KYEA: Educating, mentoring, and supporting youth with disabilities in KS
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #56
May 2021
Hi friends! Summer is around the corner... can you believe it?! What is a really big international event that happens every four summers? The Olympics and Paralympics, of course! Summertime is also a great time for people to enjoy the outdoors and play sports. So, for this month's issue, we are focusing on the enjoyment of athletics! Check out all of our awesome features on local athletes and articles about the many sports that can be played by people with disabilities!

We also have a lot going on in our KYEA world, so read on and catch up on all of the latest news and opportunities!
Two sports pictures- A male with one leg climbing a rock wall and a young lady with down syndrome wearing boxing gloves in a boxing ring
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy logo


KYEA Staff have been spending a lot of time on Zoom! We recently held our KSYLF 20-Year Online Reunion and have been conducting lots of virtual Empower Me! Workshops. We are also deep in planning for our 2021 KSYLF, which is, you guessed it... VIRTUAL! Read on to learn more...
KSYLF Alumni Gather for Online 20-Year Reunion Held in April

It’s been 20 years since the first ever Kansas Youth Leadership Forum (KSYLF) was held. 20 years… can you believe it?! We can’t! To celebrate this milestone, KYEA hosted an online KSYLF 20-Year Reunion on April 10 and 11. Twenty-eight alumni from the past 20 years gathered on Zoom and enjoyed two days of fun, reminiscing, and lots of laughter. The weekend event included KSYLF year breakouts, KSYLF Trivia, KSYLF Family Feud, a presentation on how to get more involved in KYEA, and a catch-up session with some past volunteers. Alumni were able to reconnect with other delegates from their year, as well as make new friends from other KSYLF years. They were also able to share updates on where they are at today and the goals that they have reached, as well as express how being a part of this program impacted their lives.

A huge thank you to all of you who attended the KSYLF 20-Year Online Reunion! It went even better than we could have imagine :). You all were so much fun, and we hope that you had a blast and that it was everything that you hoped it would be. The Reunion helped fill our cup as KYEA staff, so thank you for keeping us inspired!

It was SO good to see you all and catch up! You guys make us smile so much. It was definitely a weekend to remember!

If you are an alumni and would like to check out the session on how to get more involved with KYEA, visit the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum Facebook group and search through recent posts for the recording of this session.
KSYLF delegates and volunteers smile and point at the camera
KSYLF logo with dove
2021 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum Going VIRTUAL!!

For the first time ever, the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum (KSYLF) will be held virtually this summer. After much thought and exploring various options, KYEA staff came to the conclusion that the safest option for this year’s delegates is to hold a virtual program instead of in-person. While we realize that this will be a much different KSYLF than in the past, we also know that this is the best decision for everyone involved. While things are looking more positive when it comes to the COVID pandemic, it is still very unpredictable and not everyone has a vaccine at this point. So, the KSYLF is going virtual!

This summer’s KSYLF will still be held the week of July 19-24. It will be hosted through the Zoom platform. Our delegates who were selected last summer, but could not attend due to COVID, will be able to participate in this virtual KSYLF in July. KYEA has learned a lot about hosting events virtually, and we fully plan on the KSYLF being just as AMAZING as it has been in the past! While virtual is not ideal, we are exploring many different avenues to have some of our same activities throughout the week, as well as looking at booking some fantastic speakers from across the nation! This will still be the KSYLF that we all know and love… it will just look a bit different.

If you would like to help out with our virtual KSYLF in some way, whether it be helping with technology, donating goodies for our delegates, serving as a career mentor, etc, please reach out to us at or 785-215-6655.

KSYLF 2021, here we come!
Empower Me! Workshops for Pre-ETS Youth On a Roll!
KYEA is conquering the virtual world and helping youth with disabilities to learn about employment at the same time! Our Empower Me! Workshops with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) continue to be hosted virtually and they each have been a success. These workshops focus completely on helping the youth participants learn how to GET a job and KEEP a job. Pre-ETS consumers from all over the state are eligible to attend and, for now, all workshops are held on the Zoom platform.

Since our last newsletter, we have hosted three more virtual workshops. Here are a few details about them…

April Workshop 1: The first workshop of this month was held on April 7 and 8. It was attended by 7 awesome youth.

April Workshop 2: We had two workshops in the month of April, and, this time, we took a stab at an all-day workshop. This one was held on April 22. Six fun, energetic youth from across the state attended.

May Workshop: Our most recent workshop was held on May 12 and 13. It was attended by 15 fantastic youth.

With each workshop, we learn and improve. As always, a huge thank you to the Pre-ETS staff who are such a great help and support during the workshops! And, a big thank you to the youth who have attended… we love getting to know you, helping you learn that employment is possible, and we enjoy the laughs that come along with each workshop!

We will be switching up the format of our Empower Me! Workshops in the month of June as we try something a little bit new. 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!
The youth participants at the April 7-8 Empower Me! Workshop take a screen shot photo on Zoom with the three KYEA staff.
All of the youth participants of the April 22 Empower Me! Workshop stop to take a screen shot photo. The participants can be seen in their own locations, but connected on Zoom.
Some of the youth participants of the May Empower Me! Workshop take a screen shot photo. Again, each participant is in their own location, but are connected on Zoom.
KYEA Now Has More Options to DONATE!

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

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

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

Visit our Donate page and click the yellow Donate button.

Visit our Donate page and click "Donate with Venmo"

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

Deliver to our office or send to the address above.

Create a Facebook fundraiser and designate it to the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy.
Madonna- a fluffy white poodle wearing a pink and purple bow
Madonna's Corner!

Did you know that animals enjoy sports too? Our therapeutic manager shares about her sport of choice... running (or more like chasing)!

Happy Spring! How are all my dawgs out there?? I hope you are able to dog paddle in all this rain. I hate getting my paws and hair wet… it makes me stink. *shaking head and having ears flap back* I can’t wait *tail wagging fast shaking butt* until the bright light comes back (sun) and I can pay tag with my backyard friends! I have so much energy, and I get distracted easily; playing tag makes me feel grrr-eat. I chase my friend squirrel, the hoppy bunnies, and the mouthy neighborhood cats. I even try to chase the birds, but my paws won’t flap like the birds do. *grabs and shakes blanket in teeth out of frustration* I wuf (love) tag! *mouth open with tongue hanging out* When mom (Julia) calls me back inside the doghouse, I am tired, happy, and relaxed. Mom says I like sports… or maybe she says I am a good sport. I am not sure who this dog Sport is, or why she brings him up, but that is a human for you. *leans head to the left in a questioning gaze* 

Mom just opened the door to the backyard… gotta run! *runs out the door barking*

A large group of graduates throwing their caps in the air
Congratulations Graduates!!
We'd like to congratulate all of our youth, alumni, volunteers, and friends who recently graduated! Your accomplishment is something to be celebrated. You should be proud!
Group picture of the Wildfire youth wheelchair basketball team

Spotlight On: Teamwork and Athletics for Youth with Disabilities

Wildfire Youth Wheelchair Basketball Team (Wichita)

by Dallas Hathaway, Faces Alumni and KYEA Board President

Have you ever thought about playing a sport? Being a part of a team can be both challenging and rewarding. You can make friends and learn many life skills. Also, there are tons of sports out there, so, chances are, you can find something that interests you.

Wichita Adaptive Sports is a non-profit which promotes adaptive sports and recreation in south-central Kansas. Sports are available for both youth and adults. Some examples include adaptive cycling, swimming, tennis, track, and wheelchair basketball.

The Wichita Wildfire wheelchair basketball team has been around since 2016. According to their website, the goal of the team is to “give athletes with a lower extremity physical disability the opportunity to play on a competitive team while traveling to tournaments throughout the mid-west.”

I had the privilege of speaking with Jenny Kreutzer, one of the coaches of the Wildfire basketball team. She explained that those who are eligible for the youth team can play until age 19. Participants must have a diagnosed permanent lower extremity disability.

“An important thing to remember is that players do not have to be a daily wheelchair user,” Jenny said. There are options for those with varying types of disabilities. “Anyone who thinks they may be interested should give it a try, and cost should not be a concern.”

A sports wheelchair is needed to play wheelchair basketball. There are a limited number available for those who want to join. Additionally, they fundraise by hosting a 5K event and a car show. There are also scholarships and grants available for those who would like to purchase their own equipment.

Micah Campbell, a youth with spina bifida, has been playing with the Wildfire team for about five years. He enjoys playing with his teammates and has played in tournaments around the Midwest. In addition to playing basketball, Micah also plays track and tennis.

“The most important thing for new players is to just have fun,” Micah said.

When you are a team player, it is easy to create memories as a team. Although the pandemic created many challenges for everyone, Jenny recalled a recent tournament where the team came together and made sure to have fun.

“One of my favorite things to hear on the sidelines is the encouragement and the joy from the players,” Jenny said.

