March 2013

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.


Interviewed by Maclaen Burningham, Emerging Leader and Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council Member

Sarah and Llama  

Sarah is a junior at Red Lodge High School in the rural town of Red Lodge, Montana. She lives with her mom, dad, brothers and sisters, and her grandpa lives nearby. Sarah was nominated as an Emerging Leader while attending the Montana Youth Transitions Conference in November 2012. People who met her at the conference were impressed by Sarah's openness to new people and ideas, her willingness to listen, and her energy and enthusiasm.


Sarah is active in a variety of activities at school and in her community. She participates in an after-school counseling group with about 20 other kids her age. According to Sarah, they talk about how to make things work for them socially and "we talk about our feelings." She also belongs to the YES Club (Youth Encouraging Self-expression), which meets twice a month and for which her parents volunteer. This fully inclusive club encourages peer participants to freely express themselves. LIFTT (Living Independently for Today and Tomorrow), a group comprised of Sarah and her classmates, offers a chance for the students to do fun things together like paint ceramics and go bowling.


At school, Sarah is enrolled in several interesting and inclusive classes. For example, she studies Animal/Vet Science and Agriculture/Horticulture. She also sings soprano in the choir. To gain work experience, Sarah takes the lunch count and wipes the cafeteria tables every day, serves lunch twice a week, and delivers the school mail. Sarah has volunteered at the Red Lodge Boys and Girls Club, The Rocky Mountain Flower Farm and the Swanky Fork kitchen shop.


Sarah likes to read, especially Nancy Drew Mysteries. She loves artSarah's Artwork and has an interest in doing art with younger children. In the winter months, Sarah likes to snow ski and says she is "pretty good!" She skis with Eagle Mount and is part of the Red Lodge Special Olympics Ski Team. When she isn't competing, Sarah enjoys hitting the slopes with her friends just for fun. Summer finds her bicycling, hiking and swimming in the city pool.


As with most high school students, Sarah's family members are her main source of support for things like transportation. Sarah knows that in order for her to be more independent after she finishes school, she will need to learn to take personal responsibility and handle more tasks on her own. This will include everything from caring for her personal hygiene to taking the proper medications. Her parents are working to show Sarah how to accomplish these and the other tasks she needs to master as she reaches adulthood. As Sarah jokingly says, "They give me a lot of practice." She confides that at times it is difficult to stay motivated or take the initiative to learn independent living skills.   She gains the necessary motivation by thinking about how these skills will help her continue to live, learn, work and have fun with people once she graduates. She is a very sociable person..."I love people! I love having friends."


When asked, "What do you think others admire about Sarah?" her father responded, "She knows everybody and treats everyone the same. They like to spend time with her because she is really nice and likes to be around people." According to her mom, "Sarah is very social and seems to know everyone in town! Most people who meet her love her positive attitude and the way that she makes others feel good about themselves. She is great at giving compliments and encouraging others."


For other young people with disabilities who are working toward their transition to adulthood, Sarah offers this advice: "Build trust. Find people you can trust. Work hard and talk to other people."


Thanks to Sarah for sharing her story and to Maclaen for conducting the interview!





Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This project is funded in whole or in part under a Contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The statements herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Department.