Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
It's February, and you know what that means... it is the month of love! Valentine's Day is tomorrow. Honestly, at first, we were not going to pick this totally predictable theme because we have had newsletter topics focused on this in the past. But, then we realized that this is an important topic every year. Love, dating, relationships, flirting, friendships, attraction... these are all topics that most young people are thinking about! And they're all in this newsletter!
As you read on, you will learn from couples who have "been there and done that;" you will get ideas for how to meet new people; you will glimpse the impact of disability on relationships; you will learn that not everyone wants to be in a relationship; and yes, you might even learn how to flirt. But, there is more to this newsletter than just love topics. Check out exciting updates about our programs, as well as our new newsletter feature- Advocacy Corner! Also read about a local youth's experience at the recent Women's March. There is plenty going on in our state and nation... read about all of it below.
No matter what your feelings are about love and relationships, we hope you feel our love and gratitude this month! We are so thankful for all of our supporters. Enjoy this issue, and we'll see you in a few months!
- Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator
Through Julia's Eyes
by Julia Connellis, Executive Director
"I Can. I Will!"
Since my divorce, there is not a day that goes by in which I do not worry about being alone for the rest of my life. Many have said to me, "Julia, you will never be alone. You have your friends and family." While this is true, the loneliness that I am speaking of is being without a romantic partner. Can anyone out there relate? Sometimes I let the negative voice in my head get to me. "Les," short for "less than," tells me that no one will love me because I have too many disabilities. Les says I am fat. Les also tells me that I am not smart enough. It is so easy, sometimes, to allow Les to get me down. Have I bummed you out yet? Never fear!
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I always have Hope. Hope is the positive voice in my head that I wish everyone would have. To have hope is to have positive wishes and expectations. While it can be difficult to expect to have another partner in my life or to expect to date again, I have no problem wishing for it. My wish is that one day (hopefully soon!) someone will value my disabilities and any struggles that I have. This person will completely adore and respect me. This is just the start of my wish list, and I have hope that some or all of my wishes will come true. My challenge for you is to start your own wish list. It could be a wish list for love, career, friendship, or whatever in life you hope and dream about! Make many wishes, own your wishes, and have hope they will come true! If you would like to share your wish list with me, send your wish list to email@example.com. I promise to wish along with you!
KYEA Promotes Employment Through Empower Me Workshops
Collaboration with Pre-ETS continues in Garden City and Topeka
KYEA has been spreading a message of "you can and should be employed!" while traveling to different areas conducting Empower Me! workshops with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). This collaboration has proven to be very successful and fun at the same time! During these day-long workshops, youth attendees learn all about how to successfully get and keep a job. They learn about employment in an interactive environment, while also getting to know KYEA and Pre-ETS staff.
KYEA is tasked with holding 10 Empower Me! workshops in this next year, and our journey has just begun! Our most recent two stops have taken us to the far end of the state and to our own backyard!
Stop #2... Garden City! Whew, what a drive it was, but what an awesome group that we met in the western part of the state. This workshop was attended by 25 youth, all from Garden City.
Youth participants, KYEA staff, and Pre-ETS staff gather for a group photo during the Empower Me workshop in Garden City.
Stop #3... Topeka!
While we didn't have to travel very far for this one, it was no less fun and energizing! Twenty-two youth participants kept us on our toes throughout the whole day. For this workshop, youth came from Topeka, St. Mary's, Rossville, and a few other surrounding towns.
Participants at the Topeka Empower Me workshop take a group photo with KYEA and Pre-ETS staff at the end of the day.
We want to thank the fantastic Pre-ETS staff across the state for being so enthusiastic and for helping us to make these workshops so successful! We have many more to go as these workshops will continue to take us to different areas across the state. Stay tuned to find out what's up next for this exciting program!
We are also currently hiring for a new staff member to coordinate these Empower Me workshops. Our Employment Specialist position is still available. Check it out!
View the job description
Nickole and Kami Donohue, Wichita
Marriage is all about love, and it is evident that Nickole and Kami Donohue have plenty of this! While they have pushed through some challenges to be where they are at today, this has only made their relationship stronger. Read on to hear their story, gain from their lessons learned, and view their take on being a couple where both people have disabilities...
Where do you guys live?
BOTH: We live at the Timbers in Wichita, KS
How and when did you both first meet?
BOTH: We met playing Boccia in the summer of 2014.
What did you like about the other person? What attracted you to them?
NICKOLE: Kami's sense of humor and her ability to make me laugh are what first attracted me to her, but as time went on, I realized that the thing I loved most about her is that she makes me want to be a better person than I am. I know it sounds totally cliche, but it's true.
KAMI: I'm probably going to sound like everyone else when I say that the first thing that attracted me to my wife is that I thought (and still do) that she was beautiful. It wasn't until I got know her that I realized that her beauty isn't just skin deep. She's a truly beautiful person and wants to help people in any way she can.
When did you get married?
BOTH: We got married in June 2016.
What do you like best about being married?
KAMI: Truly, I like the commitment and knowing I have someone to go through life with.
NICKOLE: The best part of marriage for me is being able to wake up next to my best friend every day.
What do you like the least about being married?
NICKOLE: I hate getting on each other's nerves.
KAMI: I don't like that my actions no longer only affect me, like, if I mess up, my wife, our daughter, and myself pay the consequences.
You both have disabilities. What are your disabilities?
BOTH: We both have Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy to varying degrees.
How does having disabilities affect your marriage?
BOTH: We both agree our disabilities don't really affect our marriage too much. It gets frustrating when one of us can't help the other with something sometimes, but, at end of the day, we do the best we can for each other, and really, that's all you can ask for out of any marriage.
FLIRTING... Is it a mystery to you?
Ugh, flirting, really? We know that's probably what you are saying, but it really can be fun! Flirting is almost a must at some point before dating someone. It can oftentimes be confusing though. The article below breaks down flirting in a few simple tips. Whether you are a flirting expert or have no idea where to start, this article is sure to point you in the right direction...
"Flirting tips: Learning the art of charm"
written by Charlotte Bridge, Elite Singles
Flirting is the art of playfully showing someone that you're romantically interested in them. It is a delicate art form and mastering it involves indicating your desire while maintaining an air of mystery. Ultimately, flirting is a game and here's how to play.
Flirting Tips: The Basics
1. Offer an original compliment
Let's be honest - male, female, old, young - everyone loves a compliment.
2. Remember details
Being engaging and interested in what your date has to say is a key part of flirting.
3. Make them laugh
Obviously it's not easy to be hilarious all the time but if you're laughing together, it's usually a pretty solid sign of flirting.
4. Body language - Instigate gentle contact
Body language is undeniably a huge part of flirting but there's a very fine line between being uncomfortably physically forward and being flirty. When you do initiate contact, keep it short.
5. Smile and look happy
This may sound odd but people who are constantly smiling and looking genuinely at ease in their surroundings, radiate attractiveness.
6. Lean in to your date
Again body language is significant when it comes to flirting and the simple gesture of leaning in towards your date across the table signifies your interest in them.
Or... check out these other articles on flirting and getting a date!
*Even though it says "guys," these are helpful tips for everyone.
*Kind of a weird title, but it really does have good advice, we promise!
And if that wasn't enough... Check out this video!
There are some basics to flirting. Sometimes it helps to watch other people doing it. While this video says that it is directed towards people with autism, it really makes flirting pretty clear for anyone!
NOTE: We realize that eye contact is not possible for everyone. If you are unable to make eye contact, then at least look in the person's direction and then move on to the other steps.
(click on the video to watch)
Supporting Equality for All!
Lawrence youth shares his take on the recent Women's March
You might have heard of the recent Women's Marches that were held in different cities across the state. Whether you support the marches or not, one thing is for sure... these events were a definite display of advocacy. Below, Gabe Mullen shares his experience as a young adult male attending the Lawrence march...
by Gabe Mullen, KSYLF Alumni 2016
As someone who values equal rights for all people, when I heard there would be a women's march in Lawrence this year, I couldn't resist being a part of it.
