Meet this month's Featured Emerging Leader!
Emerging Leaders

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 Transition Email List 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.

"Don't Doubt Yourself"
Interview by Maclaen Burningham, Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council member; story by Lauren Beyer, Rural Institute Project Assistant
Photo of Kirsten peering through leaves of a tree

Kirsten is a lively high school senior. She is quick to laugh and seems content in her skin. During her time at Big Sky High School, Kirsten has grown comfortable with her learning disability. She is not ashamed to talk about it and is willing to ask teachers for help if needed. Although she is light-hearted, she is also serious about reaching her goals.

Before Kirsten tosses her graduation cap in June, she must finish a challenging project and a paper that are required of all graduating seniors. Her paper focuses on up-cycling (creatively using unwanted items) and recycling. She will demonstrate these methods of reducing waste in a fashion show. This show will display clothes sewn by her boyfriend, as well as second-hand clothes donated to the thrift store where she works.

Kirsten tells me she is nervous to graduate, as most seniors are. However, most seniors feel anxious because they do not know what they want next. Kirsten is an exception. Following her graduation, she plans to attend the University of Montana to earn a degree in business management. She also intends to enroll in dance
classes and reconnect with her creative side, a side that many of us neglect in favor of jobs or school. In five years, Kirsten plans to move to Boise, Idaho. There, she wants to become certified as an interpreter of American Sign Language. This has been one of her goals since her freshman year of high school.  Her compassion for others is obvious; she was recently hired to assist with the Movin' On in Montana project, which helps high schoolers with disabilities transition to college. Kirsten was a student in the program but will be returning as an employee, offering her expertise in self-advocacy and killer fashion.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Kirsten what she would like others to know. Her advice, which all of us should follow, is this: "Don't doubt yourself." In short, believe in your capacity as a human to be happy and productive.

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.

Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects
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