YOUTH POWER nothing about us without us YP!

In this eNews
Youth Web Event for YP!'s New Employment Initiative
Ask YP! Questions about different systems
Action Alert: GIve input into the State Behavioral Health Plan
Families Together to Sponsor Screening of Kids for Ca$h
Western Regional Forum
Narely Zapata: New to the YP! Team!
Introducing YP!'s New Youth Engagement Consultant Brianna Valesey
A Message from Pauline Gordon.
A Message from Terri Lewis
YP! Now Hiring: Network Assistanr
YP! Attends Capital Region TV Station Education Forum
Youth Policy Update: Autism Cares Act
Youth Policy Update: ABLE Act
2015 Fellowship Program
Job Opportunity: Student Rights Advocate
Click here to stay up to date with all of YP!'s events including upcoming youth forums.
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Save the Date:
FTNYS Annual Conference with YP! Youth Track 
Albany NY
Youth Web Event for YP!'s New Employment Initiative


Speak up and Speak Out
We need YOUR input for YP!'s

Youth Employment Initiative

Young people ages 14-29

Join us for our first youth webinar 

Monday, September 29th at 4PM


During this web event we will discuss:

  • Upcoming projects and how this initiative can help you with career exploration;
  • An overview of the NYS Department of Labor's CareerZone;
  • Solutions to barriers you encounter during the job search process
  • What YOU would like to learn more about

For more information and to register, contact Brianna Valesey, Youth Engagement Consultant at [email protected] or 518-432-0333 ext. 31.


Click here to register.

Click here to download the PDF flyer.


Ask YP! Questions About the Different Systems

Navigating Multiple Systems One of the projects YP! is involved with is the Navigating Multiple Systems initiative. NMS is a statewide, collaborative initiative led by the New York State Council on Children and Families with funding from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC). The project will develop a state of the art, web based information resource designed primarily for parents, caregivers, youth and other family members - all of whom rely on supports and services from multiple child and family serving systems. The initiative is also designed to help inform public policy making and share information on promising practices with children, youth and families. You can learn more about the initiative here.


YP! was asked to create content for the website youth corner. This youth corner will feature, among other things, frequently asked questions about the youth serving systems, along with answers to those questions.. This is where YOU come in!


Do you have any questions about the following systems? 
  • Foster Care 
  • Addiction Recovery
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Mental Health
  • Transition services
  • Employment services
  • Physical Health
  • Independent Living

To volunteer to write questions and answers, or for more info, contact Zach Garafalo ([email protected]) or Melanie Hecker ([email protected]).

Give Your Input to the State Behavioral Health Plan

Notice of Public Hearing: 

OASAS-OMH Joint 5.07 Plan

OASAS Statewide Comprehensive Plan 2014-2018

OMH Statewide Comprehensive Plan 2014-2018

October 2nd from 2:00 to 4:00 pm


OASAS and OMH are conducting a joint public hearing on their statewide comprehensive plans. Both agencies will receive input for consideration in the development of their respective statewide comprehensive plans and ongoing planning initiatives. The Hearing is hosted by OASAS and OMH, and via videoconference among nine locations: Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Ogdensburg, Manhattan, Staten Island, and West Brentwood.


Given the number of individuals expected to want testify, OASAS and OMH request that all input be received in writing. Individuals interested in being considered to present oral testimony should check the appropriate box using the online registration system.  Should time constraints not allow all who want to present oral testimony to do so, OASASand OMH will review their submitted comments in detail. 


Please note that space is limited at some hearing sites. You must register in advance to attend the hearing. Registrations will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to these capacity constraints, organizations are respectfully asked to send one individual per organization to attend the hearing.


Help guide the state plan for mental health services. Your thoughts and experiences with things like, mental health services, peer support, employment, community, transitioning to adulthood and preventing substance abuse are important. Don't miss this opportunity to share "what helps and what harms."  

Help us to ensure the voices of youth and young adults are included in the OMH and OASAS Statewide Plans.

Join Families Together at a Screening of Kids for Ca$h

Kids for Ca$h Poster Families Together in New York State is excited to announce their fall event, a special screening of the documentary KIDS FOR CASH.

Please join us September 30, 2014 at 6:30 PM at the Proctors Theater in Schenectady, NY. We are hosting the screening at the state-of-the-art GE Theater.

This screening of KIDS FOR CASH will highlight the lost opportunities of a tough-on-crime culture and the negative effects that this practice has on the future of our youth, public safety and tax dollars. In so doing, we hope to advance a "smart on crime" attitude toward youth involved in the criminal justice system that highlights the need for interventions, alternatives to incarceration, less reliance on detention, and an overall rehabilitative approach to sentencing and corrections.

September 30, 2014, 6:30 PM
GE Theatre at Proctors
432 State Street
Schenectady, NY 12305

After the Film Join us for Q&A with Our Expert Panel.

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE and please share the link on Facebook and Twitter!

KIDS FOR CASH offers a riveting look behind the notorious scandal that rocked the nation when it first came to light in 2009. A small town in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania elected a charismatic judge who was determined to keep kids in line. Under his reign, over 3,000 children were ripped from their families and imprisoned for years for crimes as petty as creating a fake MySpace page. When one parent dared to question this harsh brand of justice, it was revealed that the judge had received millions of dollars in payments from the privately-owned juvenile detention centers where the kids-most of them only in their early teens-were incarcerated.


For more information, contact Brad Hansen by email at [email protected] or call 518.432.0333 x28 

Western Regional Forum

2014 Western Regional Forum Flyer Western Regional Youth Forum

Exploring All Possibilities of Life 

October 10, 2014


1140 Delaware Ave Buffalo NY 14209

Do you have a disability or experience with services such as mental health, addiction, foster care or juvenile justice?
If you answered yes then we want to hear your story. Speak-up, Speak-out! Help us to make positive changes in service systems.

We want to hear from young people ages 13-28 on what helped and what harmed. This year we are focused on transition and how we can help make the process a little easier. Who best knows what's best for you other than you!!

Do you want to work on your resume? If so come prepared to Make it a Success.

Enjoy vendors and hear the stories of young people that are in transition. 

We will be promoting YP!'s very own Spreading Hope Hashtag and Instagram campaign. @YPspreadshope #YPHope

There will also be Free Food and Giveaways!!! 


Join us in celebrating this year's Western Forum. Registration forms are available here, please complete and send them in by October 6, 2014.


For more information contact Jessica Hollins at [email protected]  or 585-314-2452. Be sure to also visit our website

Narely Zapata: New to the YP! Team!
Narely smiles wearing a YP! ButtonFirst, I want to thank YOUTH POWER! for giving me the wonderful opportunity of being part of the team. I am excited about working with all of you and meeting our goals for this year.  I am currently a full time college student at the College of Saint Rose pursuing a degree in social work. I have been a part of the department of social services, foster care, metal health systems with too many others included. I have learned and grown from my experiences and it is my goal to teach others how to do the same. 


I am the Youth Engagement Coordinator for the NYS Success team working to incorporate the systems of care philosophy throughout my work. While I am here I will provide a youth voice and develop strategies that will help other counties build relationships and view youth as partners. It is my job to make sure that youth are being treated as equals and given the opportunities to do so.

Again I look forward to working with you all.

I can be reached at: [email protected] or 518-432-0333 ext. 27

Introducing YP!'s New Youth Engagement Consultant
Brianna Valesey

Brianna holding the Hope Board in front of the YP! mural of fists with the YOUTH POWER! wristband Brianna Valesey was 16 years old when a spinal injury changed her life and labeled her as disabled. She spent many years struggling to remain in school and continue working as she learned her new limitations. After having experience in mental health services she discovered a new passion that would be the driving force in her work - advocacy.


Graduating from Sage College of Albany with a Bachelor of Science in May 2014, Brianna served as a student advocate for the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, as well as a mentor for YP!'s own Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP). She is currently continuing her education and pursuing a Masters in Community and Counseling Psychology as well as becoming YOUTH POWER!'s new Youth Engagement Consultant.


Tasked with YP!'s Youth Employment Initiative, Brianna will be working with the Department of Labor to create a series of webinars, in-person workshops, and trainings. This initiative will introduce youth, young adults, and young professionals to a variety of resources surrounding youth employment, self-advocacy and post-secondary education. Youth with disabilities and those transitioning to adulthood from children's services will have the opportunity to address critical education and workforce topics. Adult allies, youth service professionals, and community partners will have the opportunity to address topics such as youth engagement, youth cultural competence and mentoring of peer advocates.


For more information, Please contact Brianna Valesey at [email protected] or 518-432-0333 ext. 31

What Helped Made A Difference in my Recovery
Pauline Gordon

Pauline with long flowing hair, beaded black neckllace and YOUTH POWER! Our Time is Now shirt Having worked for YOUTH POWER! for three years now has been a rewarding experience. Although it saddens me to leave, I am excited about passing the torch to another young person to take my place as NYC Regional Youth Partner. I want to take this opportunity to share with you how peer support and systems advocacy has had an impact in my life especially in my recovery. I have been a peer advocate since the age of 16. Before I became a peer advocate, I was a victim of child abuse and neglect. At the age of 14, I entered the foster care system and then my journey to recovery began.


I dealt with a lot of traumatic issues as a result of the abuse and neglect that I faced before and after entering the foster care system.  While in the foster care system, I dealt with the burden of being in several foster care placements and most of them were placements with foster families that did not provide a nurturing home. While in different placements, I've witnessed injustices towards other foster youth especially those with mental health diagnoses. Instead of foster care being a positive intervention, because of the mistreatment I faced in my placements it only added to the trauma I had when I had entered the system.


My recovery began when I started writing for Represent Magazine. Represent Magazine is a well-known magazine written for and by youth in foster care.  I came across Represent magazine through a social worker from my foster care agency who had simply handed the magazine to me as something to read while I waited in the lobby to meet my new case worker. Once I started reading the magazine, I was in awe at the stories of resiliency and survival that I read from other youth in foster care.


At Represent, writing about my experience in the foster care system helped me relieve a lot of emotions I was holding in. Writing for Represent, receiving peer support from other youth who also wrote for the magazine and been in foster care became a part of my recovery.


Writing about my story became more than just a coping mechanism for me. Through sharing my story with others, I was able to help ease the hurt for other youth knowing that they were not alone in their struggle. Also through my articles and personal essays, I was able to raise awareness about critical issues in the child welfare system; I became a systems advocate. One day, I was invited to speak on a panel at Cardozo Law School in Manhattan. I spoke on a panel alongside judges, lawyers, policy makers and other peer advocates about injustices in the foster care system. Participating on my first panel, I realized I had a powerful message to share, a voice and an audience.  I began getting involved in systems advocacy and started public speaking on a regular basis at forums, conferences and pretty much any where I could get an audience of people to listen.

From then on, I no longer just viewed myself as someone being victimized by the system. My story, my voice can help make a difference. At one of my speaking engagements, I met long time peer advocate, Brian Lombrowski where he encouraged me to apply for a position as a youth advocate at the Mental Health Association in NYC. I served as a peer advocate for about 4 years and then moved on to working at YOUTH POWER! as the NYC Regional Youth Partner. At YOUTH POWER!, I got the opportunity to do more systems advocacy work alongside other peer advocates, community partners, state and local government officials to help promote more youth input to better delivery and quality of services for system-involved youth. 


From then on the slogan "Nothing About Us, Without Us!" became the focal point of my life and career as a peer advocate.  The popular slogan, "Nothing About Us, Without Us!" is the concept that policies, practices, laws and programs should be influenced by those directly affected by it. Being a young person affected by both the mental health and foster care system, it was meaningful for me to be able take on a leadership role as a peer advocate to influence not only just my peers but the work of policy makers and government officials to help better the system for myself and others. Peer support and systems advocacy in children's treatment services is crucial. These factors were an important part of my own recovery. As I continue my work as a peer advocate, I hope to see more outlets and leadership opportunities develop for youth in the system to be able to share their stories as peer advocates and influence system reform. 

A Message of Gratitude
A Farewell Message from Terri Lewis

Terri Lewis "I'd like to officially offer you the position as YOUTH POWER!'s Network Assistant." Back in July of 2013 this sentence practically sang in my ear. Not simply because I was seeking employment but because YOUTH POWER! was everything I was. Is still everything I am. I could think of no better way to gain experience and strengthen my skills. I was excited and willing for my first day, prepared for what laid ahead. Or so I thought.

Over the course of my time with YOUTH POWER! my mind was blown as I learned more about the organization, more about the members. I was inspired by their stories when I would call to share information and give updates. I was inspired when I heard their stories again at events. I will continue to be inspired by them time and time again. There is so much they have taught me, so much I have learned and even though I won't be talking to the members on a more frequent basis I look forward to seeing their progression to help grow YOUTH POWER! through Action and Outreach.

Entering the office every day I couldn't help but smile when I was warmly greeted by a staff from Families Together in New York State. I will be forever grateful to all staff of Families Together who assisted me through the Annual Conference, the Legislative Awareness Day and learning the basics of how to properly use the office equipment, and always willing to listen.

I was amazed and awed every day by the wonderful staff at headquarters. There wasn't a day that went by that Melanie wasn't keeping me up to speed on the local news surrounding disabilities and everyday life, and of course her little tidbits. I could always count on Carrie for an in depth update on the local events and any projects she needed assistance with. While at YOUTH POWER! I moved back into volunteering with RAMP, spearheaded by the most informative and connected mentor, Elijah. Not a day went by that I did not appreciate every kind word and every conversation we had, professional and leisure. Though I did not work with either Jessica or Pauline frequently I have come to admire Jessica and her strength and determination through all her struggles and successes. Through text or email, I know I could count on Pauline for any information I needed and for that I can never be thankful enough.

I have had the pleasure of working and communicating with each of the board members on individual occasions. I have learned so much about their characters and stories that it truly touches my heart to be in their presence, not for status or power, but because of their triumphs over personal struggles. I have never publicly shared my story so to see them stand before a crowd of people and tell their story with confidence, to know they are relatable makes me proud to call them the YOUTH POWER! board.

Stephanie Orlando, the executive director has unknowingly encouraged me to leave my comfort zone when she accepted me as the Network Assistant. Though not my immediate supervisor I have spent a lot of time with her because of all the calls and planning meetings; and again, like any job there have rough patches but Stephanie has always had me see it through, mistakes and all, resulting in a better understanding and equal respect.

Some days, I would pause while packing, wondering if I truly thanked everyone that day who has been supportive and helpful. I know there is one person I can never thank enough, and that is Zach. Regardless of details, Zach has been one of the most awe-inspiring people I have come to know. Watching, assisting, asking, and talking to Zach I've come to learn he has a quality about him that I hope to one day fully gain. Kindness. He treats people with the respect and dignity they deserve. As my supervisor I have relied on him in many cases and I'd like to think I am taking with me all the advice, suggestions, conversations, and insight he has given me and hope to reach at least a fraction of the success he sees me achieving.

So, as I pack to leave one final time I would like to thank everyone for their individual support, especially the YOUTH POWER! network. I hope you all continue to grow and the network continues to moves forward in such unbelievable ways. I have gained friends, experience, and confidence in the past year. I have seen my true self and I like it. I thank you all for your involvement, your compliments, and keeping your spirits up during the more difficult times. Though I will no longer work for YOUTH POWER! I will still be involved and I'm excited to see the organization grow as well as every single person involved. 


Please send all questions and comments to [email protected] or you can contact Zach Garafalo by email at [email protected] or 518-432-0333 ext 26

How Hiring: Network Assistant and NYC RYP


YOUTH POWER! Now Hiring  

Network Assistant


Status: Part-time/Hourly, 20hrs per week, $8-$12 per hour commensurate on experience


Location: Albany, New York



As part of a grant provided by the Office of Mental Health, the YP! Network Assistant will develop outreach, hope and empowerment materials. They will assist YOUTH POWER! leaders in successfully completing projects, holding events, and keeping information organized. The Network Assistant acts as staff of the Outreach and Special Events Working Groups.



  • First-hand experience having received mental health services as a youth
  • Excellent writing and computer skills
  • Experience with designing flyers, newsletters and other print materials
  • Demonstrated knowledge of social media outlets and their functions
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Strong communication skills
  • Demonstrated ability to take detailed notes of meetings
  • Strong team leadership and collaboration abilities

New York City Regional Youth Partner

The Regional Youth Partners are peer leaders that connect local youth groups, coordinate regional youth advocacy efforts and provide technical assistance on youth engagement and peer support.


LOCATION: Manhattan (NY, NY)


Interviews for this position begin this Friday. Do not delay your application.


Click here for the full NYC RYP 2014 Job posting


Visit our website for all available employment opportunities and information.


YP! Attends Capital Region TV Station Education Forum
Melanie Hecker

On September 18 2014, Zach Garafalo, Assistant Director,  and Melanie Hecker, System Advocate, attended an education forum hosted by WNYT, Albany's local NBC affiliate. The topic of the night was the Common Core and Learning Disabilities.


Much of the night's audience was concerned parents and parent advocates. Also attending were several teachers and school psychologists. Elaine Huston, WNYT education reporter, moderated the discussion. Notably absent was State Education themselves, who had to pull out at the last minute.


At the forum, parents voiced their concerns at how the current systems affected and fulfilled their children's needs.  Some mention IEPs not being individual enough, others voice that certain disabilities are underserved. Parent groups such as Parent to Parent and the Parent Network were on hand to offer advice and insight to the discussion.


In addition to the discussion, there were also information tables for learning disability services. These services ranged from special schools to sensory-integrated play centers for young children.


A common theme throughout the whole forum was dissatisfaction with the current system and how children and youth with disabilities go through it. There needs to be a wide variety of education accommodations and resources available and make some of the standards less strict. Overall, it was a chance for parents, youth, teachers and advocates to come together for such an important discussion.  

Youth Policy Update:
Autism Cares Act

YP Youth Policy Update As more people with autism transition into adulthood in the United States, more services are needed to serve this population. Because of this, President Obama recently signed into law the Autism CARES (Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support)  Act. This new law, sponsored by Congressman Smith of New Jersey,  will provide funding for several autism-related areas.


In total, this law allows 1.3 Billion dollars to be used for autism areas of interest over five years. Of that money, $950 million is going to be used for research. $110 million will go to the center for disease control to research how prevalent autism is,  and $340million will go toward detecting autism early, providing services early, and autism education. It is hoped that these new funding approvals will better help people with autism in transition.


This new law is a reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act. The money is a reauthorization of previous grants.


Some aspects of the Autism CARES act were troubling to Autistic Self Advocacy Network, (ASAN). The original  name, Combating Autism Act, was seen as offensive to those with autism who feel that their brain wiring does not need to be "combated". The Combating Autism Act also failed to include autistic people in discussion of autism research and policy. In addition The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a research committee founded by the Combating Autism Act, has historically not funded research that goes toward improvement of quality of life for autistics, including services for adults. Autistics are also underrepresented in training programs for people who want to provide autism services, another area the Autism CARES act funds.


While ASAN does not oppose this new legislation, they did work with the legislature to make improvements. There is still lots to work on when it comes to both the Autism CARES act and autism services as a whole. 

Youth Policy Update:

On Friday, September 19, 2014, the leaders of the Senate's Committee on Finance said that they have reached an agreement on the framework for the ABLE Act. A statement was released by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. which reads: "We are committed to working with our House colleagues to ensure this legislation will be passed in a bipartisan, bicameral manner and sent to the president's desk in the lame duck session." 

Under the House amended version, people with disabilities would be able to create special accounts at any financial institution where they could deposit up to $14,000 annually. The ABLE accounts could accrue up to $100,000 in savings. Interest earned on savings within the accounts would be tax-free to the extent that funds were expended on disability-related expenses.

Congressional members have said that a plan must be developed to pay for the $2.1 billion cost over 10 years. Hopefully an agreement can be reached and the bill will be passed during the lame duck Congressional session, which begins on November 12.
Public Policy Fellowship Program 2015

The Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation
Public Policy Fellowship Program 2015

The Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation is seeking exemplary professionals, and/or persons experiencing disability and/or family members of persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who are currently working or volunteering in the field of inclusive services and supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for an intensive one - year Public Policy Fellowship in Washington, D.C.
The purpose of the Fellowship is to prepare both early career and more seasoned leaders to assume leadership in the public policy arena in their home state and/or nationally.

During this one year Fellowship, the successful applicant will learn how federal legislation is initiated, developed, and passed by the Congress , as well as how programs are administered and regulations promulgated by federal agencies.

For more information go to: 

Job Posting
Student Rights Advocate
Below you will find a job posting for Student Rights Advocate- Independent Living Center. Thank you for taking your time to help our Agency expand to its fullest of potential. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact Inez Moe at (716) 836-0822 ex. 165.




TITLE:  Students Rights Advocate - ILC


DESCRIPTION:  To provide advocacy and consultation services to students with disabilities and their families, and to ensure their rights while navigating the educational system.



  1. Assist students and parents in receiving equal rights as it pertains to local, state and federal laws regulating education for students with disabilities.
  2. Train students and family members on how to self-advocate for their rights.
  3. Technical assistance to school systems about disability rights for students'.
  4. Provide linkage to other community services relating to special education resources (assistive technology).
  5. Make referrals and when necessary, assist parents in accessing appropriate services.
  6. Assist students and families in finding support groups meetings for children with disabilities.
  7. Maintain records of contacts with families, community partners, etc.
  8. Complete reports as required.
  9. Accurately document consumer services and required paperwork in WNYIL's SPR database, as well as the CSR, with in two (2) business days of date of Service.
  10. Participate in maintaining a neat, clean and safe work environment.
  11. Perform any other duties as deemed legally and ethically necessary by the Supervisor.

SUPERVISION: Works under the direct supervision of the Director of ILC.


STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE: Must at all times perform in a professional, conscientious and efficient manner for the purpose of ensuring a better quality of life for persons with disabilities.


QUALIFICATIONS:  A Bachelor's Degree is preferred, or an Associate's Degree with one (1) year experience in advocating for people with disabilities.  May also possess a High School Diploma with four (4) years experience in advocating for people with disabilities. Professional and life experience may be considered in lieu of, in full or part of academic credentials.


CLOSING DATE: Monday, September 22, 2014



Tina Brown, HR Director/CCO

WNY Independent Living, Inc.

3108 Main Street

Buffalo, NY 14214


Western New York Independent Living, Inc. is an equal opportunity employer.
Reasonable accommodations will be made for persons with disabilities.

Western New York Independent Living, Inc. is a Scent Free organization.

YOUTH POWER! is the New York State network of young people who have been labeled and are seeking change.  Together, we have decided to speak up about our experiences because no one knows what it is like for us better than we do.  Through peer-to-peer mentoring, we empower young people to be active citizens who are aware of government operations, their rights and the ability to use their voices to influence policies, practices, regulations and laws.  We are young people helping other people, ensuring availability of self-help and peer support while changing systems so that young people get the support they need with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Nothing About Us Without Us!

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