In the fall of 2022, the Tower Foundation’s Community Experts Fund awarded a total of $200,000 to agencies that support programming for young people with intellectual disabilities and/or behavioral health challenges. The Fund was entirely designed and administered by a group of young adults that represented our funding regions and that had lived expertise across our funding focus areas. [This year’s Community Experts Team will issue an RFP for a 2023 award cycle in early July.] One of the projects that received a grant last year, Northeast Arc’s Ambassador Program, is still going strong*.
The Ambassador Program offers a slate of training opportunities for youth with IDD and/or autism that are interested in disability advocacy, leadership roles in school and community, and even service on nonprofit boards. Currently, the program has eight participants between the ages of 17 and 26. Ambassadors receive stipends to attend training sessions, to participate in experiential learning, and to promote inclusion and opportunity for people with diverse abilities.
Ambassador Program training modules include:
- Public Speaking: How to capture an audience’s attention and deliver an effective speech.
- Testimony Writing: How to share your story in writing with elected officials to effect change on an issue of importance to you.
- Disability Rights: Overview of disability laws like Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- Networking: Networking basics and actual opportunities to network at community events like Chamber of Commerce meetings and legislative receptions.
- Advocating for Employment: How to advocate for career opportunities, and share the need for more employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Guest speakers have included several state legislators, including Senator Joan Lovely, Assistant Majority Leader, one of the cosponsors of enacted legislation ensuring access to public higher education for people with IDD. Two of the Northeast Arc Ambassadors, Jackson Skane and Chianne Deegan, bring their leadership skills to this year’s Community Experts Team at the Tower Foundation. Jackson has also recently been selected as a youth representative to Northeast Arc’s own Board of Directors. Ambassadors serve as tour guides for Northeast Arc events.
Here’s what Jackson Skane had to say about his participation in the program.
“Being in the ambassador program has taught me not only how to advocate for my wants and needs, but for every person with disabilities as well. I am so lucky to have had the amazing guest speakers come in and teach me about how I can advocate in so many different areas like writing testimony, employment, and the rights as an individual with a disability. It has also been such an impactful experience by being able to discuss with my fellow peers about what changes they want to see made and hear about what struggles and issues they have gone through that might be similar or different than mine.”
In June, Ambassadors took their advocacy skills to the Massachusetts state capital. They first attended a hearing of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. The group heard testimony on several bills relating to higher pay for human service workers. Two Ambassadors, Cathryn Lally and Brett Gray, wrote and submitted their own testimony in support of a workforce bill under consideration! Finally, the group met with legislators and aides representing their own communities.
*Northeast Arc provides services for people with disabilities of all ages. Services for children and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and/or Autism include year-round recreation programs such as cooking, sports, arts activities and social clubs; social skills; educational advocacy; an adaptive technology lending library with assessment services and support; school-to-work transition services; employment preparation and placement; independent living and residential supports; skilled nursing and personal care management; and affinity groups.