August 3, 2011 Featured Emerging Leader
Transition and Employment Projects

One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month or so, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.

Sierra Lode's photoSierra - Written by Sierra Lode, MT-TIRC Advisory Board member and Emerging Leader


My name is Sierra Lode. I am 27 years old and I have cerebral palsy. For me communication is a huge struggle; I am unable to speak. Luckily I have a computer that assists me. I am able to look at it and type what I am thinking. This is very helpful with school and everyday things. It does almost anything...I'm even able to text on it. Interestingly enough, I wrote this article with it.


Currently I am attending the University of Montana College of Technology in Missoula. I have been in school for five years and am pursuing an associate's degree in general studies with an emphasis on communication. Poetry was my favorite class - I enjoyed being able to express my feelings and ideas. I like using poetry to show others how I feel. My disability allows for extra time and other accommodations for school. Depending on the course there are different alterations that need to be made. One of my math teachers even took the time to come to my house. It was a huge help. Vocational Rehabilitation helps with the costs of school.


I am presently living by myself. I'm very thankful for my parents because without them none of this would be possible. They have been amazing during the whole process of helping me find a place, furniture and roommates. As far as roommates go it's important to me to have someone who is considerate and dependable. It is sometimes frustrating trying to find a roommate; I've gone through five of them in three years. But waiting until the right one comes along will definitely be worth it.

 Sierra accepting Emerging Leader award

I had the opportunity to go to the Montana Youth Leadership Forum (MYLF) when I was sixteen. MYLF is a five-day leadership program for young people with disabilities. It was such a great experience. I learned a lot about leadership and social skills. MYLF helped me discover who I was and where I wanted to go in life. It also inspired me to become a part of my culture. It opened my eyes to the fact that I am not alone in anything I do - there are many people who share my struggles.


I want every young person who has any sort of disability to know that they are not in it alone. Personally my biggest challenge has been acknowledging that I struggle with depression. Depression is debilitating and often hard a hard thing to recognize within one's self. Because of this I have become an advocate for disabled youth and their struggle with depression. Above all I feel it is important that these kids know that depression is not something they should be ashamed of. The first step towards fixing a problem is being aware of it, before it manifests into something more severe. I was given a chance to instigate a subcommittee on the Montana Transition Training, Information and Resource Center Advisory Council that focuses on depression in young people with disabilities. This has allowed me to speak out about the things I believe in, and hopefully educate other young people with disabilities as I go along.


Read more about Sierra in the January 14, 2011, Missoulian newspaper article: UM student with cerebral palsy shows off high-tech communication to schoolchildren 

Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This publication was produced by the University of Montana's Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects, which is funded in part under a contract with the Montana Council on Developmental Disabilities. The representations, if any, contained herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Council.