I arrived at South Park 20 minutes early; at that time, it was already crowded. By the end of the march, some estimated that one to three thousand people had attended. Signs were abundant; some donned witty, partisan one-liners, and others simply voiced general frustration over the state of women's rights. I crafted a sign reading "Men of Quality Support Equality," a statement that perfectly summed up why I was there.
While I haven't experienced the issues of inequality that many women face, I've heard stories from survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and some others of blatant sexism, many of them from key female role models in my life. Their experiences matter to me, and though, as a man, I may have been outnumbered, as a feminist, I felt perfectly comfortable.
As a young person, however, I felt somewhat alone. Though many other millennials were at the march, we were outnumbered by older women and men, from generations far more politically active than ours. Nonetheless, I was proud of myself and all the other millennials who valued it as much as I did.
All told, the march was peaceful, yet powerful. It proved that people are willing to passionately protest for their rights and the rights of others, in the knowledge that we are all equal as human beings.
A new feature where you can speak up and speak out!
Check out our new space in the newsletter where people with disabilities can share what needs to be changed in our communities. This month's topic: picture descriptions on social media!
by Julia Connellis, KYEA Executive Director
Since my complete blindness in 2010, the world looks a bit different to me now. While memories keep my mind alive with pictures, there are simply just some things I will never get the chance to see with sight. For example, I do not know what a sloth looks like. I have no idea what a drone looks like, and, frankly, I do not understand them. Did you know that there is a color called Awesome?? What the heck does that look like?? You see, my life now depends on other people describing what things look like to me, which is completely okay with me... until people forget to describe things.
Within the past couple of years, I have decided to do a little advocacy on something that frankly makes me very angry. As a regular Facebook user for professional networking and personal socialization, it drives me to irritation when disability organizations do not provide descriptions with the pictures that they share! Here is the deal... as a person who works for a disability related organization, isn't it my responsibility to be accommodating to people with all disabilities as much as I can? My challenge to all of you who work for disability related organizations: STEP UP. We have a responsibility to our people to create equality. Let's create it one Facebook picture description at a time!
Save the Date!
The Employment First Conference dates have been set! This year's conference will be held on May 30 and 31. This conference focuses on encouraging and supporting employment for all people with disabilities.
Stay tuned for more information!
News and Events
Opportunities in Kansas
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Day at the Capitol
is right around the corner! This year's day will be held on March 6, 2018 (Tuesday) in the State Capitol 2nd floor Rotunda from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM. This is a great opportunity for those with hearing disabilities to talk with legislators, advocate for important issues, and network with others in the community.
Mental Heath Advocacy Day
is also right around the corner! If you want to speak out on mental health advocacy issues, then attend this event on March 13 in the State Capitol. The day will be filled with legislative visits, exhibits, and a rally.
- Are you in the southeast Kansas area and want to learn about community resources? Attend the upcoming
Young Adult Summit
! This summit will help you set goals and reach your dreams by connecting you with resources and information. The Summit is open to youth who are juniors or seniors in high school, or out of school youth who are 16-25 years old. It will be held on March 8 from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm at the Chanute Recreation Center.
Kansas School for the Deaf
is having a
Parent Information Series
event in Topeka on April 17. This is a good opportunity to learn more about the school. Contact
for more information.
Kansas System of Care Advisory Council
is seeking new members, especially youth! This Council discusses topics related to improving services and support for youth with behavioral mental health disabilities. They work to elevate the voice of youth and learn from families' experiences to recommend new practices within organizations in our state. To learn more about the Council or get involved, contact Janell Stang at
Opportunities on a National Level
APRIL's Youth Advocacy Committee is hosting a
Teleconference/Webinar training for youth and young adults to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
law and how people with disabilities are protected. They will be hosting a 7-session training that will be teaching the different areas of the law and how to understand it as it impacts part of a youth with disabilities life. All youth and young adults with and without disabilities are invited. The first session is on February 14, so register soon!
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is now accepting applications for the
2018 Autism Campus Inclusion (ACI) Summer Leadership Academy
. This Academy prepares students with autism to engage in disability advocacy at their colleges. It will be held in Washington, DC in June. Applications are due by February 25.
If you are a student who is deaf and wants to improve your skills with ASL, then this opportunity might be for you! The
High School ASL Immersion Camp
will be held in June at Gallaudet University in DC. This is an exciting camp where deaf and hard of hearing campers are ummersed in ASL. They learn from adults who are deaf. The camp is geared toward new signers who are at a beginning or intermediate level.
Are you a youth who has a visual disability and is interested in engineering? Then you might consider attending the
National Federation for the Blind's Engineering Quotient program
! This is a jam-packed week of fun and learning. Participants spend each day engaged in activities that strengthen their knowledge of engineering, as well as their problem-solving abilities. Participants also get to meet other visually impaired youth and explore the area. This program is being held in July in Baltimore. The deadline to apply is May 1.
- SCHOLARSHIP! Hamilton Relay College Scholarship
This scholarship supports high school students who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have difficulty speaking with a $500 college scholarship. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2018.
SCHOLARSHIP! Quell Foundation Scholarship
This scholarship is offered to students who have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide, to students diagnosed with mental health conditions, and students pursuing a degree in psychology, social work, or other fields of study related to mental health services. Applications are due by April 1, 2018.
- APRIL wants to help centers for independent living get youth more involved? Could your CIL use some help? Participate in
APRIL's Youth Talks
! These conference calls bring in youth expert mentors to present on topics that could assist your goals of starting a program or growing the existing youth involvement you may already have.
View the 2018 schedule
- Are you a wheelchair or scooter user who has something to say about traveling by airplane? A group of advocacy organizations are conducting a
survey about problems with air travel for passengers with disabilities
in order to set revised and updated standards for wheelchair handling, labeling, storage, airline and airline contractor training.
Fill out the survey
Highlighting centers for independent living throughout the state
Hello Dear Readers of the KYEA newsletter. For the last two years or so, the Community Power article has focused on highlighting the different Centers for Independent Living (CILs) in Kansas. We'll be transitioning this article to fully discuss each of the five core services that CILs provide for all individuals with disabilities: peer support, independent living training, advocacy, deinstitutionalization (including youth transition services), and information and referral.
The tradition of recruiting a youth-writer to write the article will continue. However, there will also be a new focus on providing information about events open to youth at CILs across Kansas. Our hope is to assist youth in becoming more active in their local CILs. See calendar below for exciting things happening at CILs across the state!
Our Community Power feature is changing it up a bit for the next few issues! Learn what comes next for this article.
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant
Want to get involved with your local CIL? Here are exciting upcoming opportunities:
Consumer Run Organization (CRO) has daily meetings with a variety of activities and themes.
February 14- Valentine's Day party (complete with making sugar scrubs, dressing up like a superhero, and bingo!)
For more info-
Independent Connection (Salina)
Self-advocacy/youth engagement classes (individual or small group).
For more info- Kmarco@indconnectinc.com
Foodie group and Great Outdoors group
For more info- Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org
Independence, Inc. (Lawrence)
February 26- Cooking Club celebrates Mardi Gras (4:30-6:30 PM)
February 27- Adaptive Use Musical Instrument recording session (Lawrence Public Library, 4:30 - 6:00 PM)
For reservations, leave voicemail for Ranita at (785) 841-0333 ext. 115.
Three Rivers, Inc. (Wamego)
Building new youth group called Youth Empowerment Society (Y.E.S.)... get involved!
For more info- Drew at (785) 234-9915, ext. 123
Topeka Independent Living Resource Center (Topeka)
Currently taking applications for the George Wolf Summer Internship for youth.
For more info- Kim at email@example.com
Independent Living Resource Center (Wichita)
Consumer groups (Check out www.ilrcks.org for more info)
LINK, Inc. (Hays)
Consumer group meets the first Tuesday every month, with a lunch that you can purchase!
For more info- www.linkinc.org
*To have your CIL's event dates listed in future issues, contact Johnna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading our newsletter this month! Learn more about KYEA 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
Donate to KYEA!
Do you believe in the KYEA mission of empowering and supporting youth with disabilities in our state? Consider making a donation! We appreciate any and all support to help us keep changing lives!
Sharing all things new in our KYEA world...
Volunteers Needed for 2018 KSYLF!
The 2018 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum is going to be here before we know it, and we need more volunteers! Do you like working with high school students with disabilities? Do you have the skills and passion to facilitate groups and motivate young adults with disabilities? Then we need you!
We seek committed, enthusiastic people who are willing to devote a week to this great program. Yes, we realize that a week is a big commitment, but you will not regret it, we promise! Just ask any of our past volunteers who have been changed by this program.
The 2018 KSYLF will be held on July 9-14, 2018 at Washburn University in Topeka. Volunteers can be KSYLF alumni, past volunteers, or anyone in our state who is over age 18. We are extending our volunteer application deadline to MARCH 2, 2018. Apply to serve as a volunteer today!
Learn more about KSYLF
Print a volunteer application
EMS "It's My Life" Workshop Scheduled
KYEA will be hosting an Empower Me! Series workshop with the Resource Center for Independent Living on April 14! The workshop will be held in Osage City and will be open to youth in Osage and surrounding cities. We will be hosting our "It's My Life" workshop, so the whole day will be focused on independent living. We are in the beginning stages of planning, so stay tuned to our website to get more information and sign up!
Our therapeutic manager talks love and crushes
So, our lovable Madonna could not resist sharing her own thoughts on love this month. While she loves ALL people, Madonna shares a little secret that she might just have a favorite out there!
I have been told by my mom (Julia) that February is the month of wuf (love)! This is a bit confusing to me because us doggies, and, I am sure kitties too, love every day. You see, besides my mom and the humans I work with, every human that walks through the door at KYEA, I show some love to no matter what. I enjoy running to greet visitors, jumping up and down to say hello, sitting on human's laps, and giving some kisses here and there. I am going to share a secret with you... I have a doggie crush on someone! Every morning, at the office, a human comes in and puts envelopes or boxes on the front counter. My mom calls him a mail carrier. I wuf him sooo much!! He sits down, wufs on me, barks (talks) to me, AND he gives me a doggie biscuit EVERYDAY! I prance around the office with the biscuit in my mouth and show everyone how much he wufs me, and then I bury my gift in a very secret place. Just barking (talking) about him makes my tail wag! So, a piece of doggie advice from me, show wuf to everyone you know, and you just might get some wuf back!
Have a wagulous (fabulous) day!
Is It Time to Mingle?
Unique ways to meet people for dating OR friendship
by Dezarae Marcotte, KYEA ICON Alumna and Volunteer
Meeting people can happen at any moment, wherever you go. If you're looking for a few different options, here's a short list to consider:
Online - There are many different options for meeting a person online. Social media, like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, can be an option, meeting people through mutual friends. Or, you can do a dating site like Plenty of Fish, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, and OKCupid. There are different kinds for different interests. It all just depends on what you're looking for. Those are a few popular ones that are also free. When it comes to online dating, do your research on which dating site fits you and sign up!
Speed Dating - If you're looking to meet someone in person and on the very same day, speed dating can be an option. Speed dating is usually found in bigger cities, so check out the nearest metropolitan area located near you.
Single's Mixer - This can be a fun outing with some friends. It's similar to speed dating, but you can have friends with you instead of a one-on-one dating session with a complete stranger.
Social Gatherings (parties, clubs, coffee shops) - If a loud and fast-paced environment is your thing, then check out a party, bar, or club. There is always somebody else in these places who is also looking to meet somebody. A coffee shop or a small bar and grill is an alternative with the same kind of opportunity.
Recreational Places (sports games, theatre, arts) - Imagine locking eyes with someone mid hot dog bite, while you're both cheering on your favorite basketball team... perfection.
Work/Volunteer/Internships - While I do not condone steering away from your tasks at work, it is a place to meet people. Do your job first, and once you clock out, go for it!
All in all, this list is to just get you started. Like I mentioned, you can meet someone, whether it be a friend or something more, anywhere you go. You have to be open and willing though. Go to these places eager, ready, and confident in yourself. Remember, you are not alone in the search of meeting new people, and you are worth meeting!
Another Take on Relationships
What if I'm not attracted to anyone?
If you do not feel attraction to anyone, male or female, it's okay! You are not weird or strange. You might possibly be asexual. Below, read Elizabeth's story as she explains being asexual and celebrating friendships...
by Elizabeth Boresow, Newsletter Contributor
I'm asexual. For me, asexual means I don't have any interest in sexual relationships or romance. I'm 28 years old, I've never dated, and I will probably never get married. I recognized, in middle school, that other people started to experience attraction, but it's just not something I experience. Since I'm not wired that way, my life is content without the pursuit of a significant other. What I really value in life is having good friendships. To me, friends and family are the people I do life with - from going out to eat to working on projects around the house, I consider myself lucky. I don't need one special life partner because I have an entire team of family and friends to share life with. To learn more about the different kinds of experiences asexual people have, check out AVEN: the Asexual Visibility & Education Network at www.asexuality.org.
Read more about Elizabeth's story by viewing page 70 in "Relationships and Sexuality: A Handbook For and By Autistic People."
Question of the Month
What is the most attractive quality in another person?
I look for someone I can click with. Someone who I can talk to easily, who makes me laugh, makes me think outside the box. Someone I can enjoy being around and makes me want to be a better person.
- Neva Camarena, KSYLF Alumna '03
The quality I find is that the right person has to be true and faithful to God. They have to be patient and wait for the right person that God gives them.
- Kyle Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11
Personality! Work Ethic! Future Goals!
- Danielle Willcott, KSYLF Alumna '07
I feel the most important quality is that his best friend is Jesus. Jesus needs to be in His heart. Where a man's treasure is where his heart is also.
- Kelly Abrahamian
I look for nobody because females have cooties! :)
- Clovis Reinsch, KSYLF Alumni '12
Been There and Done That!
Stories and advice from real life couples
So, you want to get the real low down on marriage, relationships, disability, compromise, attraction, etc? Then hear it from real life couples who are living it right now! Some of these couples are local and some are from other states, but they all have two things in common... love for their partner and lessons learned along the journey, with a little bit of disability mixed in! Check out their stories...
NOTE: A huge thank you to all of the awesome couples who took the time to share their story for this article!
How did you two meet?
We were introduced to each other by friends from college at the Pizza Inn where Dan and another friend were working. We later met at a party. Dan says he liked me because I was quiet. I liked him because he truly didn't care that I couldn't see very well.
What advice do you have for other couples- dating or married?
DAN: Just have fun. We are no different than any other couple.
CHRIS: It's important to acknowledge the disability but don't make it the center of your relationship. We both help each other at times; that's part of being a couple. Just enjoy being together!
Stephanie and Megan Potter
How did you two meet?
We actually met on the dating app, Tinder. We talked through text for a couple days and decided to meet at a coffee shop where we talked for hours until they closed.
How did you both know that this was the person for you?
STEPHANIE: I knew within a week that Megan was the person I was meant to be with. Our conversation just flowed and our aspirations for our careers and families aligned so well. I told her about my bipolar disorder on our third date. She didn't flinch at all and instead asked what she can do to support me. She now knows if something is a little off with me sometimes before I do. She makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me happier than I ever knew was possible. I always thought my disability was going to stop me from having the family I dreamed of. I'm now living that dream. I'm so glad I didn't give up on it.
MEGAN: We had the same goals in life, our strengths complemented each other's weaknesses, and we balanced each other out. She was mature in her mannerisms and career goals, and I was attracted to that as well. She felt right. She felt like she fit. She respected me, and I respected her. We had the same thoughts on how to make a relationship last. And my family adored her, which meant a lot to me.
Josie Badger and Mike Novitski
No longer two but one.
