KYEA: Educating, mentoring, and supporting youth with disabilities in KS

Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #23
November 2013
in this issue
:: Behind Julia's Glasses
:: Thanksgiving is more than a holiday!
:: Our Roots: KSYLF
:: IL Community: APRIL Youth Conference
:: Opportunities: State and National News
:: Mentors: A Few Numbers
:: The Little Moments: Staff Top 10
:: Freedom to Reach Goals: Living Out Loud Workshop
:: Voice in Healthcare: Health Conference
:: Resources: Spotlight On Amber Meaux
:: Our Funders and Supporters: Thank You!
:: Voices of Our Youth: Question of the Month

red, green, orange leaf on blue backgroundThanksgiving is in two days!! It's time to gather your family and friends together, get stuffed with all kinds of food, watch some football and parades, and, of course, give thanks for all of the great things in our lives.
There is always something to be thankful for. At KYEA, we have SOOO much to appreciate! Each day, we try to recognize just how lucky we are to be doing the work that we are doing. But, this month especially, we wanted to share with you the many things that we are thankful for... and you might agree with us on many of these! This whole newsletter is built around the various things that we give thanks for at KYEA.
Not only have we included our thankful list, but this newsletter also contains our usual KYEA updates, state and national opportunities, features on Kansas youth, thoughts from our alumni, and so much more.
So, dive in... just like you will with turkey on Thanksgiving Day! While you're reading, think about what you are thankful for. Maybe it's something that we have listed, maybe you're thankful for your disability, or the people in your life, or your job or car or even just waking up each day. Whatever it is, focus on that this month... and every day.
We are thankful for each of every one of you who reads this newsletter and supports KYEA. Happy Thanksgiving!
- Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator 
Behind Julia's Glasses
by Julia Thomas, Executive Director
"I Can. I Will."
Julia Thomas with cartoon sunglasses over her face. She is smiling and has her hand under her chin.


Seeing that the thankfulness season is upon us (weird that our culture has a specific season that we are to be thankful in), I was asked to focus my article on what I am thankful for.  Living as an independent woman for 17 years now, I could say I am thankful for my job, house, friends, etc.  The thing I most often forget to be thankful for are my mom, Miriam Fonseca-Connellis, and my dad, Gary Connellis... my parents.  I am thankful that they spoil me, buy me presents, make me home cooked meals when I visit them... just joking!!  Well, maybe not entirely :). 


On a serious note, though, my parents are like the ice cream cone to ice cream, the keyboard to a computer monitor, and the gas to a fuel tank... you can't possibly have one without the other!  My mother (or, as I call her, "Ma") taught me how to listen to my body, limit my stress, and get the rest I need to be healthy.  Most of you know that I am a stubborn gal, and having to admit that I need to slow down or say no to someone to decrease potential stress, is hard for me.  My ma constantly reminds me that listening to my body is essential for my longevity in life.  My ma also taught me how to have some really good belly laughs, to stick up for myself, and how to value items that I have worked so hard to attain. 


My dad, on the other hand, has molded me to be a daddy's girl.  He taught me how to observe and listen before I open my big mouth (which I work on everyday!).  Read the full article 

Thanksgiving is more than a holiday... It is a way of life!
Contributed by Angel Shaver, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2013


give thanksIn 2012 I heard Ann Voscamp speak about her book 1000 Gifts.  The premise of the book is that Thanksgiving is more than a holiday; it should be a way of life.  We should be looking for, identifying, and giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives.


No matter what is going on in your life, there is always something to be thankful for.  I am grateful, that right, after my accident, there were people giving thanks when I couldn't and, at the beginning of my recovery, when I just wouldn't.  I did not think that there was anything to be thankful for.  Some days it is harder than others.  Mostly, I am grateful that I got to the point where I am giving thanks on my own every day.


When you are giving thanks, your heart is full of thankfulness and peace.  When you are not, it has room for other negative feelings (stress, anger, fear, worry, etc.).  When those negative feelings creep into your heart, that is the moment you need to STOP.  You need to pause what you are doing, refocus your thinking, and give thanks.  When those negative feelings resurface, you need to stop again and repeat the process. 


