West Texas Youth Leadership Forum
Young people have a great deal to contribute to the current advocacy environment. Today’s youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have grown up in a time when the rights of people with disabilities have been established through important civil rights acts that were passed over the last 30 years. However, youth with IDD often need training to fully understand their rights and how to effectively advocate for those rights so that they can become fully integrated and included into all aspects of community life. Teaching leadership and advocacy skills to youth with IDD gives them a voice while providing assurance that disability advocacy will continue into the next generation.
Support youth with disabilities to increase their leadership and advocacy skills.
The West Texas Youth Leadership project planned to support 60 youth with IDD per year to gain leadership and advocacy skills, to become leaders in the community, and to advocate for themselves and others. Students were recruited from 43 school districts across 13 counties and the Department of Assistive Rehabilitation Services. Participants took part in an intensive six-day curriculum supported by their local school district. Adult mentors provided support and feedback to students during training and led a variety of advocacy activities. Students developed person-centered plans which included selecting an activity to complete by the end of the year. Workshops provided interaction and goal development according to the student’s resources.
The project worked to build students’ self-esteem and taught them the importance of goal setting, giving them tools to set valuable career goals. Participants accomplished goals that were set through the leadership project. For many youths, the bonding experience and the friendships that were developed proved to be positive for overcoming barriers and achieving life goals. The Abilene Reporter newspaper reported on how students in the program had learned to have a voice in their community by voting.
An annual West Texas Summer Institute was also planned, starting in 2007, to offer students unable to attend the Statewide Conference an affordable experience to bridge the summer.