Love is a funny thing. There are always ups and downs in a relationship and you only find it when you aren't looking for it and my relationship with my husband, Mike, is no different. At the time that I met Mike was the Youth Development Director for the Parents. Education And Advocacy Leadership Center (PEAL Center) and I was charged with running Youth Development Institutes across the state for young adults with disabilities. This was the second Institute that I had ever run and things were not going smoothly. Binders had not been put together, there were not enough hotel rooms, and some individuals who attended never registered (including Mike). Mike had been brought to the conference, thinking that his mom was taking him out to dinner. Prior to the conference, he had never identified as a person with a disability and his mother knew that he would not have voluntarily attended this conference if he knew what it was about. Mike and his mother did not have any idea what they were getting into, and I'm not sure if his mother would have brought him if she knew that she would be introducing him to his future wife. On the last day of the Institute, Mike recognized that his invisible disability was not a mar on his identity and that he could embrace it as a part of who he is. For Mike, as it is for many of us, this was life altering and he fell in love with the disability community and empowerment. He became increasingly involved in youth development work and, after about a year of working together, he "proposed" to me with a ring pop at our statewide transition conference. We dated for seven years (I'm a slow mover) and got married on May 28, 2017.
How did you two meet?
We met our first year at college while we were both attending Johnson County Community College. We were enrolled in the same racquetball class. Both of us can be rather competitive and that drove us to challenge each other. Five years later, we married, and, this May, we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary.
What is the best and worst thing about being married?
We agree (I have been told) that the best part of being married is sharing. It also happens to be the worst part of being married. On the good side, it's great to have someone to share your time with. Whether traveling and seeing new things or just hanging out at home, you have someone to spend time with, share inside jokes, to help with chores the responsibilities of being an adult. The down-side is having to share your space and things. Shared responsibilities means you have someone else counting on you, so you can't always do things when you want to. If one of you is a procrastinator, you will need to learn to compromise.
Probably the most important part of being married is knowing that your partner is your best friend and the person you most like spending your time with. One of us having a disability doesn't make married life any more or less difficult. The challenges may be different, but the basic idea of understanding and compromise is the same.
Beth and Adam Burnett
How did you two meet?
We have known each other our entire lives since we grew up in the same small town. After college, we ran into each other at a local fair where I (Adam) told Beth about an open position we had at the Resource Center for Independent Living, Inc. (RCIL). She applied and accepted the job, and well, the rest is history!
How have your disabilities made your relationship interesting?
We have been married for 5 years. Our relationship is unique in that we can support each other despite our disabilities. As a quad and a wheelchair user, there are many places that are not easy for me to get to and lots of things that I cannot do for myself. For example, she wanted to walk on the beach along the ocean and she found a beach wheelchair for me to use to make that possible. Beth is able to assist me with overcoming many of those barriers. Likewise, Beth's disability affects her hearing and vision so I am able to hear and see things that she may not. When I recognize that she doesn't see an object or hear something, I would let her know so she is aware of her surroundings.
We must be quite a sight as she is pushing me up a ramp in the dark and I am giving her directions! It is a constant reminder to us both that communication is vital in any relationship.
Mallory Cyr and Owen Erquiaga
How did you two meet?
Mallory and Owen met in 2011 at the Youth Transition Jamboree in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time, Owen worked for Family Ties, the Family to Family Information Center that was putting on the annual event. Mallory was invited to be the keynote speaker! Since they were staying at the same hotel for the conference, Mallory invited Owen to join her and her mother for dinner (Ok, her mom made her call him...). It was St. Patrick's day, and Mallory and Owen got to know each other during a night of fun and karaoke. They both knew they had something unspoken, and special.
What advice do you have for youth with disabilities who are seeking relationships?
- Be willing to take a chance, and not limit yourself to who you think you like, or where you might meet people!
- Be open to meeting new people, and take opportunities that are presented to you for social activity.
- Don't play games, be honest about what you want and don't want.
- Don't be afraid to make the first move. Chances are, the other person is nervous too, and if you want to get to know someone, it has to start somewhere! (Mallory put her number in Owen's phone, and he chose to use it!)
- Make sure you are both on the same page with the relationship. Make it clear when you are "serious," and not seeing other people. Don't assume!
- RESPECT EACH OTHER!
- BE YOURSELF AND HAVE FUN!
- Don't settle. Everyone deserves to be with someone who treats them well and makes them feel like the best version of themselves.
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