The Wildfire basketball team is actively searching for new players. Having more players could give them an opportunity to create another tournament for the region. If you are interested in learning more about the Wildfire basketball team or other adaptive sports for both youth and adults, please visit
Madison Zimmerman in a softball dugout writing information on a sheet
Sports Build Relationships and Character for Overland Park Youth
by Madison Zimmerman, KSYLF Alumna '19

Madison Zimmerman has been involved with various sports since she was young. She has done everything from playing on teams to serving as a manager to just participating in sports for fun! Read on to learn all about how sports have impacted Madison's life...

My favorite part about being involved in sports is being able to meet new people and compete with them every day. I enjoy building stronger relationships with the coaches and my teammates. Playing sports has taught me how to be a team player and how to get along with everyone on the team.

I played sports and watched sports since I was in elementary school. I played on lots of rec basketball teams and softball teams. I played middle school basketball in 8th grade. I also ran track and cross country in middle school. I did the mile, relays, and long jump. I played high school basketball at Blue Valley High School up until my junior year. Then, I was a manager for varsity basketball and softball. I also ran cross country my junior and senior years. We participated in two state championships at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence, KS. We were regional champs in 2018 and 2019.

I think people should get involved in sports because it teaches players how to build relationships with people and eventually become friends. People should sign up for sports camps through their church or through their school. I did the same exact thing throughout the years. I do plan to keep being more involved with sports in the future, like, maybe coaching a basketball team for Special Olympics and getting to play on some basketball leagues for adults.
Logo for Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Athletes with Disabilities Compete in Upcoming Paralympics

So, what made us think to focus this month’s issue on sports? Well, the Olympics, of course! Did you know that the summer Olympics are right around the corner? This is one of the most exciting events for sports around the world. What we like most about it is seeing people of all backgrounds, cultures, countries, abilities, and races come together in the love of sports and competition. The Olympics have something for everyone to watch!

A part of the Olympics that people don’t always know about is the Paralympics! The Paralympics is an international multi-sport event involving athletes with a range of disabilities. There are Winter and Summer Paralympic Games, and they are typically held almost immediately following the Olympic Games. There are 28 different types of sports played by people with varying disabilities. The Paralympics give people with disabilities the chance to compete, show their skills, represent their country, and prove that those with disabilities can be just as good at sports as those without disabilities.

In the past, the Paralympics have had limited television coverage. This year, the International Paralympic Committee has announced that this summer’s Paralympics “will have the best, most complete and in-depth TV coverage yet for a Paralympic Games.” A total of 21 disciplines from 19 sports will be broadcast live on some type of platform.

The Olympics kick off on July 23 and the Paralympics begin on August 24. You can learn more about the Paralympics and view full coverage of all sports at the link below.
A Closer Look at Adapted Sports

Have you ever seen boccia up close? How about beep baseball? Do you know what goalball is? Check out these clips of all different types of sports for people with disabilities!
Beep Baseball (for the blind and visually impaired)
Boccia (for those with mobility disabilities)
Goalball (for the blind and visually impaired)
Wheelchair Rugby (for wheelchair users)
Archery (for people with physical disabilities)
Resources in Kansas for Adapted Sports Options
Compiled by Taylor Boykin and Johnna Godinez

Want to learn more about the sports or facilities listed to the right? Below is a list of websites to access in our state that will help you get involved in lots of different sports:

A female in a handcycle at an Olympic games
A Sport for Everyone
Not sure what to get involved in? Check out these many options!
by Taylor Boykin, KSYLF Alumni '08

Kansas is a state with a rich sports history from the Kansas Jayhawks to the Kansas State Wildcats, from the Kansas City Royals to the Kansas City Chiefs, and don’t forget about the Sporting KC soccer team. Two great things that these professional organizations have in common is they are all local and they have all won titles in recent years. I have loved sports since I was seven years old. As an individual with a physical disability, I had the opportunity to play a few sports when I was younger. There are so many different sports out there for people with disabilities to experience. Listed are some sporting and recreational activities for individuals with disabilities in the state of Kansas, as well as some of the organizations that provide these sports:

  • Beep baseball is a baseball game designed for the blind or visually impaired. The batter is allowed four chances to hit the ball and they are allowed one pass at-bat. They also have beeping baseballs so that the hitter will know when to swing for the ball. This sport is nationally recognized and has its own competitive league. There is a local team in Wichita called the Falcons.

  • Wichita Adaptive Sports- provides competitive and recreational sports for youth and adults. They also provide resources and activities for wounded warriors. The sports offered are swimming, cycling, track and field events, and clinics. Assistance and volunteers are provided as needed.

  • Midwest Adaptive Sports- provides snow sports, skateboarding, softball, rugby, football, basketball, and youth programs for youth in wheelchairs. Volunteers and other resources are provided as needed.

  • 68 Sports- a local gym in Overland Park that has inclusive programs for individuals with disabilities, personal trainers, and different classes you can take that focus on different muscle groups in the body.

  • Paradox Sports- adaptive climbing for individuals of all disabilities. Before you start climbing, you take a course on how to properly climb based on your ability and comfort level. Courses take place in Wichita.

  • The YMCA of Greater Kansas City- has a program called the Adaptive Challenger program that is designed for individuals with disabilities ages four until young adult. It allows individuals with a wide range of disabilities the opportunity to play flag football and exercise while bonding with one another.

  • Here are other sports that are adapted for people with disabilities: boccia, fencing, goalball, weightlifting, archery, scuba diving, kayaking, skiing, and so much more! Check out the video clips to the left of the different sports options for people with disabilities.

Sports can be a great avenue for individuals with disabilities to meet people and make lifelong friendships. It can also be a great way for you to build up your leadership skills and team building. Through these examples, I hope that everyone can find something that interests them and allows them to stay active.
And a few national and international competitions...

The Real Deal: Athletes with Disabilities Around Kansas Excel in Variety of Sports
Fun fact: There have been many athletes with disabilities in or near Kansas that have competed in the Paralympics or other important competitions. Many of them have even medaled in these competitions. Below are a few of these people, along with a some other athletes with disabilities in our very own state who excel in their chosen sport. If you think you can't play sports, read on and learn about these five people who prove that anything is possible!
Doug Biggins wearing his Heat baseball uniform and holding a beep baseball
Doug Biggins

City: Topeka, KS

Age: 49

What sports do you play: Beep baseball

How long have you been competing in this sport:
25 years

What is your proudest moment in this sport:
Proudest moment was winning the beep baseball national tournament in 2007 with the Kansas All-Stars.

What do you love about being an athlete:
I like the competition and being a part of a team. It also motivates me to stay in shape and improve myself.

Why do you feel that adapted sports are important:
I think adaptive sports are important, because it gives persons with disabilities an opportunity to compete and stay involved in athletics. It also provides an outlet to meet others with similar disabilities. I think we can all learn from each other as we face similar challenges.
Nick Taylor- An adult male who is a wheelchair user hits the ball in a tennis game
Nick Taylor

City: Wichita, KS

Age: 41

What sports do you play: Wheelchair Tennis (26 years) and Boccia (3 years)

What is your proudest moment in these sports:
My proudest moment in Wheelchair Tennis is each of the gold medals won at the Paralympic Games (Athens, Beijing, London), however, if I had to pick just one, it would be London. My proudest moment in Boccia is winning the U.S. Nationals in Pairs and Individuals in 2019.

What do you love about being an athlete:
The thing I love most about being an athlete is, it allows me to compete. I’m an extremely competitive person, and these sports give me a way to channel my competitive nature.

Why do you feel that adapted sports are important:
I feel that adaptive sports are extremely important, because they show people that anything is possible. If you are creative enough in finding a way, you can achieve almost anything.
Adam Burnett and his wife Beth at a competition wearing their USA gear
Adam Burnett

City: Osage City, KS

Age: To be determined :)

What sport do you play: Boccia

How long have you been competing in this sport:
5 years

What is your proudest moment in this sport:
My proudest moment would be representing the United States on Team USA in Cali, Colombia where my pairs teammate and I won a match against Argentina. It was the first ever win for the U.S. BC4 Pairs in international competition.

What do you love about being an athlete:
I love the challenge of competition and the strategy of the game of boccia.