Don't just give thanks when blessings are easy to find.  The world will tell you sometimes that blessings cannot be found.  This is NOT TRUE.  There are always blessings to be found.  There is always a reason to give thanks.  It is possible.

At KYEA, we have so much to be thankful for! Throughout this issue, we are bringing you the latest news, updates, and information in the form of our Top 10 Thankful List. Read on for the things that we are grateful for each day as we enter the front doors of KYEA...
#1 Our Roots
KYEA started, many years ago, as just one program... the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum. How far we have come since that time, yet KSYLF continues to be our model and largest program within KYEA with 324 alumni. Read below for details on our 2014 Forum...


KSYLF Seeking Delegates and Volunteers for 2014   

KSYLF logo with doveIt's that time again! KYEA is currently searching for potential youth leaders to attend our 14th Annual Kansas Youth Leadership Forum (KSYLF). 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 2014 KSYLF will be held July 14-19 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 as of December 31, 2013
  • 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 for the 2014 forum is December 15, 2013.


Calling all former and potentially new volunteers! We are also now accepting applications for volunteers for our 2014 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 5, 2014.


Delegate and volunteer applications can be found on our website at

#4 IL Community

There is something pretty awesome about being a part of the independent living community. When we come together with other people with disabilities or those who work in the independent living world, there is a common understanding, passion, and pride. Now that is something to be thankful for! 


A diverse group of youth gather for a photo at the APRIL Youth Conference
Photo by Jon Wick

Carrie Greenwood, KYEA Program Coordinator, recently attended the 2013 Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) Conference in Tulsa, OK. While there, she helped coordinate and facilitate the 10th Annual Youth Conference. Approximately 65 youth from all over the nation attended this year's Youth Conference, making it the biggest ever! The youth learned about various topics related to this year's theme, "It's OUR Time: Influencing and Creating Change Today!" Stephanie Sanford, long time friend of KYEA, served as the keynote speaker for the Youth Conference. It was a weekend full of learning, networking, and good times with our brothers and sisters in the IL movement!

#6 Opportunities!
As people with disabilities, we have so many opportunities to get involved in our community. Whether it be attending a national conference, nominating someone for a local award, or so on, there are a ton of opportunities available. And we are bringing them right to you...
News and Events


Opportunities in Kansas


- The National Council on Disability is coming to Topeka and they want to hear from you! Kansans are encouraged to share their comments on various topics like living with a disability in rural America, parenting with a disability, Employment First, and KanCare. Read more...


Ms. Wheelchair Kansas is seeking dynamic, articulate women, who are wheelchair mobile, to be contestants in the 2014 event! Do you know someone who would be a good spokesperson for people with disabilities? Then nominate them! Or, do you want to spread your empowering message? Apply today!
- Are you an artist who also uses Talking Books? Then you should submit artwork to the Talking Books Traveling Art Show! Artists must have a visual or physical disability and submissions can be a variety of artwork types. Read more...  


Opportunities on a National Level


- Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award
Each year, AAPD recognizes emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to and for the disability community. The winners each receive $10,000 to help them continue their work in the disability field. Read more...
- Are you a student with a disability who wants to travel to other countries? Mobility International USA has many scholarship opportunities for studying abroad. Check them out!
- A new healthcare toolkit has been created for people with autism. Be one of the first to try it out. You might even win a gift certificate. Your first step is to take the survey.
- People with disabilities can be artists, singers, and performers too! If you fit in one of these categories, then there are many programs and contests just for you. VSA Arts, Inc. offers many opportunties for artists with disabilities.

- The National Council on Independent Living needs your input on disability and employment. Take 10 minutes to fill out their survey.

#8 Mentors
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and can impact us in so many ways. At KYEA, we believe that mentors can be so important for youth with disabilities. Mentoring plays a part in every program that we coordinate. What would our lives be without mentors?


Thank you to every person who has served as a mentor to a youth with a disability in one of our programs!
Here are some numbers...
KSYLF Delegate, Erica, with her mentor Lauren250 Mentors who have mentored delegates during our KS Youth Leadership Forum Mentor Luncheon over the past 13 years
17 Mentors who have mentored youth during our Empower Me! Challenge over the last 3 years
30 Job sites that have allowed youth to job shadow during our Shawnee County Disability Mentoring Day in the past 2 years
Also, a big thank you to everyone who has mentored our KYEA staff in becoming better professionals, advocates, and people!
Shawnee County Disability Mentoring Day UPDATE!
Disability Mentoring Day logo Have no fear, the Shawnee County Disability Mentoring Day is still going to happen! Due to low participation numbers, we are postponing the event until February 19, 2014. This is a great opportunity for youth and job seekers with disabilities to get some hands on exploration in their career field of interest. Sign up today to participate!
And last, but not least...

#10 The Little Moments

KYEA is truly one of the greatest places to work. Each day, we get to empower youth with disabilities, educate the community, and celebrate disability pride. Not only that, but, as staff, we are like a family. In this family, there are so many little moments that we are thankful for. We picked our Top 10... check them out!


1. I am thankful that I work for a youth organization because that means we always have candy in the office.  -- Julia
KYEA staff in their pajamas on Halloween 2. Wearing our pajamas to the office on Halloween. 
-- Johnna
3. I am thankful I am not the only one who likes raunchy music.  -- Rachel
4. The fact that our lunch times can turn into all out craziness and hysterical laughing at any minute!  -- Carrie
5. High expectations.  -- Johnna
6. I am thankful that my co-workers do not talk to me before 10:00 am.  -- Julia
7. I am thankful for the support even when I fail.  -- Rachel
8. Road trips with other staff... typically consisting of a little New Kid's on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and some Eminem blaring on the radio.  -- Carrie
9. Agency pot-lucks.  -- Johnna
10. I am thankful that, when spiders visit our office, because of my vision loss, I am not asked to kill them.  -- Julia
And one more for good measure...
11. Moments when we travel to other cities and have sightings of our youth. Our family is everywhere!
#2 The Freedom to Succeed and Fail when Reaching Goals
We all have this freedom, and, at KYEA, we believe that it is a very important one. While it is great to accomplish goals, sometimes we learn the biggest lessons when we fail and pick ourselves back up. KYEA is thankful that we can support our youth no matter if they succeed or fail. We talk about this, and much more related to goal setting, in our new and improved presentation "Living Out Loud!"


Goal Setting Presentation Targets High Schools in Topeka LOL- Living Out Loud  

LOL: you've probably seen this as texting language for laugh out loud. Well, KYEA is reenergizing our goal setting presentation and naming it "LOL: Living Out Loud!" We have been working on scheduling this workshop in Topeka high schools. So far, we have had one very successful workshop and have another scheduled, but we want to take LOL into every high school in Topeka and hopefully expand to other cities in the future. Are you a high school special education teacher in Topeka? Do you need some help encouraging your students to set goals? Then bring KYEA to your school so that we can assist your students with "Living Out Loud!" This workshop gives youth with disabilities the tools to set their own goals and the empowerment to achieve them.


Learn more about Living Out Loud workshops

#3 We All Can Have a Voice in Our Own Healthcare
Every single person has a voice! We should be using our own voices, especially when it comes to our health and well being. Many youth with disabilities are taking an active role in their healthcare: they are talking to their doctors, keeping track of their meds, and ensuring safety in their sexual health. Throughout our programs, we make a point of encouraging youth to advocate for their healthcare. Below is just one example...


KYEA to Present at Upcoming Health Conference in Wichita   

group of youth with their arms in the air proud of their healthFamilies Together will be hosting a Health Conference, and KYEA will be there to teach important topics just for youth with disabilities! KYEA will be leading youth sessions on the topics of sexuality, mental health, and bullying. We are very excited to be a part of this Conference and look forward to a large youth turn out! The Conference will be on December 7 in Wichita.


Learn more about the "Shaping a Healthy Future" Conference

#5 Resources

What would we do without resources? They are vital to our independence as people with disabilities. In Kansas, we have so many programs, services, technology, and people who can support us in reaching our goals. Below is just one example of the importance of resources...


Spotlight On Resources!

Community supports help one youth to be successful
by Amber Meaux, ICON Intern


Amber reads a braille brochure in the KYEA office 

My name is Amber Meaux, and I moved to Topeka from Louisiana in July. I am visually impaired, and my family was very unsupportive of what I wanted to do in my life, so I moved to Topeka to prove them wrong and show them that I can do things even if I have a disability.


Resources have been very important to me with helping further my independence. Upon moving here, I was informed about KYEA and their ICON program, which gives youth with disabilities the opportunity to intern at the office for five months to improve their skills and professionalism. 


I also work with Vocational Rehabilitation Services. They are helping me get technology for work and school. Being that I am visually impaired, I will need JAWS for computers, a talking watch, a note taker, and a recorder for school. Vocational Rehabilitation services help anyone who has a disability get into school or find a job.


These resources have really helped me since I moved here. I'm glad that they are available for me to use. Without them, I wouldn't be able to be successful.

#7 Our Funders and Supporters
KYEA would not survive without our funders, partners, and support from the community. We are extremely thankful for every agency, organization, or person who has made it possible for us to continue serving Kansas youth with disabilities each year. Here's a little message from our Director...
support- people of all colors holding letters of word support 
by Julia Thomas, Executive Director
As part of my job responsibilities as Executive Director, I am to develop a budget for KYEA on an annual basis. This budget not only includes projected expenses for our programs, but it also includes paying our electric bill, maintenance on our computers, paying staff for their hard work, buying paper for our copy machine, purchasing candy for our presentations and so on. I have to admit, every year I freak out and wonder how the heck we are going to find enough money to cover all of our expenses. It simply amazes and humbles me every year that we end up being able to pay our bills! I would like to sincerely thank all of you out there who have awarded us grant money, shopped at our garage sale, made individual donations and those who have made in kind donations.
As the year is coming to an end, you may be trying to figure out which organization to donate to this year. KYEA would like to challenge you to donate $5 each month for a year to KYEA. To make it easy, have your bank automatically withdraw it from your account. It is as simple as that! You always hear the phrase, "Every little bit counts." Well, it really does!!    
Again, thank you to all who have supported us financially this past year and in previous years. We could not have done it without you!
#9 The Voices of Our Youth
Each year, we work with 100's of youth with disabilities, each with a very clear, important voice! Every youth has something to say. This month, our youth are talking about what THEY are thankful for.
What are you most thankful for right now?
quotation mark  Friends
- Corey Shelton, KSYLF Alumni '10
I'm thankful to be disabled because it's part of what made me who I am, has given me the opportunity to advocate for others with disabilities, and make life long friends!
- Nickole Donohue, KSYLF Alumni '07
To be able to show off my disability in the world and also show that no matter how disabled you are, or what disability you have, you can follow and achieve your dreams.
- Joseph Stroud, KSYLF Alumni '07
I am thankful to have my disability. I would not be where I am, nor who I am, without it.
- Allison Wilkes, ICON Alumna
My friends and family. They mean so much to me. My life wouldn't be complete without them.
- Kyle Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11
I am most thankful for an awaking each day, knowing that I choose to love myself, and knowing the fact that I have a disability. I am also thankful for people who see beyond my disability and into believing that my dreams are possible, and mostly, I am thankful for the comfort of knowing that I am not alone when it comes to my disability.
- Brian (Butters) Gano, KSYLF Alumni '04
I am very thankful for my family and friends, the work that I'm doing at Family Ministries, God, and the house that I live in.
- Rochelle Kinney, KSYLF Alumna '05
I'm very thankful having my son in my life, my mom, my brother that's cares for me and my little one, awesome friends who are close to me at church, and, most of all, a wonderful family of YLF/KYEA who is there for you when you need them.
- Callie Hargett, KSYLF Alumna '05
 This is easy- something I did this summer with three awsome ladies! Thanks for giving quotation mark  me the chance to learn about, not just my disability, but others. Thanks to you Carrie, Julia, and Johnna.
- Billy Clark III, KSYLF Alumni '13
Be on the lookout for our January issue focused on achieving your goals!
Thanks for reading our newsletter this month! Don't forget to donate by going to our website at and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

Let us know what you think about our newsletter! If there is anything that we can do to make our newsletter more accessible to you, please call us at 785-215-6655 so we can make the change for next time.

Carrie Greenwood
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy