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

Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #32
August 2015
in this issue
:: Through Julia's Eyes
:: KS Youth Leadership Forum Turns 15!
:: Kansas Disability Caucus Returns to "Ignite the Fire!"
:: Movin' On Up: It's College Time
:: "How Will You Define Yourself" Video
:: Resource: Navigating Your IEP
:: APRIL Youth Conference in October
:: State and National Opportunities
:: KYEA Updates
:: Spotlight On: Alex White
:: Question of the Month
:: 10 Ways to Get Involved in School
:: New Addition to Newsletter

A diverse group of students walk down the hallway
Wow, where did the summer go? I feel like I was just announcing, "it's summer!" in this opening paragraph. Time has flown, and most of you are already back to school and starting a new step in your education journey. This is a very exciting time... a new school year can mean limitless possibilities for meeting new people, getting involved in new opportunities, and learning new things. So, embrace it! To get you excited about the year ahead, this issue is focused on "Back to School" topics. Learn all about two youth, at very different years of their education journey, but still experiencing the same excitement of a new school year. Get lots of tips and resources to assist you in being successful this year. It's all below!

Maybe the summer felt like it flew by because it really did for KYEA! Summer is always a busy time for us, and we have so much to tell you about. We have added 20 new youth to our KSYLF alumni family. KYEA staff and youth recently enjoyed the return of the Disability Caucus. AND, we are getting excited about our new Faces program, as well as setting dates for other programs in the coming year.

All of this, and more, begins below! So, take a break from school and check out our August newsletter issue. You might just learn something :).

- Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator 
Through Julia's Eyes Julia Connellis in KYEA shirt
by Julia Connellis, Executive Director
"I Can. I Will!"

It's back to school time!  It has been amusing for me to read the variety of reactions to school starting on Facebook.  Parents are excited because it relieves stress regarding making sure their child is sufficiently occupied for the summer.  Then, there are those parents who are reflective of how time has flown by and the fact that their child is growing so quickly.  College students are ready to get back to their partying... um, I mean "education." :) Other college students are ready to be one semester closer to graduation.  High school students reactions- well, frankly, if they are not a senior, there isn't too much excitement.  What has been resonating with me the most is that every person has their own individual experience with school and, depending on that experience, this time of year can be full of good and bad feelings.  

As many of you know, my middle and high school years were full of bullying and thoughts of suicide. Although this was a long time ago, I still carry the emotional scars (good and bad) with me.  Recently, I have had to decide whether I still want to give my energy to the bad times because, in September, my 20 year high school reunion will be occurring.  While I would not mind flaunting my accomplishments to the haters, just the thought of attending the reunion is freaking me out!  While I read posts from my former classmates and how excited they are for the reunion, I wonder, "Is there something wrong with me that I do not feel that way?"  While I know there is nothing wrong with me, it is fascinating to know that each one of us has had a different experience, and I know that there are some stories that I have not heard.

So, for the students out there, please know that there is no wrong feeling to have.  It is YOUR experience and feelings.  Just remember, the person next to you may have a completely different feeling about the same exact experience.  Hearing other people's stories, respecting their feelings and sharing yours can open new doors and relationships that you may have never even imagined!  You just never know what you might learn from sharing yours and caring about others.  Now, to take my own advice and get ready for my reunion!!
Kansas Youth Leadership Forum Turns 15!
Twenty delegates learn about leadership with a purpose 
KSYLF delegates taking a group photo with Governor Brownback
The 2015 KSYLF delegates pose for a group photo in the Governor's office with Governor Sam Brownback during the Day at the Capital.
 The Kansas Youth Leadership Forum (KSYLF) went back to its roots this year with a theme of "LEAD: Do It With Purpose!" Leadership is at the core of the KSYLF, but, this year, the delegates were challenged to have a passion and direction behind their leadership. KSYLF dove logo This 15th annual Forum was attended by 20 youth who were able to explore their individual purpose and areas of strength as leaders. Delegates left knowing that leadership is not about recognition, but rather about really making a difference, which is what each of the youth plan to do!

This year's KSYLF was held on July 14 - 18, 2015 at Washburn University in Topeka. Twenty unique, enthusiastic young leaders with disabilities attended the Forum. There were 19 staff members present throughout the week, including six KSYLF alumni who returned to serve as volunteers and share their experiences.

