June 2012

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, 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.


Amanda knows what she wants and how to get it. During her junior year at Hamilton High School, she grew tired of taking the bus and decided she wanted a car. She saved her earnings from her job and, in December 2006, purchased a Subaru Outback. "I save my money if I want something so I can go buy it." Amanda Exercising on a TreadmillWhen she decided she wanted to "get healthy and lose weight," Amanda joined a gym and started exercising. Now Amanda is putting aside whatever money she can so eventually she'll be able to rent an apartment. Her mom thinks she should have a roommate to share expenses, but Amanda likes her own space and wants to save enough to afford a place of her own. This determination and willingness to work hard to meet her goals are the reasons Tracy Fillbach, Rural Institute Community Advisory Council member, and Susanne Meikle, owner of Montana Work Solutions, nominated Amanda as an Emerging Leader.


Amanda graduated from Hamilton High School in the spring of 2006. She continues to live in Hamilton with her mom, three dogs and two cats. Amanda uses her Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to help pay her vehicle and housing costs. Wages are her other source of income - Amanda works Monday through Thursday from 2:00-4:00 PM cleaning offices at Ravalli Services Corporation. Her Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Jerry Zook, helped her get this job 3 years ago. She is paid a competitive wage ($7.65 per hour) and works alongside people without disabilities. When she receives her paycheck every two weeks, Amanda decides how much will go into her savings account and how much she needs for car expenses (gas, oil changes, etc.) and other daily living costs.

In middle school, Amanda had a work experience at a daycare. She started another work experience at a different daycare her freshman year of high school and was hired as their employee during her junior year. Amanda's duties included cleaning toys, helping to set up and clean up the lunch area, and cleaning up after activities. This job lasted until the end of her senior year, when Amanda began working at the Bitterroot Inn as a housekeeper. She stayed in this position for about a year before being hired to clean for Ravalli Services. Vocational Rehabilitation also helped her get a cleaning job at Dairy Queen, where she worked for almost two years...Amanda chose to work two jobs because she wanted more hours and more income. She said her early work experiences and paid employment positions were valuable because they taught her how to do various jobs: "It is hard to keep a job if you don't know how to do a job."

There are often speed bumps on the road to achieving one's dreams. Amanda knows this well, and isn't afraid to "try, try again" if things don't go as planned. For example, Amanda's Subaru was totaled in a car accident in 2010. Instead of giving up driving, she used the insurance settlement and part of her wages to purchase a 2005 Ford Taurus. Amanda and Her CarWhen the Bitterroot Inn, which had been locally owned, was taken over by a large corporation, the new management brought in rigid rules and different procedures. Employees were pressured to work fast. Amanda talked to her supervisor about how difficult the changes were for her, but she was told, "It's just the policy."  She pulled a muscle in her back yet her supervisor still insisted she move a heavy machine that was too much for her with her injury. When Amanda advocated for herself and refused to move the machine, her boss sent her home. Amanda quit that job and hired on with Ravalli Services. She was let go from Dairy Queen after a change in management, so she started working with Susanne at Montana Work Solutions to find another job to supplement her earnings from Ravalli Services. Amanda and Susanne are exploring other kinds of employment, such as something at the hospital or one of the local laboratories, because she is "burnt out on cleaning."

In addition to SSDI (for financial assistance), Medicaid (for medical expenses)  and Vocational Rehabilitation funding (for Montana Work Solutions to provide job search assistance, job coaching, etc.), Amanda receives Developmental Disabilities Program Case Management from Kathy NoRunner at the Hamilton Opportunity Resources Inc. (ORI) office and Community Supports funding. The flexible Community Supports dollars, which Amanda gained access to in March, helped her purchase a gym membership to work toward her health and fitness goals, a computer for her employment goals, and long-term coaching to ensure success on the job.

Strong allies are important for young adults transitioning out of high school. Amanda's mom is her greatest teacher, advocate and supporter, and helps connect Amanda with the services she needs to be successful. According to Susanne, "Her mom is a super-advocate, pulling things together and making things happen. She and Amanda are a team." Amanda credits her mom with teaching her how to compare costs, save money, and do many other things necessary for navigating the world. Amanda's Developmental Disabilities Case Manager has also been invaluable in figuring out necessary services and supports...and how to locate and pay for them. At Amanda's high school graduation, Susanne started talking with her about community employment and achieving her dreams...this forged a connection that continues today as Susanne and Amanda partner to reach Amanda's goals.

Amanda is very active in her community. For fun, she likes to hang out with friends, go to the movies, walk down to the river, drive to Missoula, compete in Special Olympics, and work out at the Canyons Athletic Club. Despite all this, like many people her age Amanda says Hamilton is too small and there isn't enough for an active young woman to do.

Amanda encourages parents, teachers and other adults to give young people with disabilities time to learn how to interact, live in the community, and work. Provide them with lots of options. She advises transition-age youth to figure out what they're going to do for transportation. Then everything else (work, friends, recreation, etc.) will fall into place. She also reminds young adults to "let your parents and friends help you." A successful transition into adult living is an ongoing process that is strengthened by working together.


Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


Find us on Facebook

This publication was produced by the University of Montana's

Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects.