Special students find support

Published 11:00 pm Monday, June 4, 2012

Written by Tyler Spivey
Intern with The Messenger

Despite disabilities, high school students are being reassured they can live on their own and be active in their community and government.

Thirty-one students with a wide range of mental, physical and emotional disabilities are taking part in leadership exercises and learning lessons about how state government works as a part of the Youth Leadership Forum held at Troy University this week.

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Participants and leaders at Monday’s events spoke about their goals for helping themselves and others.

“Our program is to help [participants] learn self-advocacy and independent living,” said Karen Jenkins, YLF coordinator and co-chair of this year’s event. “We want them to go back into their communities and be leaders and to advocate for change on behalf of people with disabilities.”

This year’s YLF will feature sessions on career exploration and technology available to assist people with disabilities, as well as “Living on My Own,” a panel discussion led by successful Alabamians with disabilities.

On Monday, participants gathered at Troy University and talked about how they expect the forum to help them in the future.

“I hope to learn a lot about people, said Jamel Miles, a participant who struggles with a learning disability. “It will help me by showing that somebody cares out here.”

Other participants expressed interest in helping others.

“I hope to learn how to perhaps deal with situations with other people that have disabilities,” said participant Conner Carroll. “To help them while helping myself and basically just get along in society.”

Gideon Weigel, a participant who was diagnosed with autism, spoke about he hopes to gain skills to find a career.

The YLF schedule includes a tour of the state capitol building beginning Wednesday morning and a mentor luncheon later that day at the Alabama Activity Center in Montgomery.

Mark Boddie, of Opelika, will serve as the mentor luncheon’s keynote speaker. Boddie, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, will speak to delegates about the ability to achieve success in the face of challenges.

The forum is co-sponsored by the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and Troy’s Institute of Leadership Development with support from other agencies, including the Alabama Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Alabama Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and the Alabama Department of Education.

A closing ceremony and graduation will be held Thursday at 12:45 p.m. in the Trojan Student Center on the Troy University campus.