KSYLF delegates and staff in the Capital rotunda The KSYLF week was full of memories, disability pride, learning experiences, and growth amongst the participants. The delegates demonstrated developing leadership and advocacy skills, as well as a determination to reach their future goals.

This year's Mentor Luncheon keynote speaker was Sarah Castle, attorney and four-time Paralympian from Kansas City. Sarah shared her story of overcoming obstacles to reach her goals and motivated the audience to do the same.

Two Leaders Recognized at Mentor Luncheon 
No KSYLF Mentor Luncheon is complete without giving out our annual awards! This year, KYEA honored two very determined leaders with a purpose.

Clovis Reinsch The Justin Cosco Scholarship Award was presented to Clovis Reinsch, 2012 KSYLF Alumni, who has shown tremendous growth in the last few years. Clovis is a quiet, but strong leader who leads by example and a caring heart.

Gina McDonald The Spirit of Hope Award, in memory of John Peterson, was given to an advocate known nationwide, Gina McDonald. Gina was a part of the original steering committee who brought a YLF to Kansas, helped start KYEA, and continues to support our organization and be a champion for youth with disabilities.
Kansas Disability Caucus Returns to "Ignite the Fire!" 
KYEA staff and youth use their voices during two-day event 
Johnna and Julia stand by the KYEA booth
KYEA staff members, Johnna and Julia, stand in front of the KYEA booth in the exhibitor hall at the 2015 Kansas Disability Caucus.

The Kansas Disability Caucus has returned, and Kansans are on fire! After three years of not occurring, the Caucus was revived and was recently held in Topeka with over 200 people attending. This year's Caucus was held on August 13 and 14 at the Ramada Inn in downtown Topeka. The theme was "ADA 25: Igniting the Fire!" This two day event was full of informational workshops, empowering speakers, regional Caucus sessions, an awards banquet, and lots of networking and great memories.

KYEA had a large presence at the Caucus with five alumni and three staff in attendance. One KYEA staff member empowered the audience to take responsibility for the future as part of the opening panel. KYEA youth spoke up and shared important issues during the regional sessions. KYEA also had a booth in the exhibitor hall throughout the whole event. Check out our staff doing their thing at the KYEA booth in the photo above. Welcome back Disability Caucus! 
Movin' On Up: It's College Time

Kelsey Johnson, Washburn University student and KSYLF alumni 2014, shares her experience with starting college and advocating for herself as a student with disability. Like most new college students, she is excited about the possibilities ahead! Read her story...
by Kelsey Johnson, KSYLF Alumna 2014

I'm Kelsey Johnson and I am a freshman at Washburn University this year. My major is Elementary Education. I have a type of progressive neuropathy that is currently undiagnosed. Going to college is a huge transition for me because I'm living on my own and being independent.

Kelsey and two friends make funny faces as they wear clothing covered in chalkWhen I applied to Washburn, I was slightly nervous about living on my own and being able to adjust to a different classroom experience. However, my professors are all very understanding and accommodating.

There are many resources available to help me adjust to life at Washburn, such as note-takers, peer educators, and accessible classrooms. One of the things I look forward to this year is meeting new friends and getting involved in campus activities.

For me, getting involved at WU was nerve-wracking because I didn't know how many activities I could do because of my disability. I'm now planning on joining the groups Bod Squad, Leadership Institute, and Christian Challenge/Young Life on campus.

On the first day of class, I had to explain to my professors how my disability affects my performance in the classroom. After I did that, every class went smoothly. Learning to advocate for myself helps me a lot in college. If I need something, I'm able to ask for it.

I hope that this year will involve making new friends, good grades, and great memories. The reason I came to Washburn is because I wanted to do all of those things and Washburn was the perfect place to do it.

"How Will You Define Yourself?" 

Lizzie Velasquez asks this very question as she speaks about her own life journey. Lizzie, who was once labeled online as the "world's ugliest woman," shares her story about overcoming bullying and stereotypes to become a strong, confident woman. Are you struggling with being bullied? Listen and be motivated to create your OWN definition of yourself!  

Lizzie speaks at a TED Talk- How Will You Define Yourself
Get Involved in Your IEP:
Resource helps youth navigate the in's and out's of an IEP

Another school year has started, and chances are, you have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a very important plan with YOUR name on it and YOUR future written in it. Do you know what it says? You should. But, if not, we encourage you to find out. An IEP can be confusing. So, we wanted to provide you with a good resource that will help you makes sense of your IEP. And guess what? This was written all by youth with disabilities! Check it out!

"Navigating Your IEP: Are you on the right track towards your future?"

written by the Florida Youth Council

Navigating Your IEP manual cover with compass "The Florida Youth Council has worked hard to put together this guide, which has been created by youth, for youth. It will help you on your way to independence, by telling you about the steps involved in the IEP (Individual Education Plan) process, why the IEP is important, and how the choices you make in your IEP planning will affect your life. The purpose of this guide is to help you help yourself, by giving you the tools you need to take command of your own life. No one knows you better than yourself, so you are the person that should be making decisions about your future!

'Navigating Your IEP' will explain why your IEP matters, describe the steps involved in the IEP process, tell you about your legal rights and help you to be ready to take charge of your IEP meeting. After reading this guide, you will be well-informed as to how to guide your own education planning process, you will know what the IEP is and you will be ready to make the decisions that will affect your future."



APRIL Youth Conference logo- Saved by the ADA

Want to meet other youth with disabilities from across the nation? Then you should attend the upcoming national APRIL Youth Conference! This year's theme is "Saved by the ADA." Participants will gather to discuss and learn about making real change in communities across the nation and get an in depth look at the ADA and what it means to them.

Registrations are still being accepted for this one-day conference to be held October 16 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. There is even scholarship money to attend! After the Youth Conference, stick around for the full APRIL Conference focused on independent living for people with disabilities in rural areas. Learn more
News and Events
Opportunities in Kansas
- The Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns (KCDC) is taking nominations of people or groups who have advocated for changes in their communities or in Kansas for improvements to access, programs, education, transportation or employment for people with disabilities. The Michael Lechner Award is given every year to a Kansan with a disability who has advocated to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Nominations are due by September 18. Learn more

- NAMI Kansas is looking to hire a half-time Youth Programs Coordinator to work in their Topeka office. This coordinator will help expand programs for youth and their families. NAMI is an organization that focuses its efforts specifically on people with mental health disabilities. To apply for this position, send a letter of interest and resume to Learn more about NAMI Kansas  
- Disability Mentoring Day is coming up in a couple of months! Start planning now to get involved in your local event. Learn more about DMD
Opportunities on a National Level
- NEW PUBLICATION: We Are the ADA Generation
Has the ADA impacted our nation? Of course! Learn just how much by reading stories of young people who are part of the ADA Generation. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, IEL has collected stories from youth with disabilities who grew up under the ADA. These stories show the achievements of these youth and the impact that the ADA has had on their lives. View this publication

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is always on the lookout for young adults with disabilities who would like to serve as interns in their Washington, DC office. Interns assist with AAPD projects and typically focus on social media and communications. Check out this awesome opportunity to intern with a national disability organization! Learn more

- Google is looking for your biggest and best ideas for how technology can expand opportunity and independence for people with disabilities. They are committing $20 million in funding toward this goal. They are looking for
exciting ideas for technology that could become a reality. Ideas must be submitted by non-profit organizations. Have an idea for a new piece of technology that could help people with disabilities? Have your organization submit it! Learn more

- A technology center is seeking people with spinal cord injuries to test SCI-HARD, a
video game created to help individuals with SCI develop or improve their self-management skills. Some individuals may play with their hands, while others may use a mouthstick. Participants will test the game on Android and iOS devices. Interested players must be between the ages of 13 and 29 and have a spinal cord injury. Check it out

- Interested in meeting a Presidential candidate? The Respect Ability Report is looking for people with disabilities to attend an event with a presidential candidate and get video of them answering a question on disability issues. Your video may be posted on YouTube, and you could earn $50! View the details

- If you use a wheelchair and have flown in the last 5 years, the Paralyzed Veterans Administration wants your input. They want to learn more about how effective air travel is for those who are wheelchair mobile. Share your experiences. Fill out the survey
KYEA Updates
Sharing all things new in our KYEA world...
Faces of Change leadership program still seeking participants

Faces of Change logoCould you be a Face of Change? We think you could be! Grow in your leadership skills by participating in our new Faces of Change program. We are still looking for youth to participate!