Why do you feel that adapted sports are important:
Sports give everyone a competitive outlet to show their skills and determination, but also a great way to increase your circle of friends and social networking. I have friends from Canada to Chile because I play sports.
Famous Athletes with Disabilities
Compiled by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

If you weren't sure if people with disabilities can play sports, look no further than the list below. There are many famous athletes that are known for their skills in sports. But, what a lot of people don't know is that a lot of these athletes have disabilities as well. Check out this list and see if you recognize any names:

1. Usain Bolt – gold-medal Olympian track athlete (limb difference - one leg shorter than the other)

2. Amy Bockerstette – first athlete with Down Syndrome to compete in national college golf competition

3. Michael Phelps – decorated Olympic swimmer (ADHD, anxiety, depression)

4. Serena Williams – professional women’s tennis player, sister to Venus (migraines)

5. Venus Williams – professional women’s tennis player, sister to Serena (Sjogren's Syndrome)

6. Shaquem Griffen - free-agent NFL player, formerly of Seattle Seahawks (limb difference - missing one hand)

7. Simone Biles – multi-gold medal Olympian gymnast (small-in-stature)

8. Chris Nikic – first person with Down Syndrome to finish the Florida Ironman Marathon in 2020

9. Magic Johnson – former professional NBA player (learning disability- dyslexia)

10. Aly Raisman – gold medal Olympic gymnast (mental health)

11. Erik Weihenmayer – mountain climber, first person with blindness to climb to the summit of Mount Everest in 2021

12. Bethany Hamilton – American professional surfer (limb difference – missing left arm)
Aaron Fotheringham does a huge backflip in his wheelchair in a desert looking area
Meet WCMX athlete, Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham!
Interview by Whit Downing, Faces of Change Alumna '17

Imagine a wheelchair flipping over and flying through the air... and then, the person using the chair lands flat on all wheels, perfectly unharmed. This is the exact picture of Aaron Fotheringham. Aaron is a WCMX (wheelchair motocross) athlete who currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our very own Whit Downing had the honor of interviewing Aaron through Zoom this past week! They talked about everything from his sport of motocross to enduring through struggles to reach your dreams.

Watch the interview below to learn more about this awesome sport and this famous athlete who is impacting our nation through adapted sports.

A big thank you to Aaron for giving Whit your time and allowing us to include you in our newsletter!

Community Power!
Highlighting helpful resources throughout the state

Midwest Adaptive Sports
by Cameron McClacherty, KSYLF Alumni '19 and Faces of Change Alumni '20

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Bollig, Co-Owner and Project Manager of Midwest Adaptive Sports (MAS). MAS is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities become involved in adaptive sports.

The sports offered are snow skiing, water skiing, wake boarding, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, canoeing, basketball, softball, football and rugby (the last four all played in wheelchairs). Basketball and rugby are the two most popular sports among youth with disabilities.
A woman doing adapted water skiing
Have You Heard?
Opportunities in Kansas
Do you have ADHD? Would you like to connect with other local youth with your same disability? ADHDKCTeen is hosting their June virtual meeting on the topic of social skills. The group will also be playing Kahoot! Sign up to attend

Looking for opportunities to volunteer this summer and give back to your community? Find a Youth Volunteer Corp in your city and get involved! Find your city

Families Together will be hosting their SHIFT Transition Conference virtually! The conference will take place through three different workshops in June. Parents and youth with disabilities, age 14-21, are invited to attend. Participants learn tips, resources, and information to help families and transition age youth navigate their Good Life, Careers and Employment, and Independence and Interdependence. Learn more

Are you someone with a developmental disability? Would you like to provide some input on the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities 5-Year Plan? Then, fill out their online form! Learn more

Opportunities on a National Level

Do you know a young lady with a disability who could use role models and empowerment? They should apply for the EmpowHer Camp! Each year, a select group of girls and young women (ages 13 -17) with disabilities are invited to the Adirondacks in New York for one week to have fun, explore, connect, and learn about disaster preparedness and basic survival skills and leadership skills, and connect with mentors. The application deadline has passed for this year, but it's never too early to think about next year! Learn more

Attention students... The Heumann-Armstrong Award is open for applications! Judy Heumann is collaborating with AAPD Hearne Awardee, Elijah Armstrong, on this project. They are giving $1000 awards for students (6th grade through higher ed) who have experienced ableism in education and are willing to do a video interview about it. Learn more and apply

AAPD conducted interviews with disability advocates and captured stories of people with disabilities impacted by COVID-19. They compiled these interviews and stories in a storybook called "Disability in the Time of COVID-19." Learn more

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange is hosting a webinar focused on connecting with disability communities abroad. This panel will take place on Friday, May 28 and will consist of exchange alumni who will talk about how they connected with local disability communities during their exchange experiences. Thinking about someday studying or volunteering overseas? Then check out this free webinar! Learn more

Inevitable Foundation is a non-profit that’s funding the next generation of screenwriters with disabilities. Their Screenwriting Fellowship gives emerging disabled screenwriters $25,000 to advance their careers and their projects. Learn more
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