Meet our 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.

An Update with Michael, a 2009 Featured
Emerging Leader

  By Lauren Beyer, Rural Institute Project Assistant
Michael in from of his home

Michael was featured as an Emerging Leader a number of years ago. He had just taken ownership of his own, and first, home. He was proud of his full-time employment, and his story reflected his involvement in the community of Polson, Montana. So strong were his local ties that members of the church helped him make the down payment on his home.

The Emerging Leader project aims to showcase the ways in which individuals work, live, and play within their communities. Today, Michael still excels in all these areas. He tells me that he has paid off his house and now owns it in full. He also tells me that he has encountered no obstacles as a homeowner, except that he has high hopes and one day wishes to own something even bigger. He lives with his aging dog, Simon, and tends his garden. He plants a number of crops including potatoes and rhubarb. Word on the street is that his rhubarb crisp is world famous. He loves his independence, noting that he is a good cook and housekeeper, and that he likes things done his way.

Michael is a steady employee as well. He has held a courtesy clerk position at
Michael corraling carts in Safeway parking lot
Safeway for 20 years. He obtained this job on his own, completing an application and interview. His tasks include greeting patrons, bagging groceries, helping customers load their vehicles, and always being kind and cheerful. He loves this job; in particular, he enjoys assisting those around him, brightening their day. He also tells me he is good at what he does. Michael works full-time at Safeway, but he is a dedicated man and puts in a few shifts a week washing dishes at the local Pizza Hut. This is another job he has maintained for a number of years.

Michael is secure in the thought that two jobs will allow him to support himself, his pup, his car, and his house. That's right, Michael is even a proud and legally licensed driver, and he assures me he is very careful. Michael's all-around independence is impressive. He spoke with me, advocating on his own behalf, he maintains his own routine and schedule, and he even helps those in his family, driving his mother to the store every Saturday so she can shop. It is no wonder he is a valued employee in Polson.

When he is not hard at work or imagining his future dream house, Michael enjoys a number of recreational activities. He spends his weekends in the spring and summer with dirty knees and fingernails as he plants and harvests his garden. With his produce, he cooks for both himself and for others in the community. When I spoke with him, he was preparing a bean soup for a church function. Michael enjoys swimming in the Flathead during the narrow window of time when it is warm enough to do so. He expresses his creative side through participation in his church's choir as well as scrapbooking; he collects articles from the Missoulian and Valley Journal and organizes them into a book of memories and moments. In particular, he looks out for people he knows, celebrating their weddings or memorializing their passing. By the sounds of it, he knows nearly everyone.

I shared a moment with Michael during our interview which really shows his nature as a kind and considerate soul. I spent the first years of my life in Polson, and I vividly recall helping my mother push the cart through the check-out at Safeway with a hardy greeting from Michael. A handful of my relatives still live in Polson, and all frequent Safeway. When I told Michael I had roots in Polson, he asked me who they were and knew every single one of them. We reached a point in my family tree when he recognized my mother, and he said, "So if that is your mother, your dad must be Jim. He was my Boy Scout leader 25 years ago." His recollection of every single person is astounding - he possesses more awareness and compassion for those around him than anyone I can think of. This trait is what sets Michael apart. He is a leader through pure kindheartedness.

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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