Faces is a leadership development program with a strong emphasis on service learning/community service. We are currently recruiting young adults, ages 16-25, with disabilities/special health care needs who exhibit strong leadership skills.

Faces includes one weekend per month for 7 months of an advanced leadership program. The program will equip youth with enhanced leadership skills, experience in developing a community change project, exposure to a local mentor, and opportunities to network with others.

Approximately 10-15 young adults will be selected through a competitive application process. YOU could be chosen to take part in this exciting new program! The first weekend starts in October, so contact us today to sign up! If interested in participating, contact Julia at

Learn more about Faces of Change

Dates set for 2016 KSYLF!

KSYLF logo with dove Can you believe that, in no time, we will start recruiting for the 2016 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum? We already have the dates set! The 2016 KSYLF will take place July 11-16 at Washburn University in Topeka. If you know a junior or senior who might want to participate or an adult who might want to volunteer, make sure that they get these dates on their calendar! Delegate applications will be due by DECEMBER 15, 2015. Volunteer applications are due in February.

We are also interested in going out to schools to present about this program. Let us know if your school would be willing to bring us in!

Empower Me! Series workshop schedule to be set soon

Empower Me Series logo KYEA might be coming to your city soon! Last year, we started a new program called the Empower Me! Series (EMS). EMS brings real life topics to youth with disabilities in the form of one-day weekend workshops throughout the state. KYEA partners with the Center for Independent Living in each city to ensure that each workshop caters to the youth in that area.

Our first year of this program was a hit! So, we are planning our schedule for the next year. We will soon be picking three new cities to conduct workshops. So, we might be in your area this year! Stay up to date about our workshops by reading this newsletter, checking your email, visiting our website, or Liking us on Facebook. We might just see you soon!

KYEA Selling Motivational T-Shirts... Get Yours Today!

Have a favorite KSYLF year or logo? Maybe you've seen KYEA staff wearing a cool t-shirt with a colorful logo... Well, you might be able to own one of these shirts yourself! We have lots of left over t-shirts from over the years and are selling them as a fundraiser. Check out the logos below.

All t-shirts come in various sizes and are different prices. To purchase a shirt, contact Julia at or 785-215-6655.

You know that you want a shirt with one of these awesome logos!
One VOICE can be heard! One GROUP can make an impact! One COMMUNITY can change the world! I am ABLE. I am STRONG. I am PROUD. I am ENOUGH!
Believe More. Do More. Be More. I am UNSTOPPABLE!
MTV- Moving Towards Victory in the Real World Use Your Difference to Make a Difference
Build Your Life One Layer at a Time Own Your Dreams. Make Your Mark. Leave Your Legacy.
Spotlight On!

Life in the 8th Grade:

Alex White, Bishop Seabury Academy, Lawrence

by Dallas Hathaway, Newsletter Writer

Alex White stands in a library and holds the hand of his service dog

Throughout the past two weeks, students all across Kansas returned to the classroom to reunite with old friends, make new ones, and see which classes they will enjoy most. A particular student named Alex started the eighth grade, attending Bishop Seabury Academy in Lawrence, Kansas. He is a student with a physical disability who loves going to class. When asked what his favorite subject is, he had no doubt that it was math. "My teacher is very nice and understanding. He makes sure that everyone understands the material before moving on to the next section." Aside from his enjoyment of math class, Alex also has a few goals that he would like to achieve throughout the year.

Attending a new school can be tough for anyone. "I hope to see myself do my best, and I want others to see my full potential." Alex mentioned that having a disability often adds on to the stress of being a student. However, one thing that assists him throughout his day is his service dog nicknamed "Dondo." Dondo supports Alex in many ways, but with the help of a few friends, Alex was able to develop a new nickname for his service dog: "the chick magnet." One piece of advice that Alex would give to new students who are facing difficulty is to never give up. "Keep trying, and things will get easier. Once you push through the tough times, things will get easier."

In the future, Alex hopes to attend Oklahoma University, with dreams of becoming a meteorologist. He wants to be the person who is reporting on TV, or chasing the storm and getting the information for others. Alex also hopes to be able to find a program which allows him to continue to play the cello and sing. He enjoys watching various television shows, some of which include The Big Bang Theory and Hack My Life. All in all, Alex is driven and ready to conquer the challenge of the eighth grade. His dreams and aspirations, along with the assistance of friends and family, help propel him throughout his day and to do his very best.  
Question of the Month
What are you most excited about as you start a new school year?

quotation mark
I am excited that I am very interested in what the academic year holds for me, as well as the future.
- Olivia Ramirez, KSYLF Alumna '15

Graduating in December with my Bachelor's in Anthropology.
- Joseph Stroud, KSYLF Alumni '07

Seeing friends, meeting new people, new experiences, and learning new things about my major and being "somewhat" of an adult.
- Morgan Strnad, KSYLF Alumna '10

- Christian Roberson, KSYLF Alumni '09

Getting school supplies and clothes for the kids.
- Rochelle Kinney, KSYLF Alumna '05

quotation mark I am most excited about graduating in December!
- Dallas Hathaway, KSYLF Volunteer
10 Ways to Get More Involved at Your School
various pictures of school activities

School is not just about sitting in a classroom and reading through a textbook. It can also be a place to learn what you are good at, meet new friends, and get involved in other activities that you enjoy. There are many benefits to getting involved outside of the classroom. Consider this...

by Johnna Godinez, VISTA Program Assistant

Did you know that youth with disabilities experience a higher drop-out rate (40%) than their peers without disabilities? To help ensure that youth with disabilities stay in school, it is generally recommended that students (and their parents) get involved in school (NCSET, 2007). This may seem scary and overwhelming. Maybe you feel like you don't fit in anywhere. Well, there are so many options for getting involved. Find the one that best fits you!  For some ideas to get involved, check out this list:
  1. Clubs that are accessible to all - Consider joining a club that is accessible to all students (Junior Civitan or Circle of Friends).
  2. Volunteer - Get involved in serving and learning about the needs of the citizens in your community. Check out Key Club or your local volunteer center for opportunities.
  3. Tutor other students - Are you great at math, language, or science? Share your natural talents to help your peers do better in school.
  4. Sports - Whether you join Special Olympics or other high school sports, this is a great way to get in shape, make friends, and develop your leadership skills!
  5. Join the arts - Choir, theater, band, or orchestra can be time intensive, but worth all the work. For creative types, this can be a positive healthy outlet!
  6. Intramural sports - A great way to meet more people, break a sweat, improve your athleticism and all without a major time investment.
  7. Be a teacher's assistant - Teachers need all the good help they can get!
  8. Mentor/school mentoring programs - Seniors/juniors... what do you think about mentoring freshman? Or, if you want a mentor, they can be accessed from the community with help from your school.
  9. Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) - If you participate through your senior year, you could be eligible for college scholarships.
  10. Create your own club - If none of the above interests you, then create a club of your own. Remember to check with your school about this process.
New Addition to KYEA Newsletter to Highlight Centers for Independent Living:
Circle with different types of disability logos Community Power!
by Julia Connellis, Executive Director

We are excited to announce a new segment to our e-newsletters. Our new section will be called "Community Power."  This segment will highlight the powerful community resources that we, as people with disabilities, have, but may not know about.  Beginning in our October issue and throughout 2016, we will be highlighting the amazing resource that keeps our community together.  Centers for Independent Living (CIL) are a strong and powerful resource that many have not heard about! 

CIL's are nonprofit organizations across Kansas and the United States that are run by people with disabilities in order to help people with disabilities!  Have I captured your attention yet?  I sure hope so.  In each newsletter, we will be highlighting a specific CIL in Kansas so you can get familiar with where they are, who works there and what fabulous services they have for you to utilize.  Not only do CIL's provide services, they also have great opportunities to participate in, and, most of all, they are part of your extended disability family!

Be on the lookout in the coming months for our new segment, Community Power!
" The journey in between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place."
-- Barbara De Angelis
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Keep up to date on the latest KYEA happenings, help us connect with you, and meet other youth with disabilities around the state!


Be on the lookout for our next issue that will come out in October!
Thanks for reading our newsletter this month! Learn more about KYEA, and consider donating, by going to our website at!

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