KYEA: Educating, mentoring, and supporting youth with disabilities in KS
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #55
March 2021
Hello KYEA family! Hope you are having a good March! Things are in full force at KYEA, so we have lots to update you on... keep reading...

The focus of this month's issue, though, is on friendships! Friends are such an important part of life. They add something to our life experiences that no one else can provide. For some, friendships come naturally. For others, it's a struggle to find and keep friends. No matter which side you fall on, this issue aims to encourage friendship and also give helpful resources regarding our friendships. So, read on and get inspired to make some friends!
Four people with their arms around each other looking into a sunset
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy logo


So much is going on at KYEA! Things have not slowed down in our world. Virtual presentations and workshops, a KSYLF Reunion, and so much more! Read on to see why we have been so busy and how we continue to serve youth with disabilities in our state!
Kansas Youth Leadership Forum 20 Year Reunion with YLF dove logo and group pictures surrounding it
KSYLF 20-Year Online Reunion Rescheduled to April 10 and 11!

While we did not have enough alumni sign up last time, we are trying again! We have picked new dates for our KSYLF 20-Year Online Reunion and shortened the event so that more people can attend. This Reunion will be completely ONLINE, so you can be living anywhere in the U.S. and not even have to leave the comfort of your own home to attend! The Reunion will take place on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11 from 1:00-4:30 pm each day.

This Reunion is a chance to celebrate the past 20 years of the KSYLF! Catch up with delegates from your year and meet other alumni from across the state. This Reunion will be all about reminiscing, sharing about your life experiences, learning how you can be an even bigger part of KYEA, having fun, and, of course, catching up with your favorite volunteers! Click the Learn More button below to see the full schedule.

This Reunion is open to any alumni of the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum from the years 2001-2019. We just ask that you provide a $10 donation to attend. This can be paid through the Eventbrite website, through our KYEA website, or it can be sent as check or cash through the mail.

Alumni- this is an event that you won't want to miss!! And it is simple to sign up. Just go to the event page below, click REGISTER, and fill in your information. Make sure that you register by April 7, 2021. Then, show up on Zoom on the dates of the Reunion and have a blast!
Julia holding a microphone speaking with a Disability Heritage powerpoint behind her
KYEA's Presentations Virtual OR
In-Person... Book Us Today!

Did you know that KYEA can conduct a presentation with your group, classroom, or organization virtually? We are ready and willing to educate your audience online, and are now able to schedule presentations on a virtual platform. We also are now open to doing presentations in person as long as social distancing and COVID safety procedures are in place. We can conduct any of the following presentations for groups:

  • Self-Esteem
  • Goal Setting
  • Advocacy
  • Disability Awareness and Etiquette
  • Disability History

All virtual presentations (like our in-person presentations) are very interactive. We work to conduct activities, encourage discussions, and engage the audience no matter if we are in-person or on a virtual platform. KYEA staff can present to any age group and will adapt our presentations to your audience! Presentations are free unless traveling outside of Topeka in which we require mileage reimbursement.

Learn more about all of our presentation topics by visiting our website at the link below. To book a presentation, contact us at or 785-215-6655. We look forward to presenting to your group!
Pre-ETS "Empower Me!" Workshops Continue VIRTUALLY
KYEA has officially gone virtual! A year ago, our world kind of turned upside down when the COVID pandemic started. KYEA staff had to begin cancelling programs and rethinking everything that we do as an organization. We spent months brainstorming, learning from other organizations, and making a plan for how to continue empowering youth with disabilities in our state. Fast forward to today… and things at KYEA are in full swing, starting with our "Empower Me!" Workshops with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)!

These workshops were previously held in person, but we have moved them to a virtual platform. "Empower Me!" Workshops are now held on Zoom, and Pre-ETS consumers from all over the state are able to attend. KYEA has already conducted two virtual workshops, and they were a success! Read on to learn more about them…

January Workshop: Our January workshop was our first try at going virtual, and wow, did we learn a lot! This workshop was held on January 28 and 29. Twenty-four youth from all over the state attended. While being virtual was new for KYEA, the youth took it in stride and were quite interactive throughout the workshop.

February Workshop: Our second try at this whole virtual world! This workshop was held on February 22 and 23. This was a smaller group with seven youth attending, but it was not any less impactful. We met a great group of young people who were ready to learn how to be successful in employment!

KYEA will continue to hold "Empower Me!" Workshops virtually in the coming months. We have two workshops scheduled for the month of April and two for May. We are also working closely with Pre-ETS staff to explore various options for scheduling these workshops in the future. We are learning and adapting with each workshop and continue to appreciate the awesome Pre-ETS staff across the state. Also, a huge thanks to all of the youth who have been attending these workshops! You all make our job worth it!
Empower Me workshop logo- Gaining the tools to get and keep a job
All of the youth participants of the January "Empower Me!" Workshop stop to take a screen shot photo. The participants can be seen in their own locations, but connected on Zoom.
The seven youth participants of the February "Empower Me!" Workshop take a screen shot photo. Again, each participant is in their own location, but are connected on Zoom.
KYEA Now Has More Options to DONATE!

You might remember from our last issue that KYEA has been going through a hard time financially. The pandemic has affected a lot of non-profits across the U.S. and KYEA is no exception. COVID has really changed the way that we do things, which has, in turn, affected some of our funding sources. We are currently working on figuring out details of an exciting Membership Drive and Fundraising Campaign. More details on that to come soon!

In the meantime, you might be wondering how you can help. Well, consider making a one-time or reoccurring donation! We now have multiple options for donating to KYEA. Check out all of the options below:

Visit our Donate page and click "Donate with Credit Card/Check"

Visit our Donate page and click the yellow Donate button.

Visit our Donate page and click "Donate with Venmo"

Send to KYEA, 2220 SE 29th St., Suite B, Topeka, KS 66605.

Deliver to our office or send to the address above.

Create a Facebook fundraiser and designate it to the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy.
thank you
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated to our matching donation fundraiser on Facebook back in December! Our goal was to raise $2,000, and we did that and more with your help. We are truly grateful for the amazing support that we get from KYEA family and friends! Your giving changes lives!
Madonna- a fluffy white poodle wearing a pink and purple bow
Madonna's Corner!

Our therapeutic manager loves having friends and shares how each of her friendships in the KYEA office is unique and special!

I wish I had more four legged friends. Mommy (Julia) says that if I acted right and did not jump on their back side all the time that I would have more friends. Mommy just don’t understand me! *groan* I have a bunch of two legged friends though. *tiny tail wagging*

When I go to work, Johnna is always excited to see me and barks (talks) to me in a baby voice. I think she forgot that I turned 9 this month. *shakes head* I wuv (love) Johnna though. She always tells me how many times she is going to rub my back.

My friends who roll around are cool too! I get to stare at Carrie all through lunch time and, when she is done eating, I get her left-over chips and apples! *smiling by showing teeth* Every once in a while, when I am looking adorable by just sitting in a chair, Carrie will roll up and pet me. I stay perfectly still since she cannot stretch her paws (hands) very far. 

A woman comes into my office every Tuesday afternoon. They call her Rosie. I wuv her because she always calls me a pretty girl. She knows perfection when she sees it! *turns face and gives a profile view* 

Ruf Ellen, oh Ruf Ellen (Ruth Ellen)! She helps Carrie at lunch. I WUV (LOVE) her!! *howl* I jump in her lap when she sits down, and she cradles me like a baby and rubs my chest. *panting with tongue out and tail wagging*

I wuv (love) my two legged and rolley friends sooo much. *jumping up and down* You should visit my office and see us. I know I would wuv you too! *licks lips*

Have a wagulous (fabulous) day!

Question of the Month
What is the best part of having friends/friendships?

"Because life is all about connections. It’s not all about what you know; it’s about who you know."
- Matthew Hull, KSYLF Alumni '15

"They always have your back and having friends that you trust is great because they help you in hard times. You can always text or call them when you need them."
- Julia Guthrie, KSYLF Alumna '13

"Best part of having friends or friendships is to know they're always with you no matter what you do in your life."
- Marcus Long, KSYLF Alumni '07

"Having friendships is about knowing the people that God has placed in your life and know that they will support you if you are together or apart during these troubling times."
- Kyle Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11
How Do You Know if a Friendship is Toxic?

Sometimes, our friends are not treating us very well. We might even be better off if they weren't our friends. But, this is oftentimes hard to spot. We call this a toxic friendship. How do you know if one of your friendships is toxic? Read these articles below to find out:

Relationships Defined
What is the difference between friend, acquaintance, & social circle?
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

Have you ever thought about the fact that there are different kinds of relationships? And did you know that, sometimes, these relationships can overlap? So, let’s define different types of relationships:

Friend – A true friend is someone who is there for you in a crisis, does not gossip about you to other people, wants and hopes the best for you, is trustworthy, does not ghost you or date your current or ex-flame, and is someone you enjoy being with.

Acquaintance – This is someone you’ve met or know socially. Basically, you say hello, ask each other how you are doing, maybe have a short conversation, and then you move on. This is not a very deep relationship. You may not know the person that well.
And, What Are Your Boundaries?

