December 2011

Featured Emerging Leader

Transition and Employment Projects

We hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season and wish you a happy and healthy 2012!


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.


Interviewed by Ellen Condon, Transition and Employment Projects Director

Alyssa is a 21-year-old young woman from Missoula who was nominated as an Emerging LeaderAlyssa facing grocery store shelves by her mother, Karen. Alyssa graduated from Sentinel High School in 2010. She told me that the experience leaving high school was sad. Her day was different when she no longer attended school and she missed her friends, her teachers and the cafeteria!


While Alyssa's days look different than they did in school, she has a pretty active and well coordinated schedule of activities and supports. Alyssa lives with her mom, her grandparents and younger sister. Her brother attends college in Missoula. Her mom works during the day and wanted Alyssa to be active and productive while she was away from home. Alyssa's mom has created a very unique schedule of activities including work, volunteer, and recreation opportunities. She has found supports for transportation through friends, neighbors and connections that she and Alyssa have made in their community.


Upon graduation Alyssa received job development services funded by Vocational Rehabilitation and provided by a local employment agency. The job developer was having difficulty finding her a job so Mom stepped in.  She wrote a letter to two prominent businessmen, owners of the Montana Club, who had connections to Missoula and Sentinel High School. Their sons had gone to school with Alyssa and they themselves had attended Sentinel High School. Karen asked for business advice and suggestions, sharing that as a parent she dreamed of her daughter being a productive participating member of her community. Her daughter, a very motivated young woman, had been looking for a job for over a year and was having difficulty even getting an interview. The business owners called Karen and invited her and Alyssa to come in to meet about a job; even though she was only asking for advice this contact turned into a part-time job. She has been employed at the restaurant for over a year now, bussing tables and cleaning menus. The restaurant staff provided the job coaching with some tips from Karen.


Another employer, The Good Food Store, recruited Alyssa to come work for them after meeting her at a concert. They stated that her outgoing personality would fit right in with the other employees at the store. She works in the bulk food area twelve hours a week, making sure that the area remains neat and tidy.


On Monday mornings Alyssa volunteers at her church helping the youth director get ready for the Sunday children's activities. Alyssa assembles booklets and craft supplies and whatever is needed for the next week. Her supervisor, whom she met through Church and who is a neighbor, picks Alyssa up in the morning and gives her a ride to the church. After work she gives Alyssa a ride to the YMCA where she works out with a personal trainer. On Wednesdays and Fridays she helps her friend Lori, who has a new business as a pet sitter. Lori picks her up at home and after they are done with the dogs gives her a ride to the YMCA. Alyssa works out at the YMCA on Mondays and Thursdays, participates in Special Olympics activities on Wednesdays and swims on Fridays.


Alyssa would like to move out of her mom's house and share an apartment with a friend. She has just qualified for HUD low income housing rental assistance and is watching the construction near her home of a new apartment building. This area is close to her mom and on the bus line. Currently she is dependent on catching rides with others because she lives outside of the public transit route.   She and her mom are also exploring enrolling Alyssa in Driver's Education.


Alyssa receives Developmental Disabilities Case management services through AWARE and is on the waiting list for Community Support Services. It is unclear how long the wait will be. In the meantime Alyssa would like to work more hours so she can earn enough money to pay rent on an apartment.


During this interview I explained that Alyssa is eligible for a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS plan), which is a Social Security Work Incentive. She is eligible because her earnings are decreasing her monthly Supplemental Security Income. She has around $183 each month that she could use to help her increase her earnings and self-support. Stay tuned for a future update about Alyssa and how she used the PASS plan to increase her wages and/or her hours in a paid job.








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.