July 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 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.

Danielle - An Active and Generous Montana Emerging Leader


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


Danielle at a table selling scarves    

Danielle lives by herself in a three-bedroom home. She says the best things about living alone are, "I get to set my own schedule.  I run errands, take care of myself, cook and clean." Things she doesn't like about living in her own place include noises, burglars and crime. 


In order to prepare to live alone, Danielle started learning to cook with her mom when she was 14 years old. Her mom also made sure Danielle knew how to use the phone to call for help when she needed something. During her freshman and junior years of high school, Danielle took Home Education classes and learned about food, cooking and sewing.  Her junior year, she was in charge of the laundry for the sports teams, so became adept at washing, getting stains out and fixing tears.  (She also played tennis and was a manager for the team, but says she can't play anymore because due to budget cuts, the tennis courts have turned into grass.)


Montana Developmental Disabilities Program funding allows Little Bitterroot Services to provide Danielle some supported living assistance. The supports she receives include help with medical appointments and running errands, as well as weekly visits from staff to ensure she is keeping her home clean. (Danielle says the staff seldom actually clean since she is a good housekeeper..."they just inspect and tell me that everything looks good.") 


Danielle started growing her own vegetables when she was 17 years old. Her brothers have lots of trucks, meaning there are always tires around the yard. Danielle took some of the old tires to use as her garden beds. A friend gave her three chickens, which live in a compact coop that can fit into the back of a truck. Right now the chickens are producing an egg a day. Danielle also has a dog and two cats, one of which is blind so stays inside all the time.


To pay the bills and use her skills, Danielle has several different jobs.  She brings in donations and hangs clothing at the Little Bitterroot Services Thrift Store.  Danielle also works five days a week at The Circle fast food restaurant, washing dishes, cleaning, and doing the food prep work for the cooks. This job started as a work experience set up by her teacher when Danielle was in high school. (She also had a work experience at the hospital cafeteria her senior year but that didn't turn into employment.) She did well enough that she was hired for the summer...she's been there ten years now and has maintained her job through three different owners of the business.


When Danielle first learned the job, she started by working pre-set times. For example, she would begin at noon and end at 2:00 whether she was finished with what she was doing or not.  Now she has a list of tasks which she completes. She is so good at her assigned responsibilities that the breakfast dishes are saved for her and she gets called to fill in for other workers when they are unable to make their shifts.


Danielle credits The Circle managers and owners over the years with teaching her the job and mentoring her to work to high standards. In particular, Suzie Vonheedeer, a former manager and current owner, took a personal interest in Danielle and taught her more than just the mechanics of the job. 


Danielle is also a businesswoman, making and selling scarves. She knits both "dressy kinds and kinds to stay warm." The scarves are wide and can even be used as shawls. Over Christmas, she sold 20 scarves in one week, and Miss Jane from Little Bitterroot Services is helping Danielle get the scarves onto eBay to further increase sales. To determine how much to charge for her products, Danielle figured out the cost of the yarn and how much her time is worth. She makes her own construction paper business cards by hand.


Besides her gardening, home upkeep, employment and self-employment activities, Danielle is also an avid community volunteer. She recycles aluminum cans and foil and donates the pop tops to either Ronald McDonald House or VFW Kids at Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado. She helps out at the local soup kitchen, where she says "less fortunate people come to eat." She gives money to help people pay their bills. Danielle once told her mom, "Five bucks may help somebody. You never know." She donates scarves to the "Wine and Cheese Tasting" fundraiser for cancer research...and has made donations for the past eleven years! When Danielle hears of a fundraising event in need of donations, she personally goes to the organizers to offer her support. Danielle explains that cancer research is an especially important cause to her because when she was 18 years old, her 60-year-old grandmother passed away from breast cancer. Before she died, her grandmother was given money to buy a wig and this was very important to her.


Danielle tells other young people who aspire to live rich, full lives in their own apartments or homes to "take care of yourself. And learn to have financial independence." 


With her work ethic, compassion and generosity, we think Danielle is an excellent example of a Montana Emerging Leader. Thanks for sharing your story, Danielle. And thanks to Maclaen for helping her share it!






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.