September 9, 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.

Cambria washing dishesCambria   

Cambria is a 17-year-old who just started her senior year at Hamilton High School. She was nominated because of her impressive résumé of volunteerism and work experience, going all the way back to when she participated in the grant-funded Youth Corps Project during her middle school years.  


First, a little background. Cambria lives at home and stays in the University of Montana dorms with her older sister one weekend a month. She doesn't have a paying job right now (she's done babysitting and housecleaning in the past), but as you will read later, she keeps busy with volunteering. For fun, Cambria likes to hang out with friends, go to movies or the river, play volleyball, fish, hunt, run (she was on the cross country team in 7th grade), and ride horses. She describes herself as "smart, talented, outgoing, and I like to help other people."


In terms of supports, Cambria receives SSI and Medicaid. She has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school and almost all of her classes are modified to meet her learning style. She works with a mental health case manager in the Youth Enhancement Program who takes her shopping, to parks, and to other activities in the Hamilton area. Cambria says she also receives support from her mom, friends, and teachers. She doesn't have a driver's license yet, so either walks places she needs to go or her mom's boyfriend gives her rides. One of Cambria's goals is to take driver's education and earn her license.


Cambria is being honored as an Emerging Leader because of her lengthy record of service to her community. When Cambria was in middle school, her principal, Barb Solomon, and teachers, Connie Sills and Cassie Ellis, elected to participate in the Youth Corps Project (YCP) through the Rural Institute. From 2005-2008, Montana was included in this six-state project funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service to address the inclusion of people with disabilities in community service programs and volunteer opportunities. YCP provided youth with disabilities service opportunities and work experiences to assist them in developing the skills and habits for successful, paid employment.


Connie Sills and Ellen Condon from the Rural Institute arranged for Cambria to volunteer at the animal shelter and the Commod Thrift Store during the school year, and at the Keystone After- School Program in the summer. Cambria enjoyed helping other people and she learned skills she could take to other jobs. Cambria adds, "It is important to help others in the community because you may need help yourself someday. And it looks good on résumés and college applications."


When Cambria moved on to high school, one of her middle school teachers, Jan Witt, moved on with her. Ms. Witt encouraged the high school to expand their community work experience program and developed volunteer and work experience opportunities for her students. Cambria participated in a variety of these experiences, including volunteer stints at the animal shelter; recycling at school and in the community; cleaning rats in the biology room; gardening with the high school master gardening class; stocking paper at school; and setting up and taking down the cafeteria lunch tables. One volunteer position has lasted through Cambria's high school career - lending a hand at the Senior Center. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning from 7:30-9:30, Cambria helps prepare food, sets tables and washes dishes. Some days she returns to the center after school to wash more dishes. Cambria says it is "fun to learn new things and pass that learning on to others."


When asked what she needed to learn in order to be successful as a community volunteer, Cambria said people had to teach her about using computers and how to organize things. She is a quick learner, but sometimes puts things away incorrectly or has a miscommunication with her boss. Cambria says "talking about it helps." At Hamilton High School, she's been able to take a cooking class and also a Job Service class in which students learn about work responsibilities such as being on time. 


Cambria has a number of goals for her future. She wants to graduate from high school and attend the University of Montana culinary arts program or a technical school. Eventually she wants to become a chef at her own restaurant or do catering. Cambria also hopes to have kids and a really nice house. For now, she is focusing on completing high school and excelling in her volunteer work. 


Her advice to other young adults is, "Don't be afraid of your disability or people making fun of you. If someone doesn't know about your disability, don't tell them. It is none of their business. It hurts when we're made fun of. Accept us for who we are!" 


For more information about the Middle School Work Experience program visit: 


Download the publication Work Experience Guide: How to Create a Work Experience Program at Your School [PDF]



Cambria at the Senior Center 


 Thanks to Susanne Meikle, Owner of Montana Work Solutions, for the photographs.  








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.