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Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #61
December 2022
What a busy time of year for all of us! But, also, what a fun, joyous time of year! We had a ton of fun putting this issue of the newsletter together. Beware, you might drool all through reading it. That's right, this month, we are doing our FOOD issue! We wanted to take on a topic a bit less serious this month AND who doesn't like food? So, while we've got lots of updates, news, and resources to share with you, this newsletter is also full of cooking tips, recipes, features on youth who cook, and much more!

We hope you enjoy, and we hope you have a wonderful holiday and new year!
A mug of coffee with marshmallows on top surrounded by a red candle and beads and on top of a cream tablecloth
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy logo


The theme around the KYEA office these days has been recruitment and workshops! KSYLF recruitment is in full force, and KYEA staff have been hosting multiple Empower Me! Workshops around the state and virtually. We just love empowering youth with disabilities... it's kind of our thing!
KYEA Staff Back on the Road to Host Empower Me! Workshops in Person

We are so excited to report that we have been back on the road hosting Empower Me! Workshops in different cities across our state! These employment workshops are a collaboration with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), and boy, has it been nice to reconnect with all of the awesome Pre-ETS staff in the different areas. Our workshops, in the last couple of months, have mostly been in person.

So far, since October, we have served 79 youth through these workshops. Each workshop has been unique and a blast! Since we are back to traveling, we will go back to sharing the stop number of our workshops. So, where did we leave off?

Stop #23… Kansas City! We started up our in-person workshops right where we ended them before COVID- Kansas City. How ironic to be back in the same location! This is the third time that we have hosted a workshop in this city. This one was held on October 19 and was attended by 22 youth.
Participants of the Kansas City Empower Me! Workshop gather with KYEA staff for a group photo.
Stop #24… Wichita! Always a great stop in our workshop travels! This is the 4th time that we have hosted an Empower Me! Workshop in this city. Twenty-two youth attended this one. It was held on October 26.
Participants of the Wichita Empower Me! Workshop gather with KYEA staff for a group photo.
Stop #25… Topeka! This one was literally a 15-minute drive for us, which was great on such a cold day. Our Topeka workshop was held on November 16 and was attended by 19 youth.
Participants of the Topeka Empower Me! Workshop gather with KYEA staff for a group photo.
Log on #26… Virtual! While we are back to doing in person workshops, we also will be doing some virtual as well. Our December workshop was held virtually, and the youth participants came from various cities in the western region of the state. Sixteen youth attended this one that was held on December 14.
Screen shot of the participants of the December virtual Empower Me! Workshop. All participants are on their own Zoom screen.
Thanks to all of the youth who have attended these workshops! It was so great to meet all of you! And, as always, a big big thank you to ALL of the Pre-ETS staff who work hard to recruit their youth to attend and help out during all of our workshops. Also, a big thank you to Pizza Hut for donating lunch for two of our workshops and McAlister’s Deli for donating for our Topeka workshop.

So, what’s next? A lot! We have 1-2 workshops planned each month up until May. So, KYEA staff will be busy!

If you are a youth Pre-ETS consumer, and you would like to attend a future Empower Me! Workshop, just reach out to your Pre-ETS Specialist and they will get you signed up!
Delegates from KSYLF 2022 smile as they take a group photo and hold up large YLF letters
KSYLF logo with dove
Recruiting Applicants for 2023 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 10, 2023. 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 2023 KSYLF will be held July 17-22 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 10, 2023.

A group of volunteers all wearing purple tshirts take a silly photo at the KSYLF
Volunteers Needed for the KSYLF!

Who and what creates the “magic” of the KSYLF? Our volunteers do! We are now accepting applications for volunteers for our 2023 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? Do you enjoy working with youth and people with disabilities? Then consider serving as a volunteer at this year's KSYLF. While it is a full week commitment, it will be the best week of your year… we promise!

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 28, 2023.

Save the Date graphic for the 2022 KSYLF- July 17-22
Top 10 that looks like a trophy
Top 10 KYEA Moments of 2022!

It's time for our Top 10 list! Every year is unique and different in the KYEA world. While there have been some challenging times for our staff in this last year, it didn't take much for all of us to pick out some fantastic, memorable moments as well! We really do have a lot to celebrate from 2022. Check out the standouts below as we share our our Top 10 KYEA Moments of 2022 (in no particular order)!
1. KS Youth Leadership Forum 2022- so exciting to be live and in person! (All)
2. Getting on a ladder to save baby birds in our office ceiling and having Carrie guide me through it. (Julia)

3. Our Empower Me! Workshop in Kansas City- it was so good to have youth in the room with us for the first time in almost 3 years! (Johnna / Carrie)
4. The 2022 Kansas Disability Caucus- seeing all of our colleagues and friends, having youth in attendance, the Youth Unite event, youth reporting out, seeing the WIN technique in action, presenting a new dating session, AND the award ceremony where so many of our people were celebrated, including Julia! (All)
5. Presenting alongside Kirstianna G. at a presentation for paras within Topeka Public Schools- so cool for me to take a backseat to one of our youth when presenting. (Carrie)

6. Various lunches throughout the year where all staff were in attendance. (Johnna)

7. Realizing, once again, that our KYEA staff is small, but mighty, as we pulled together through Johnna and my dad’s death and me working remotely for four months. (Julia)
8. Having several of our founding momma’s and papa’s attend our KSYLF Mentor Luncheon. (Julia / Carrie)
9. The herd of one… the sound of Madonna running around the office, especially the first day where she and Julia came back from being away for awhile. It brings me joy! (Johnna)

10. Seeing one of our KSYLF/Faces alum implement the first Disabled and Proud Parade for the state of Kansas. (Julia)
Madonna- a fluffy white poodle wearing a pink and purple bow
Madonna's Corner

Our therapeutic manager LOVES to eat! It is her favorite thing to do. She really will eat anything. Read about all of her favorite foods and why some of them get her on the naughty list...

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

*Madonna is looking down at her food bowl filled with dry food* (whimper, whimper)

It’s just not fair! Why does mom get to eat all the yummy food, eat things from the cold box (refrigerator), and even hides snacks in secret places?? When I try to eat the yummy food, mom starts barking (scolding) at me. When I get near the cold box, mom starts pointing and growling. When I try to hide my milk bones, mom tries to take them back.

Sometimes mom gives me something off her dog bowl (plate), and sometimes I get yummy treats at work, but I want MORE! *howl* Sometimes I try to eat some grass when I am going to potty. *shows her teeth in a smile* Grass tastes so good that I keep licking my lips when I go back in the dog house (house) and mom ends up finding out and growls. I get so frustrated!

*nibbling on her tail* If mom is not careful, Santa Paws is going to leave her a stocking full of poop for Christmas. *dinosaur sounds coming from Madonna’s belly* Excuse my stomach. I just ate some bird poop, a chicken nugget, 5 chips, and some of Clarity’s (cat sister) food.

I am going to go take a snooze (nap) by the fireplace and wait for mom to lay out the treats for Santa Paws. I eat them every year. *licks her lips and winks*    

Happy Howliday’s!

Two black paw prints
A Christmas holly wreath
Alexis smiling at the camera as she is all dressed up outside of her dorm room at the KSYLF

Spotlight On: A True Passion For Baking!

Alexis Backer (Park City)

by Dallas Hathaway, Faces Alumni and KYEA Board President

As the holiday season approaches, there is one thing everyone can relate to: baked treats! I had the pleasure of interviewing 2022 KSYLF alumna, Alexis Backer. Alexis has a desire for baking, and she wanted to share this passion with all readers of the KYEA newsletter. Alexis is 19, and currently lives in Park City, Kansas. Alexis is a person with Autism and ADHD. Alexis shared with me that her disabilities provide her the opportunity to do things in her own way, and at her own pace. Alexis is proud that she is different and uses it to her advantage.

Alexis became inspired to bake through watching the show MasterChef Junior. Alexis explained her idol is American Chef and cookbook author, Christina Tosi. Through watching the show, Alexis became interested in baking and culinary arts. For Alexis’ 18th birthday, she was surprised with her very own birthday cake, made by Christina Tosi herself. The cake was chocolate and baked with chocolate chips on the inside. The cake was frosted white and topped with delicious cookie pieces. From that point on, Alexis knew that baking was for her.

Alexis enjoys baking cookies from scratch the most. Alexis explained the process of creaming together the butter and the sugar during the cookie making process. If you do this correctly, you can produce more cookies than the recipe calls for. Her main tip was “the more you cream, the more you get,” she said. Alexis told me how she recently tried her own version of the well-known Crumbl Cookies. She made a mint cookie with a mint buttercream frosting. Alexis believes that the flavor and how it is decorated are equally important.

Alexis wanted to share some general advice with anyone who is considering trying out their baking skills.

“Don’t let yourself down. If you want to pursue something, go ahead!” she said. “[With baking] you can let your creativity go wild. Be who you want to be and make sure to push your creative side out.”

In her free time, Alexis enjoys playing Roblox. This is a mobile application that allows users to play a wide variety of games and chat with other players online. She also enjoys watching YouTube videos, movies, and hanging out with friends. In the future, Alexis hopes to work at a local bakery. If she decides to pursue opening her own bakery, she wants to learn more about the specifics of production and products. She may consider getting her degree in culinary arts in the future. Thank you again, Alexis, for allowing me to share your story. I hope everyone has a great holiday season and a Happy New Year!
Elizabeth Wright smiling at the camera
It's All About Independence!
Goddard Youth Gives Back to Family Through Cooking
by Elizabeth Wright, KSYLF Alumna '18 and Faces Alumna '20, as told to Carrie Greenwood

My name is Elizabeth. I live in Goddard, and I am a person with Cerebral Palsy. I use a wheelchair and walker to get around and need some physical help with different daily activities. I don’t let my disability stop me from being independent and trying new things, like cooking! I currently live with my grandparents. While I don’t completely live on my own, I do occasionally prepare my own meals with assistance.

Even though I have a physical disability, I have different ways of helping to cook at our house. I have two drawers in the kitchen that my grandmother set up for me. One has my own bowls, plates, and adaptive cooking equipment, such as a mini electric skillet. The other drawer has snacks in it that I enjoy most of which I don’t need to cook. I do enjoy eating, as most people do!

When I get ready to cook or make myself something, I usually get into my wheelchair first so I have my hands available and can balance. Also, I got a new wheelchair that raises and tilts. Anyway, once that’s done, I will usually get everything out for whatever I’m cooking and, if I can’t reach or find it, I will ask for help. I can make things on the stove, but I tend avoid it and stick to the microwave unless I’m helping someone else cook because of safety.

I also use a grabber, and I have been given a variety of kitchen gadgets. A nutribullet and a full-size skillet are just some of them, and I would like to learn more about how to cook and use them.
Brenna and Thad taking a close up photo with their head close together
Moments Together...
Meals and Cooking Provide Bonding Moments for Couple

Food oftentimes brings people together. This is definitely the case with couple Brenna Koch and Thad Smith. We might have been a little excited to hear of this pairing of two of our KSYLF alumni, but this couple also shows that two people with disabilities can balance each other. Read the interview below to find out how cooking together brings these two people even closer...

How old are both of you?
BRENNA: 33, THAD: 32

What are your disabilities?
BRENNA: Legally blind due to multiple diagnoses
THAD: Asperger’s Syndrome

How and when did you meet?
BOTH: At the 2007 KS Youth Leadership Forum as delegates

What are some of your favorite things to do together?
BOTH: We love to organize, relax, watching movies together, and spend time with the kiddos.

How often do you cook together?
BOTH: At least twice a week, mostly on our weekends together.

What types of foods do you like to cook together?
BOTH: A variety of food and as long as it has cheese.
KYEA Staff Share Their Favorite Holiday Recipes
Sweet potato pie
Julia loves...
Sweet Potato Pie!
Pieces of fudge in red and white striped holders
Carrie loves...
Norweigian apple cake
Johnna loves...
Norwegian Apple Cake!
Unique Tools for Making Cooking Accessible to All
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

Cooking can be a challenge if you have a disability. It’s totally possible for many people though. Do you know how? Assistive technology, of course! It gets us through other aspects of our lives, why not cooking too? There are so many devices and tools out there that can assist people with disabilities when cooking. Below are some of my favorites:
A 6 in 1 multi opener
The struggle is real for some of us who struggle with our hands. This opener is so cool! It opens bottles, zipper bags, etc.
Green avocado slicer
Cutting an avocado can be really challenging for many people. This kitchen tool slices the avocado after it is peeled. It’s dishwasher-safe, and it’s ready to help with the prep work for guacamole.
A 3 blade slicer and dicer
This tool gives those of us with low vision no excuse to not eat healthier. I love that it is keeping our fingers and knife blades away from each other. Simple use of the blades to prep your food from salads to stir frys.
A person standing on a black kitchen mat
It does not matter what your disability is- we can all benefit from a non-slip kitchen mat on the floor. I can’t tell you how many times I have spilled liquid when I cook. With my knee injury and my low vision, it is important for me to have a mat on the floor to avoid a fall. Some mats provide cushioning for standing in the kitchen for long periods of time.
Talking measuring scale
Calling all bakers! This is your tool for measuring liquids. I have given up on baking because it is critical to measure with precision. This talking tool will help me experiment in the kitchen more with two of my favorite ingredients- cornbread and blueberries!

Don’t forget that there are plenty of other options for assistive technology that can help with cooking! Check out Maxi Aids and Independent Living Aids to browse through other items that might be helpful to you. Happy cooking!
A knife and fork on a wooden table
A girl cooking something with a laptop in front of her
New to Cooking? Need Help?
Websites for Easy Beginner Meals

Cooking is not easy... but it also doesn't have to be hard. Whether you are new to cooking or just looking for a quick meal, there are plenty of recipes to help you out! We've compiled a list of some of the best websites with beginner, easy recipes. Start browsing below, but be warned... you will get hungry as you browse!

Eating Healthy...
Simple Ways to Make Your Diet More Healthy
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

Eating healthy is really important to your overall well-being, but it doesn’t have to be boring. It takes some planning and self-control, that’s all. I suggest editing what you bring home from the grocery store, as this limits your temptation. Here are a few tips for you:

1. Make the transition from diet pop to sparkling flavored water. You still get the carbonation, but none of the fake sweetener. It’s easier on your liver and kidneys too.

2. Skip the sour cream dip and go for the salsa or hummus. Enjoy your dips with veggies, and limit the chips, pretzels, etc.

3. Eat an apple, pear, or orange for dessert instead of higher sugar and carbohydrate desserts.

4. Eat breakfast – Concentrate on eating proteins with a small amount of carbs, i.e. one slice of toast or one corn tortilla with eggs or scrambled tofu. Protein in the morning will keep your cravings for carbs down the rest of the day.

5. Avoid tempting yourself - Be like me and avoid eating or drinking whatever makes you crave your favorite junk food and snacks. When I drink diet Dr. Pepper, this is my “gateway” beverage to craving Cheetos, fried chicken, and French fries.

6. Whenever you eat all your favorite foods over the holidays, give your body a break and eat veggie salads, stir-fry (no rice), or soups for 2-3 days for some balance. Remember to eat protein too.
Question of the Month
What are your top three favorite foods?
"Chicken or shrimp Alfredo from my mama cooking, chicken sandwich, and chicken wrap."
- Aubrey Peirce, KSYLF Alumni '21

"Fresh Cauliflower with ranch, Chicken Tinga Tostadas, and Fideo."
- Kirstianna Guerrero, KSYLF '18 and Faces '20 Alumna

"Mom's homemade cooking, Thai food (green curry), and Gooey Grilled Cheese."
- Brian Gano, KSYLF Alumni '04

"Homemade Chicken Noodles Soup, Spaghetti, and Tuna Salad."
- Callie Hargett, KSYLF Alumna '05

"Bacon cheeseburger, lasagna, mexican chicken spaghetti."
- Rebekah Jones, KSYLF Alumna '22

"Pizza, anything Mexican, and BEEF."
- Anthony Frischenmeyer, KSYLF Volunteer

"Pizza, Mac and Cheese and Grilled Cheese!"
- Katie Horrell, KSYLF Alumna '12

"Lasagna, Beef Stroganoff and Caesar salads."
- Kyle James Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11
Forever is composed of nows said by Emily Dickinson
Sarah Ross smiling at the camera
A New Year Message from Sarah...
Little Moments, Big Possibilities!
by Sarah Anne Ross, KSYLF Alumni '08

2023 calendars hang in anticipation.

Blank planners wait to be filled.

And goals, whether already put into words or still forming in our heads, are ready to become destiny.

It's exciting, isn't it? A brand-new year of opportunities, and some of our best days ahead!

If you're like me, all the pressure to create our best year yet and achieve impressive things can also feel a little scary and big. I think we often assume that to accomplish big things requires big steps toward those goals.

But do you know what makes up the 365 days in the coming year?

Little moments, one after another.

Community Power!
Highlighting helpful resources throughout the state

WIOA Youth Program
by Michaela VanDuesen, KSYLF '17 Alumna

“Don't be afraid to reach out for assistance. It is difficult with being a teenager or a student. There are places that can assist you. You just have to reach out and ask,” advises KC D. Schumacher, the WIOA Youth Program Manager, to the youth of Kansas.

What is WIOA? The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is federal legislation designed to improve the nation's public workforce system and help get Americans, including youth and those with significant barriers to employment, into high-quality jobs and careers. The WIOA Youth Program, through the Workforce Centers of South-Central Kansas, serves out-of-school youth ages 16-24 with various barriers including disabilities.
Three diverse youth walking along a sidewalk talking and laughing
Cork board with post it note pinned up with an idea lightbulb on it
Employment Tip of the Month!
Want to keep your social security? Don't forget that there are important pieces of information that you have to report in order to keep your benefits. For a list of these things, read this fact sheet.
These employment tips of the month are provided by Working Healthy. Contact them to learn how you can work AND keep your health insurance!
Have You Heard?
Opportunities in Kansas
Do you know a woman or young girl who happens to be wheelchair mobile? Ms. Wheelchair Kansas and Little Miss Wheelchair Kansas are currently searching for contestants for the 2023 event to be held in March! This is NOT beauty contest, but a leadership, advocacy, and empowerment opportunity that gives the ladies an opportunity to educate and have their voice heard! The chosen titleholders are able to travel the state educating others about people with disabilities and breaking stereotypes of this community. These programs are also an opportunity to grow in leadership skills and gain a new sisterhood of strong, dynamic females! The adult program is for women ages 21 and up and the Little Miss program is for young ladies who are 5-12 years old. This is a unique, life-changing opportunity that you won't want to miss! Applications are due postmarked by January 7, 2023. Learn more

Families Together is has a very cool new CHASE Your Dream podcast series. The goal of this series is to help youth and others learn skills and strategies for developing positive mental health and well-being. Each podcast provides great information and activities for supporting mental wellness. A couple of their topics have included self-talk and connecting with nature. Check out the series

Are you passionate about improving the lives of Kansans with developmental disabilities? Are you looking for ways to share your skills, talents and interests? You might consider joining the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities. KCDD is welcoming applications for Council Members. Their Council Members help achieve KCDD's goals in building a more inclusive state. Apply by January 20, 2023. Learn more

Opportunities on a National Level

If you are a person with ADHD, you might want to check this out! ADDitude asked its readers the best playlists to focus while working or studying. Here are their recommendations... View list

People need a safe place to go during moments of crisis and intense emotional pain. IMAlive is a live online network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis. All of its volunteers are trained and certified in crisis intervention. Learn more

Are you a family member of a person with a disability who would like to learn more about helping your family member plan for the future? You might want to check out some upcoming workshops from Northwestern Mutual. See below for upcoming workshops on financial planning:

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Snow flake design with Happy Holidays below it in red
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Look for our next issue in February!