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Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #58
December 2021
Happy Holidays, friends! This time of year is filled with different celebrations, opportunities to be with the ones that we love, and lots of giving, giving, giving. Giving doesn't always have to be in the form of a wrapped present, though. Giving to your community with your time and talent is just as important! So, this issue is all about volunteering! Read all about different youth who are volunteering, as well as why volunteering is important and how you can find just the right opportunity.

Thank you for your support of KYEA in this last year! See you in 2022!!
A close up of small round bulbs that are different colors and brightly lit up
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy logo


There is a never a slow time of year for KYEA! We have been busy, busy, busy with hosting virtual workshops, planning for our 2022 KSYLF, working on our Faces curriculum to sell one day, and making plans for a new program. Read on to learn all about this exciting news...
KSYLF 2021 logo Zooming to New Heights with computer screen and people walking up a hill with the YLF logo on it
Virtual 2021 KSYLF Encourages Delegates to "Zoom to New Heights"

It seems only fitting that our 20th Kansas Youth Leadership Forum was one for the books! This was a very unique year in that we took the KSYLF to the virtual world! This past summer’s KSYLF was completely hosted virtually on Zoom due to COVID safety precautions. We were not sure what to expect from this unique year, but, in the end, it was a success, and we have welcomed 14 new alumni into our KSYLF family!

Our 2021 KSYLF was held on July 19-24. Fourteen delegates from across the state completed the week and were transformed by this program. These delegates had actually been selected for our 2020 KSYLF, which had to be cancelled, and had been doing monthly Zoom calls with KYEA staff and coach meetings throughout the last year, just waiting for their chance to attend this program. They finally got their chance, on a virtual platform, and we were so excited to spend the week with them.

Our theme this year was "Zooming to New Heights: You can do VIRTUALLY anything if you set your mind to it!" Delegates learned that anything is possible with the right attitude, resources, support, and determination! Because the program was virtual, delegates were able to hear from fantastic speakers from across the U.S. like Rebecca Cokley, Russell Lehmann, John Howard, and Jen Randle. The week was full of learning, empowerment, and fun! Delegates experienced small group breakout sessions; an art night and game night; Mentor Connection event; talent show; dance; and much more. It was a week to remember! Delegates came away with much growth, a new mindset, disability pride, new resources, awesome memories, and a new family!

Thank you so much to our sponsors, volunteer team, mentors, and anyone who helped make this unique KSYLF year possible! To our 14 new alumni: we LOVED getting to know all of you and are so proud that you were determined to make the most of your KSYLF experience. We look forward to watching your journey and supporting you along the way!

Year 20 of the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum… COMPLETE!
A diverse group of delegates and volunteers at the KSYLF gather for a group shot as each are smiling or making funny faces.
KSYLF logo with dove
Recruiting Applicants for 2022 KS Youth Leadership Forum!

We continue to search for applicants for our Kansas Youth Leadership Forum, and have extended our deadline! Our new application deadline is February 4, 2022. We are searching for high school juniors and seniors (and those in a transition program) with disabilities who have leadership interest or potential. This is an experience that you don’t want to miss! The 2022 KSYLF will be held July 11-16 at Washburn University in Topeka.

Are you not quite sure if you want to apply? Would you like to know more about what you will get from this program? Well, you will gain:

  • New leadership skills to take back to your community
  • Information about resources that will help you reach your goals
  • Experiences that will help you speak out and advocate more
  • Successful adult mentors who will support you
  • A large new set of friends from all over the state
  • Memories gained from our barbecue, talent show, dance, and more
  • Tools, opportunities, and experiences that will change your life forever!

So, why wouldn’t you apply? But, don’t wait! Again, delegate applications are now due by February 4, 2022.

We are also now accepting applications for volunteers for our 2022 KSYLF! We are searching for committed, enthusiastic people who are willing to devote a week to this great program. Do you have the skills and passion to facilitate groups and motivate youth with disabilities? Then consider serving as a volunteer at this year's KSYLF.

Past volunteers, KSYLF alumni, and new volunteers are encouraged to apply! Volunteer applicants must fill out our application form, as well as two background checks, and send to the KYEA office by February 18, 2022.

Empower Me! Workshops Continue to Teach Youth Throughout the State About Employment

More and more youth with disabilities in our state are learning about employment as KYEA continues to host monthly virtual Empower Me! Workshops in collaboration with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)! We held one workshop in June, took a break over the summer, and have been going full force since September. Since June, 45 youth have taken part in our Empower Me! Workshops! Each group has been unique and has been so fun to get to know!

Below is a recap of each virtual workshop:

June Workshop: We tried a new format by holding mini sessions for a week on June 7-11 and 14! We had three youth attend this workshop. While it was a small group, this provided time to really get to know each youth.
The youth participants at the June Empower Me! Workshop take a screen shot photo on Zoom with two KYEA staff.
September Workshop: This workshop was held on September 28 and 29. Four youth attended, including our first set of twins!
The youth participants of the September Empower Me! Workshop take a screen shot photo on Zoom with two KYEA staff.
October Workshop: Twelve great youth from all over the state took part in this workshop. It was held on October 26 and 27.
Participants of the October Empower Me! Workshop take a screen shot group photo on Zoom.
November Workshop: One of our largest virtual workshops yet! Twenty-one youth attended and learned about employment. This workshop was held November 16 and 17.
The youth participants at the November Empower Me! Workshop take a group photo screen shot on Zoom.
December Workshop: Our most recent workshop was held on December 7 and 8, and was attended by 5 youth. What a fun group… they had us laughing all the way through the afternoon break!
Participants of the December Empower Me! Workshop take a screen shot photo on Zoom.
These workshops continue to be a blast to host! They really provide the opportunity to empower and assist youth is so many different parts of our state. As always, thank you to the Pre-ETS staff for recruiting your youth and for helping out with the workshops! And to the youth who have attended… we hope that you learned a lot and are ready for a bright employment future!

We have a full schedule of virtual Empower Me! Workshops lined up for the new year! If you are a Pre-ETS consumer who is interested in attending one of these workshops, let your Specialist know and they can help you get signed up!
Volunteer for KYEA: There Are Opportunities for Everyone!

Are you looking for volunteer opportunities and love the KYEA mission? Did you know that you can volunteer for our organization from whatever city that you live in? There are so many ways to help KYEA, and many of them can be done from the comfort of your own home. Check out this long list of possibilities… if you are interested in volunteering, we can use you!

1. Contribute to our newsletter- write articles, take pictures, create artwork for it, help edit the newsletter, etc. You don’t have to be an expert writer to help.

2. Present with us- this can be done in-person OR virtually! Don’t worry… we’ll give you training so that you’re fully prepared.

3. Arrange a fundraiser in your community. This could be as simple as a garage sale. We will provide support to you.

4. Help us with one of our many mailings throughout the year.

5. Serve as a volunteer driver/assistant for some of our staff. Mileage or gas will be reimbursed.

6. Transcribe recorded meetings and feedback sessions for KYEA.

7. Find donations for our programs- this could be everything from prizes to gifts for participants to program supplies.

8. Edit documents on the computer for KYEA staff.

9. Volunteer in-person or virtually during KYEA programs- KSYLF, Faces, workshops, etc.

10. Help us clean our office in Topeka!

11. Assist with keeping our social media pages or website up-to-date. We would provide the updates, as well as support.

12. Help to pick up meal donations during various in-person programs.

13. Enter data from existing documents into computer files- this helps save so much time!

14. Research grants and other funding opportunities. We will provide some direction with this one.

15. Become a board member.

16. Help us to organize/decorate our office.

17. Contact potential mentors.

18. Promote our programs/services by handing out our organization flyer in your community.

19. Share about us on your Facebook/social media accounts.

20. Commit to an annual Facebook fundraiser either for your birthday or a holiday.
Exciting news
KYEA Adding New Program Called "Power Hour"

The new year will bring a new program to KYEA! The "Power Hour" has been in the works for awhile now, and we are excited to launch it in the new year!

So, what is the "Power Hour" and why should you be interested?

The "Power Hour" will be one-hour virtual webinars each month that will cover topics of interest to youth! Most webinars will be open to youth of all ages, but some may be specific to certain age ranges. They will be open to youth with disabilities across the state. Topics will range from disability awareness to self-esteem, from advocacy to independence, from healthy relationships to self-care, and much more. Webinars will include speakers and, of course, the dynamic KYEA team!

Details are still being figured out about this program, but we are excited to bring these important topics right to you all in the comfort of your own homes! Dates, topics, and details will be announced soon. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for more information.
Top 10 that looks like a trophy
Top 10 KYEA Moments of 2021!

We can't believe that 2021 is almost over! This year went by in a flash. But, as with every year, we like to look back and smile at the moments that made our year. We love our jobs, and these moments show you why. Without further ado... we present our Top 10 KYEA Moments of 2021 (in no particular order)!

1. KSYLF Virtual Dance (All- see each person's perspective below)
  • JOHNNA: "I’ve never attended a virtual dance before and I was surprised about how fun it was."
  • JULIA: "Experiencing a virtual dance for the first time and hoping I never experience it again!"
  • CARRIE: "I was completely shocked that the whole group danced for 2 hours!"

2. Hearing from several former youth who are now adults seeking guidance from us. (Julia)

3. My first presentation in 2 years conducted in-person- so nice to have actual people in front of me! (Carrie)

4. Office fun with Madonna (All- everyone has something to say about our office dog!)
  • JULIA: "She always figures out how to convince everyone who walks through the office door to give her a doggie treat from the canister."
  • CARRIE: "I love it when Madonna moves in just the right way so I can reach to pet her."
  • JOHNNA: "The herd of one – when Madonna first comes to the office, she runs around the office to say hello and check things out."

5. Carrie and intern Bethany going through the stickers for the KSYLF leadership toolboxes and finding a sticker with a marijuana plant on it. Quite a surprise :). (Julia)

6. KSYLF 20-Year Virtual Reunion (All- this was a long-awaited event)
  • CARRIE: "Sooo cool to see so many years of alumni come together and connect on a unique level!"
  • JOHNNA: "I loved spending time with our alumni. I really enjoyed all the memories, laughter, and 'trash talking' fun!"
  • JULIA: "I had to constantly remind myself that our once youth are now legitimate adults!"

7. Having a successful meeting with one of our youth, Tyrhia, and her coming away from it excited about the potential for employment. (Carrie)

8. Thinking that a can of WD-40 was a can of compressed air that I was getting ready to spray on my computer keyboard to clean it. (Julia)

9. Getting to watch, help out with, and see some of our alumni attend the first EVER National YLF Virtual Event! (Carrie)

10. Many of our KYEA board members stepping up and helping us with our huge KSYLF mailing- I'm so grateful for their help! (Johnna)

See pictures from our Top 10 to the right -------->>
Madonna- a fluffy white poodle wearing a pink and purple bow
Madonna's Corner!

Our therapeutic manager volunteers in very helpful ways each day! She may or may not be trying to get on Santa Paws "Nice" List. Read about how she gives back below, and you decide which list that she goes on...

Readers Note: A () represents the English translation of Madonna’s words. A (*) describes what her body is doing.

Wrup wruf (Hello) wiggle wiggle *knob of a tail is wagging, which wiggles her booty* I am so excited for Santa Paws (Clause)! I am doing everything I can to make sure I am on the nice dog list this year. I clean up after lunch in the office by licking the floor of any crumbs that my office buddies drop. I munch on the grass in the backyard at the doghouse so mommy doesn’t have to mow it. I growl at the people who leave boxes outside the door so mom doesn’t trip on them. I also eat all the food that mom puts in front of me. I try to eat the food in front of mom, but I have a feeling that might get me on the naughty dog list. I even help mom clean out her purse by eating any doggie treats I find in there. All this volunteering and doing good has me exhausted! Although I want to take a dog nap, I still have good dog things to cross off my list. The most important one is to leave doggie treats out for Santa Paws so he can sniff his way to my house with all the dog squeaky toys I asked for this year!!

Wuf (love) to all and Yappy Howlidays (Happy Holidays) *mouth open with tongue hanging out*

A Closer Look at Our Top 10 Moments!
Sara wearing a mask and wrapping dessert bars in Saran Wrap in a kitchen

Spotlight On: Youth with Disabilities Giving Back Through Volunteering

Sara Pietig (Shawnee)

by Dallas Hathaway, Faces Alumni and KYEA Board President

According to AmeriCorps, 36.5% of Kansans volunteer, which ranks us 13th in the nation. Volunteering can be a great way to help others, meet new people, and gain valuable life experience. Sara Pietig, a youth with Mosaic Down Syndrome, began volunteering with Young Life over the summer. Young Life is a Christian ministry that reaches out to students throughout the United States. Sara is also a participant with the Miss Amazing program and has volunteered through their program.

Sara was born and raised in Minnesota, and she currently lives in Shawnee, Kansas. She participated in Young Life through middle and high school and began volunteering over the summer at Young Life's Castaway Club. This is a camp in Minnesota that offers a variety of activities, entertainment facilities, and much more. Castaway Club can accommodate up to 450 guests.

Sara spends her time volunteering in the bakery at Castaway Club. She bakes all the breads, desserts, and sometimes helps prepare breakfast. Sara's mother, Kristie, mentioned everything is made from scratch, including the banana bars.

For those who are considering becoming a volunteer, Sara believes you should find something that you’re passionate about.

"Find something that you love and put yourself out there," Sara said. "Figuring out what your skills and interests are also helps.”

In her free time, Sara enjoys hanging out with friends, going out to dinner, and watching movies. She also spends her time participating in the Special Olympics. She competes in swimming, cheer, and softball.

Sara talked with me about her time as a volunteer at a church daycare. She said that one of the children asked her how to put a gingerbread house together. This is one of her favorite memories because she helped the child learn how to build the house.

Sara has kept busy following high school. In addition to Young Life, she has volunteered with the children's ministry, a coffee shop, and a day care center through AdventHealth.

I enjoyed getting to know Sara and learning about how she helps her community. Thank you for sharing your story with me, Sara. We can all make the world a better place, one hour at a time.
A large group of people gather in front of a building at Washburn holding advocacy signs
Volunteer Experience Leads to Meaningful Advocacy Moment for Washburn Student
by Daija Coleman, KSYLF Alumna '17

Daija Coleman saw a need on her college campus and wanted to change it! She had gained a passion for the education field through a volunteer experience and advocacy skills from her time as a delegate at the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum. She took both of these things and used them to make a lasting difference in accessibility on campus! Read on to learn about her efforts...

My name is Daija Coleman, and I am currently a senior at Washburn University. During my time here, I became involved with the LinC Bonner Scholar Program, which is an organization on campus that prioritizes civic engagement and community involvement. We are instructed to do 1,000 hours of community service over four years. My service site for this task was Communities in Schools. Communities in Schools works to help alleviate poverty from inside the school system. My work with them prompted me to become an education major and prompted my involvement in advocacy. For the Linc Bonner scholar program, we complete a senior capstone. My capstone focuses on advocacy for those with disabilities. The building which houses the Education Department at Washburn, Carnegie Hall, is inaccessible. I decided to make this my capstone because I wanted to make a meaningful impact for communities outside of myself, and the point of the project is to make things better or improve things with ties to your service site.
Joe smirking and wearing his grocery store uniform
From Volunteering to Employment
Volunteer Position Brings a Job for KSYLF Alumni
by Joe Stroud, KSYLF Alumni '07

There are so many reasons to volunteer. One that people don't often think of is that it could lead to a job someday! Many people have volunteered somewhere, made a good impression, and then have been offered a job with their volunteer site. Take Joe, for example...

I was taking a class at Wichita State University for my degree in Psychology. It was a Community Psychology class, and one of our assignments was to volunteer for the entire semester and to learn about the core values of caring- Community, Service, and Mentorship.

I applied for the Wichita State University Office of Disability Services student assistant position, and my main duties were answering phones, helping students with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. I would also help students learn how to use internet applications and how to access voice over and accessibility features on Apple and Windows computers. Through the Office of Disability Services volunteer position, I learned these key steps to be more successful and to learn many life lessons both negative and positive.
I Want to Volunteer!
How to Find the Right Volunteer Opportunities for You
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

Did you know that I was a volunteer for KYEA before I became a staff member? True story. I volunteered for KSYLF for ten years and then I walked into a job with KYEA when I lost my job working for a CIL in March of 2010. This, my Dear Youth, is the benefit of volunteering. I often tell youth that volunteering pays a person in wisdom, knowledge, and experience. It’s still a job, but it can lead into a paying job in the future. So, here are some ideas and links to help you find a good fit for a volunteer position.

I read on a search on the Internet to consider the following items in your journey to find the best fit for your volunteering. After you answer these questions, you’ll have a clearer idea of what would work for you:

  • What are your goals? What skills/experiences do you want to learn or gain?
  • What are you interested in?
  • What tasks do you not want to do in any job?
  • What skills do you have that would help your community?

Now, the challenge is to find somewhere to give your time to. Here are some ideas:

  • Who can you read a book to or make or donate a meal to? – the elderly, to animals in the animal shelter, preschool children, families
  • Where can you visit people or adopt a person or a group of people? – Nursing homes, assisted living and senior centers, community centers, public library, schools
  • What kinds of places always need volunteers? – food drives, food giveaways, Meals on Wheels, Centers for Independent Living (CILs), KYEA, homeless shelters, hospitals, mental health centers, community daycares, and organizations that partner with schools i.e., Big Brothers and Sisters, churches, and synagogues
  • Be creative, ask, and look around your community for opportunities to serve others.

To find somewhere to volunteer in Kansas, I suggest you go to your closest volunteer center. For more information go to this link: https://kanserve.org/.

For more volunteer ideas, visit:
Four females of diverse races are holding hands and smiling and walking down the steps of a building together
Why Do I Want to Take the Time to Volunteer?

Great question! Volunteering takes time and you don't get any money from it, so why in the world would you want to do it? There are so many reasons! We felt that this article really captured some of the important reasons. Check it out!

"10 Reasons Every Teen Should Volunteer"

from CreativeVolunteer (www.volunteer-opportunities.org)

There are numerous reasons every teen should volunteer; from its benefits on resumes to the opportunities it builds and connections you make.

Let’s take a closer look at why it may be a good idea to guide your teenager toward community service.

Top Reasons Every Teen Should Volunteer their Time

1. Boost that Resume

2. Learn Selflessness

3. Gain Self Confidence

4. Do Something New

5. Learn How to Connect with People of Different Backgrounds

6. Increase Community Involvement

7. Make New Friends

8. Fulfill School Requirements

9. Discover New Passions

10. Develop Reason to Help a Cause
A New Year is Around the Corner! Are You Ready?
Question of the Month
What is your biggest goal for the new year?
"I want to improve my teaching skills while on my mission so I can become a more effective missionary and speaker!"
- Bowen Boyack, KSYLF Alumni '21

"I want to improve on speaking out more with the students as of being a staff member at my church this year and how it will boost more confidence while I speak to the kids and just talk about what has been happening and how I can resonate with them in many ways."
- Aubrey Peirce, KSYLF Alumna '21

"To go to college and become a nurse."
- Rachel Bell, KSYLF Alumna '16 and Faces Alumna '18

"Continue growing as an activist for BLM, those with disabilities, LGBTQ and causes that mean a lot to me. Also continue to grow every day. And hopefully get a car, lol."
- Christian Roberson, KSYLF Alumni '08

"To continue to bring hope and love to many causes I live stream for on a gaming platform."
- Seth Wagner, KSYLF Alumni '12

"Get moved into my own place and continue saving money."
- Haley Linnell, KSYLF Volunteer

"To reconnect with friends I haven't seen for ages and to build a Movie Critic YouTube channel."
- Kyle Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11

"Move out to Utah with my Dad and establish a new way of life out there."
- Allison Wilkes Hopper, KSYLF Volunteer

"To continue to advocate and bring awareness to many causes. I would like to become more vocal at a state level for these needs."
- Anthony Frischenmeyer, KSYLF Volunteer
Joaquin smiling and wearing a cowboy hat and bandana around his neck
A New Year Message from Joaquin...
Focus On Your Mindset Rather Than Resolutions!
by Joaquin Velez-Prieto, KSYLF Alumni '19

Hello Everybody!
As you all may know, we are getting ready for the new year. With this, we all start fresh and with new goals for the new year. But it all starts with resolutions. Whenever you make a resolution, you have every intention of following through with it. If you really want to succeed, don’t focus on your resolutions—focus on your mindset. When we have a positive mindset, it helps us be able to focus on goals and what we want to accomplish with our new year resolutions. It's always good to stay positive even when we have rough days. I would like to end with this quote:

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

2022 with sparkly stars all around it and a background that looks like a galaxy

Community Power!
Highlighting helpful resources throughout the state

Supports and Training for Employing People Successfully (STEPS)
by Kirstianna Guerrero, KSYLF Alumni '19 and Faces of Change Alumni '20

Supports and Training for Employing People Successfully is a new program from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Providing an array of services together, the goal of STEPS is employment first with long term support to ensure individuals with disabilities can maintain employment and live independently. Kansas is the first state to implement an initiative of this kind. Services include Pre-Vocational Services, Independent Living Skills Training, Supported Employment, Transportation, Personal Assistant Services, Assistive Technology, and Community Service Coordination.
A compass pointing to the word career
Have You Heard?
Opportunities in Kansas
A study is being conducted with people who use Medicaid services, like an HCBS waiver or Working Healthy program. They are looking for information on how these services are working and how they could be better, and would like to hear from more young adults. All you have to do is be interviewed over Zoom, AND you get a $10 gift card from it! To participate, contact Noelle at (785) 864-7085 or pixie@ku.edu.

Opportunities on a National Level

Applications are now open for the 2022 EmpowHER Camp! This unique camp is for girls with disabilities between the ages of 13 and 18. This experience includes one week of adventurous camping in the Adirondacks. It it then followed up by mentorship and working on a project of interest. Then, the following summer, participants go on a trip to Washington, DC! Learn more

Does a summer internship with a federal agency sound cool to you? The the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is now accepting applications for the AAPD-Microsoft STEM Internship. They are looking for applicants with disabilities who are passionate about STEM and/or accessibility and are interested in a 10-week paid summer federal agency internship program that focuses on building their career, developing their leadership and advocacy skills, and engaging with the broader disability community. Learn more

Are you 18 years of age or older and have a disability? Do you play or like video games? Then you should complete this short survey! The Southwest ADA Center is conducting a study on video game accessibility for people with disabilities. Take the survey
A chalk board with the word feedback written on it and thought bubbles above feedback
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Happy Holidays with multi colored presents in the background and snowflakes
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Look for our next issue in February!