November 2014

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 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)

As we receive them, we share 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.


"Get up and seize the day!"

By Maclaen Burningham, Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council Member


In August 2014, I interviewed Nate of Polson, Montana, as an Emerging Leader. I have included the questions I asked Nate and his responses below. Because Nate doesn't speak, I sent him the questions ahead of time and his family communicated with him to develop his answers. His dad spoke for him in the interview, with occasional nods of the head in agreement by Nate to what his dad said.  


Maclaen:  Thank you for agreeing to this interview.  I am going to ask you some questions.  Please answer them as thoroughly as you can.  You don't have to answer any questions you don't want to answer.  We want to help other young adults and their families understand how you are able to live, work, play and learn in your community.  Where do you live?  


Nate:  I live in an apartment that used to be part of a duplex. My parents live upstairs. This gives me the potential in the future to gain more independence by learning to take care of myself.

Maclaen: Where do you work or volunteer?

Nate:  Although currently I do not have paid employment, I volunteer at the local food bank with my dad. We re-package potatoes, recycle cardboard and pick up donations from a local grocery store. I enjoy the work as well as time with the staff.

Maclaen:  Are you still in school, like college or vocational-technical classes?

Nate:  No.

Maclaen: What do you do for fun?  What are your hobbies?

Nate: I participate in Special Olympics, specifically in running. Nate standing smiling and wearing his ribbons  

My sister got me started running and now my parents help me. My dad's knees bother him, so he walks behind me and cheers me on as I follow the signs marked on the training path that tell me when to "walk" and when to "run." My mom takes me down to the lake to walk, as well. I train year-round, weather permitting. Last year I joined a Special Olympics team at the Missoula YMCA.  I also enjoy playing WII games and doing puzzles and art projects.

I like to do yard work. I assist with pruning, clean-up and harvesting. Apple season is a busy time with picking and then processing them either by drying the apples or making cider with a press.

I like being with my sisters and brother-in-law, especially going out to dinner. I enjoy big family gatherings with extended family, too.

I like going to church. I like the worship and the fellowship time after.

I like canoeing and traveling with my family to national parks, as well as the ocean along the Oregon coast. We hike, swim and fly kites together.

When I was an infant, CDC (Child Development Center) helped me get swimming lessons, and I still like to swim today.

I like folding laundry and cleaning the table, probably because I have a strong "sense of order."

I like listening to music and being read aloud to.

I love to go shopping at the grocery store. I buy juice. This is my favorite "treat" and something that I look forward to doing.

Maclaen:  Do you have any pets?

Nate: I have a goldfish named "Goldie" who is six years old. That is pretty old for a fish! Goldie lives in my room.

Maclaen: What kind of help (also called supports) do you need to live, work, learn and play as independently as you can?  This might include things like equipment, transportation, people, etc. Also, who provides these supports - for example, friends, family members, case managers, agencies or community groups?

Nate: My family members have been my mentors, job finders/coaches, and transportation providers. The people I serve with at the food bank have also been very supportive. They encourage me at all times.

Maclaen: How did you figure out what supports you need? Who helped you get the supports? How do you pay for the supports?  Do any agencies help pay for or provide the supports? Does anyone, like a parent or case manager, help you manage your supports and if so, who?

Nate: I am currently on a waiting list for services and have been on the list for the past five years. My parents and family have been my support in all things. I meet with a case manager at least four times a year.

Maclaen: Do you use any Social Security work incentives, like the Impairment-Related Work Expense or the Plan to Achieve Self-Support or PASS plan?

Nate: No.

Maclaen: What types of things did you need to learn in order to be successful?  How did people help you learn these things?

Nate: I needed to learn that in order to work or serve as a volunteer, I must get up on time and like to work. My father has been my primary work role model. (My dad's retired so he has the time. My mom works out of the home.) He encourages me and helps me learn through repetition.

Maclaen:  What difficulties have you faced as you developed your creative living, learning, working and/or playing situation?

Nate: With the economy taking a dive in our area, it has been difficult to find paid employment. Communicating with others is difficult because I don't use verbal communication.

Maclaen: How did you work past these difficulties?

Nate: My friends and family helped. People of the community reached out to me, like at the food bank.

Maclaen:  What do you like most about living, working, learning and/or playing in your community?

Nate: I have made great friends at church and at the food bank. I like having my extended family nearby and the big lake so I can go boating and swimming.  

Maclaen:  What are your future goals and how do you plan to meet them?

Nate: My goal is to live and work independently! I am working this year on preparing my own meals.

Maclaen:  What advice would you give other young people with disabilities who want to successfully live, work, learn and play in their communities?

Nate: It's important to connect to your community. Volunteering has helped me do that. Be a part of your community through work, church or service. Get up and seize the day.   

Maclaen:  Thank you for your time, Nate!    


Nate in front of a hot pool at Yellowstone National Park  

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.