It’s important to know your boundaries in all relationships. There can be a lot of misunderstanding and unnecessary drama if you don’t. Here are some boundaries to keep in mind:

  1. Do not touch or hug people without asking for permission.
  2. Do not allow others to touch you without permission. This is your right.
  3. Ask other people what their “personal bubble” (personal space) is.
  4. Identify your own “personal bubble” and ask others to respect it.
  5. Avoid taking out your anger with another situation or person on somebody else.
  6. Do your best to get along with others when you are upset.
  7. Avoid telling everyone your problems, past hurts, etc. Everyone does not need to know your personal business.
  8. Avoid gossiping about other people. This is just mean, but is also a poor emotional boundary.
  9. Be respectful to others in what you do, say, and in your tone of voice.
Nora and Jennifer smiling with a flower filter on the photo

Spotlight On: A Unique, Lasting Kind of Friendship

Nora Stoy (Overland Park) and Jennifer Jennings (Kansas City)

by Dallas Hathaway, Faces Alumni and KYEA Board President

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart.” This quote perfectly described the conversations that I had with Nora Stoy and Jennifer Jennings, two youth with disabilities who are breaking barriers in their lives and communities. They first met in the 8th grade at high school cheerleading tryouts. From there, they took a class in high school called Connections.

“This is a class where you meet new people and can make friends,” Jennifer said.

One thing that can make friendships unique is how two individuals complement one another.

“Nora is the one who is outgoing and loves to do all the talking,” Jennifer said.

Meanwhile, Nora said that, because Jennifer is the quiet one, this teaches her how to be more respectful. If Nora gets too excited, Jennifer can help calm her down.

Although they are opposites in terms of their personalities, Nora and Jennifer have many things in common. They both enjoy the color pink, cheer on their teams with the cheerleading squad, and they love to swim together. After all, friends who have things in common will spend time together and create everlasting memories.

Jennifer and Nora both had the same answer when I asked them what their favorite memory was: participating in the 2019 Kansas Miss Amazing competition (learn more in the article below). That year, Jennifer traveled to Chicago to participate in the national competition, and she was so thankful for Nora and her family who traveled with them to show support. In 2022, Jennifer will be traveling to Florida to participate with the team USA Special Olympics bowling team.

In her free time, Nora enjoys hanging out with friends and family. She is also a member of Omega Phi Alpha sorority at her university. Jennifer enjoys watching movies, drawing, listening to Christian music, and knitting.

I want to give a special thanks to Nora and Jennifer for giving me the opportunity to interview them and get to know them better. I know you will both continue to leave footprints on each other’s hearts.
Isabel and a friend taking a picture in their hand cycles wearing glasses and helmets and smiling
What is Friendship?
by Isabel Einwich, Little Miss Wheelchair Kansas '20-'21

What is friendship? Friendship is a fuel that keeps me going throughout the day. I have lots of friends in many different ways. Friends since I was little, friends formed with teamwork, and friends with the same interests as me. They are like blood to my heart.

What would I, or any of us, do without friendships? How would we function without them? My friends aren’t just people that I spend time with. They are my own little family that I have created on my own. Each of us are unique and friends help us see what they see in us. Friends are what keeps me strong when I want to give up. They are what inspire me to be the best that I can be. They teach me that no matter the difficulty, they will stand by me as I achieve my dreams. I would not be where I am without them and, for that, I owe them everything.

So what are friends? Are they people who inspire you? Are they the kind of people who would travel to the moon and back for you? Are they the kind that pick you up after you fall? Or are they something else? Something unique and special that means the world to you. How do you see them?
Rachael and a friend outside wearing their cheerleading outfits
Why Should I Have Friends?
Local youth shares what it means to be a good friend
by Rachael Bradshaw, KSYLF '21 Delegate

Good friends are what make up our support systems, and they play a major part in our lives. From helping us through our own struggles to cheering us on when we succeed, good friends are so beneficial to have. Not only do they help us, but we help them by reciprocating their kindness and support.

Friends are those who are always willing to help whenever they can, and will offer their support and love. Not only do they want the best for you, but they will cheer you on and help you to make sure you succeed. They also are loyal and accept you for whoever you are or want to be. The support of a good friend is key to overcoming obstacles we face in life. They patiently help to keep you focused on what’s important and help you achieve your goals. Good friends will voice their concerns and help you work through it all, while still having your best interest in mind even if what’s best for you doesn’t benefit them.

Good friends are trustworthy, and you can count on them to be there. They also listen to what you have to say, especially when it’s important to you. This can be very helpful when it comes to trying to get through tough problems you may be having, as you can go to them for advice and know for sure that they will listen and be there for you.
Diverse group of young people with their arms around each other
Diverse group of females with their arms around each other

The First Step... How to Meet New Friends!
by Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator

So, you’re reading through this newsletter, and you’re starting to think, hmm, maybe I would like to form some friendships. Well, first, good for you! Friendships are important in life and can bring so much joy to people. But, now what? How in the world do you find friends? Do you just go to the friend store and pick out whatever looks good? Nope… don’t we wish :). Making friends takes some work. Keeping friends takes even more work (see Julia’s article above). But, it will be worth it, I promise!

There is no clear playbook for how to find friends. Finding friends can really happen anywhere. It can happen anytime and might even happen when you’re not really thinking about it. BUT, if you want some ideas for some places to start, check these out...
But wait, now that you’ve learned where to find friends, there is a next step. You have to talk to them! You can’t build real friendships without having conversations. How do you start a conversation? Read the suggestions below and get started!
Check out these interesting suggestions:

  • Ask for help with something
  • Compliment something other than someone’s looks
  • Bring up a shared interest
  • Ask for their honest opinion
  • Bring up pop culture (movies, tv, music, etc.)
  • Ask a question with no right or wrong answer
  • Ask them about their pets
  • Ask about a mutual friend
  • Comment on the venue

And, if that doesn’t work, try these questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Have you done anything exciting lately?
  • What made you smile today?
  • What are you doing this weekend?
  • What are your favorite restaurants around here?
  • What’s your story?
  • What was the last good book you read?
  • Do you listen to any podcasts? Which is your favorite?
  • What do you think is the best show on Netflix right now?
  • What do you think has been the best movie of the year so far?

*Adapted from and

Community Power!
Highlighting helpful resources throughout the state

Kansas Miss Amazing
by Kirstianna Guerrero, Kansas Miss Amazing Teen 2020

I chatted with Michelle Roberts, the Kansas State Director for Miss Amazing, about what this organization is and why it’s important for youth with disabilities.

In this month that we learn about and celebrate women’s history and how far we have come, it reminded her of why she brought this opportunity to Kansas. Michelle, who has a hereditary family disability, said “As women with disabilities, our history is not the same and is not often taught or celebrated. We see and experience barriers that others don’t and have found there isn’t always the same access to opportunities.”
A group of 10 females with various disabilities taking a group picture wearing crowns and sashes
Girls of all ages taking a group photo wearing mostly yellow shirts
Other Empowerment Programs for Females with Disabilities in Kansas
Have You Heard?
Opportunities in Kansas
The Topeka Independent Living Resource Center is currently recruiting youth for their George Wolf Youth Program. This is a paid summer job opportunity for youth with and without disabilities between the ages of 14 and 19. Help improve your community and spend the summer working with other youth! This internship takes place in June and July and happens through Zoom. Learn more

Calling all artists, musicians, painters, writers, sculptors, poets, singers, and photographers in grades 6-12! No matter your favorite medium, the Kansas Partners in Empowering Youth for Suicide Prevention is seeking your talent and creativity by hosting a Youth Suicide Prevention Art Contest. This contest will help state agencies shape suicide prevention messages and health promotion campaigns. All submissions are due by April 4. Learn more

The Family Advisory Council through the KS Dept. of Health and Environment is expanding! They are looking for parents or family members interested in improving services for children ages 6 to 11. Benefits include advocacy training, making a difference, growth opportunities, peer connections, and more. This group meets quarterly on Saturdays. Learn more

The Kansas Teen Transportation Safety Conference is going virtual and high school students are invited! The Conference will be April 7-8. Through sessions focused on communication, leadership, team building/recruitment, students will gain the skills and gather the tools necessary to work in their community. They will leave with a greater awareness of local, state and national issues surrounding traffic safety issues. Learn more

The South Central Kansas Virtual Employment 1st Summit is right around the corner! This online event is being held on April 8. Attend to learn about raising awareness, increasing opportunities, and sustaining competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Keynote speakers include Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, motivational speaker, author & inspiration for the movie “Rudy” and Ed O’Malley, President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center. Register to attend

Families Together is going strong and has moved all of their trainings online! They are still conducting Family Employment Awareness Trainings (FEAT) and SHIFT Transition Conferences. They are also holding virtual trainings on telemedicine. Check out the details about all of these trainings by visiting their Events page.
A chalk board with the word feedback written on it and thought bubbles above feedback
Do you like the new look and layout of our newsletter?

What topics would you like to see in the future?
Thank you for reading our newsletter!
Look for our next issue in May!