|Youth Leadership Forum attendee|
Each year for the last six, Idaho's IATP (AT Act program) has held a Tools for Life Secondary Transition and Technology Fair to showcase AT, AT services, and transition activities that help students access higher education, employment, and community living. The conference began as the dream of the Idaho Interagency Council on Secondary Transition organized by Jacque Hyatt of the Idaho State Department of Education. Today it has grown from one to two full days (and an evening); involves numerous partners; includes workshops for families, educators, and advocates; and has either spawned or re-energized several statewide student leadership and empowerment initiatives.
"We bring 250 students with disabilities to the conference from across the state," reports IATP's Training Coordinator Nora Jehn. "It's always a daunting task--we charter two buses--but it's always worth it because of all the extra learning that goes on."
Indeed, as a two day event, the Tools for Life Fair is often a student's first time staying in a hotel, going to a restaurant, or getting away from home--essential transition groundwork. "Also choosing what sessions to attend," Jehn emphasizes since the conference includes eight break-out sessions, and attendees design their own experience. Parent workshops are also organized to coincide with a student pizza social, "So the kids get their social time."
The conference is clearly a good time for young attendees. And it's remarkable how different a person can feel about their life when they connect with like-minded peers, begin to spread their wings, and gain the tools they need to set their own direction.
Which is why, at the Tools for Life Fair, young leaders emerge. Youth leadership initiatives ignited by Tools for Life now include:
-Idaho Youth Leadership Forum. The event had gone dormant until Tools for Life gave it a new spark. Up and running again for the last three years, the YLF is now an impressive five-day leadership, citizenship, and career development program for young people with disabilities. There is also a Youth Leadership Network that has been re-invigorated for slightly older young adults.
-Idaho Self-Advocate Leadership Network (SALN). SALN is entirely organized and run by adults with disabilities, many of whom have recently outgrown the Tools for Life Fair. SALN has just put on their first SALN conference.
-Disability Mentoring Day. These activities were only happening in one region of Idaho's 7-region state. This past October, however, six regions participated in Disability Mentoring Day. The day matches high school students with community members for job shadowing and networking in each student's employment area of interest.
To learn everything you ever wanted to know about Idaho's Tools for Life Fair, read their impressive (and attractive!) 2010 Post-Conference Report.
Register/learn about Idaho's 7th Annual Tools for Life Fair, March 7th and 8th, 2011 in Idaho Falls.