who are leaders from across Kansas.
Faces meets one weekend per month for seven months in Topeka. There are fun and challenging group activities and after hours opportunities to socialize. Oh yeah, did we mention it is free?! Worried about transportation or accommodations? No problem, we got it covered!! Have we piqued your interest yet?
If you are interested in applying, visit our website at the link below or email us at email@example.com. There is a process for applying and being accepted, but don't get nervous about that... just get your application and get started. Applications are due no later than February 14, 2017.
Print a Faces application
Our therapeutic manager speaks out on family...
As Julia stated above, family is important. Our very own Madonna agrees with her and shares her holiday wish for all of you!
It seems like it is getting harder and harder for me to get out of bed in the morning! When I go to my bathroom (outside), it is soooo cold! I don't even take the time to talk to my neighbor dogs anymore when I am out there. When I come back into the dog house (home), I get so excited to be warm and cuddle with mom. Sometimes, at night, I hear my friends outside barking (talking) and I wonder if their family will ever let them back in their doghouse. No one should be out in the cold and alone during this time of year.
I am so lucky to have a great family at the doghouse and at work. I wish I could give all my people (family) treats for Christmas, but, since mom won't let me have her wallet, I will just have to lick everyone's face to show them I wuf them. My holiday advice to you is to find your people to cuddle with and lick their face so they know you wuf them!
Have a wagulous holiday!
Shopping On a Budget
Ways to make purchasing gifts enjoyable and cheap!
by Dezarae Marcotte, ICON Alumna
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It's magical, cozy, and filled with cheer. Shopping for loved ones can put a damper on your cheer, though, if you are on a budget; but it doesn't have to! Shopping can be enjoyable and cheap. Here's a few ideas to think about...
- Doing a Secret Santa gift exchange is something my family does now that my siblings and I are older. By doing this, it takes the pressure off of my parents and it saves them money. Usually, with Secret Santa, you choose a limit of like $10-$20 so that everyone's gifts are of the same price value. With this idea, you are only responsible for one other person (if you all choose to do just one person), and you get a gift in return as well.
- Another idea is DIY (Do It Yourself). Make your own gifts with supplies from your local Dollar Store. Choosing to do DIY, you can personalize your gift. Scrapbooks, candles, and art are just to name a few.
- Clearance is your best friend on a budget! Every store has this section. Go there and be free!
- Around the holidays, most stores offer this option. Utilize this. Make payments toward those items that are special and worth the extra bucks.
Hopefully these ideas take some weight off of your shoulders when it comes to shopping on a budget. Giving is half the fun of the holiday cheer, and it shouldn't be a burden. Good luck and Happy Holidays!
It's Winter Time!
Suggestions for making the most of your time indoors
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant
With the promise of a "polar blast" where temperatures may fall to negative 6 degrees this weekend and more cold days to come, here's a list of fun, practical, and relaxing indoor activities for you to consider:
Pajama Day - Take a shower and put on some clean PJ's. Collect your favorite reading materials (magazines, e-books, etc.), blankets, pillows, snacks, and catch-up on your reading!
- Bake cookies, make a superb breakfast, a gourmet dinner, or some warm comforting soup. My childhood favorite is "kitchen sink" cookies where my Mother used what she had from the fridge and dry ingredients from the pantry. Yum!
Movie Day - Watch all of those movies you received as gifts, but haven't had the time to watch. Or, select a few from your personal library, Hulu, or NetFlix. Don't forget the popcorn!
- Deep condition your hair, exfoliate, take a scented bath, intensely moisturize your feet, lips, and hands, paint your nails, and, when you're done, top it all off with your favorite perfume or cologne. Gents - trim your beard, mustache, groom your nails, and give yourself a facial with a hot steamy towel, followed by applying mashed avocado (don't fret... it is a moisturizer) to your face for ten minutes.
Get smarter - The Internet can be a friend to your brain! Take a tutorial on Pinterest, a free beginner's language class, a DIY (do it yourself) tutorial, or do a free search on your family tree. KYEA staff suggest checking Pinterest.com, websites for creating photo collages and videos, the Kansas Leadership Center website, and Amazon.com for accessible window shopping.
Plan your next vacation or staycation
- Research where you want to go, the estimated costs (include travel costs, meals, lodging, tax, etc), the time you'll need off from work or school, and create a goal. I have set a goal to save for an East Coast cruise for myself and a friend.
7. Set new goals/review old goals - Like Dr. Phil says "Fail to plan, plan to fail." With a cup of hot chocolate, sit down and write an honest list of where you are feeling challenged, stuck, or frustrated in your personal and professional life. Now create some SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound), and work consistently towards meeting them!
Get Pumped for a New Year!
Do you need a little something to motivate you? Sometimes we forget how capable we really are. Even though you may have a disability, there are so many things that you CAN do! This video is a perfect example. Watch it and go into a new year knowing that anything is possible!
New Year Brings a Blank Canvas
Head into a new year with a few personal reminders
by Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator
Life is a blank canvas. I often tell the youth during my presentations this simple sentence. And it is a sentence that I truly believe in. So, I'm sharing it with you now. I think that the idea of a blank canvas is especially fitting as we look towards a new year that is right around the corner. Can you believe that it is almost 2017?! In a few weeks, we will all be attending parties, pigging out up until midnight, watching the ball drop on tv, and shouting "Happy New Year!" to our friends and family. A new year is upon us, and, I don't know about you, but I tend to get a joyous, excited feeling on New Year's Eve when it is about to turn into a new year. Not only do I have visions of filling up my blank canvas, but I see a new year as a time to be sentimental and look back on the last year, as well as have a fresh start on a new year.
As we go into 2017, there are a few things that I want to remind myself and that might help you as well. Check it out:
Life is short; make the most of it!
Life really is short. Did you think that Christmas and New Year's would be here this soon? Each year seems to fly by, so what are you doing to make the most of each day? Are you enjoying life? Are you happy? Are you growing and becoming who you want to be? I understand comfort zones... trust me, I struggle with stepping out of mine. But I also know that I want to fully experience life. Each day is a new opportunity to do that.
Resolutions should be year round and really are achievable!
Resolutions are really just goals disguised and given a fancy name. While I like the idea of resolutions, I think, sometimes, when we give it that name, our goals suddenly become less important because we know that we never follow through on resolutions. So, let's call them goals and go for them! Goals are always achievable if you have determination, support, and the right resources. Does that mean they are easy? Heck no! Most goals are hard, or at least take some effort, but it is so worth it when you fulfill them. So, call them resolutions. Call them goals. No matter what you call them, just make them happen.
There is A LOT to be thankful for!
What are you thankful for? You might have answered a new present you got for Christmas or your car or even your job. These are definite things to be thankful for, but don't forget to list the simple things: a roof over your head, family, friends, good health, food, or even just freedom. We often take things for granted... I am completely guilty of this. I also know that life is not always easy. But, I'm guessing that there is at least one thing each day that we can be thankful for. I want to count my millions of blessings each day in this new year!
Highlighting centers for independent living throughout the state
Three Rivers, Inc., Wamego
Our very own Johnna Godinez gives the scoop on what makes Three Rivers unique and youth friendly!
Did you know that Three Rivers has been incorporated as a Center for Independent Living (CIL) for 30 years? Wow, all those years of providing independent living education and training, advocacy, peer support, and information in Central Northeast Kansas! Located in Wamego, Three Rivers employs ten full-time and four half-time staff. This CIL serves Clay, Geary, Marshall, Nemaha, Pottawatomie, Riley, Wabaunsee, and Washington counties, as well as the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. They have offices in Wamego, Clay Center, and on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation.
What's different about Three Rivers? Recently, a new group - the Youth Advisory Council- for youth ages 18-26, began meeting. After creating a mission statement, they have been discussing environmental barriers that need to be changed around Wamego. Just FYI, Three Rivers is collaborating with Kansas Works and boldly declared 2016 as the "Year of Work." Three Rivers has been promoting the Work Ready certification across their service provision area. Students from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, who are juniors in high school, have taken this test, received their certificates, and are now prepared for college or employment after graduation. More work will be done in 2017 to further the taking of free and accessible Kansas Work Ready testing.
What's up next for Three Rivers? Glad you asked! KYEA is partnering with them and will be hosting an Empower Me! Series "Now Hiring!" workshop in Wamego at the Three Rivers office (504 Miller Dr.) on Saturday, February 4, 2017. Learn all about this workshop above!
For more information, contact Three Rivers at (785) 456-9915, speak with the receptionist, and you'll be connected with a staff member. Also, check out their website at
Check Us Out on Facebook!
Keep up to date on the latest KYEA happenings, help us connect with you, and meet other youth with disabilities around the state!
Be on the lookout for our next issue coming in February!
Thanks for reading our newsletter this month! Learn more about KYEA, and consider donating, by going to our website at
Let us know what you think about our newsletter! If there is anything that we can do to make our newsletter more accessible or more interesting to you, please call us at 785-215-6655 so we can make the change for next time.
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy