Despite the gusty winds and driving rain of a seasonal Nor’easter, 21 young people with disabilities recently made their way from all over Massachusetts to the Charles Hotel to attend the Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), where they served as delegates. The Nov. 16 event was sponsored by the Office of the University Disability Coordinator, Office of the Assistant to the President at Harvard, and the organization Partners’ for Youth With Disabilities (PYD) in Boston.
University Disability Coordinator Marie A. Trottier, who co-chairs the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on the Employment of People with Disabilities, also co-chairs the YLF Planning Committee, which organizes this annual event for the Commission. Because of significant budget cuts in state agencies throughout the commonwealth, the formerly three-day-event was scaled back to one full day for this year.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities executive director Regina Snowden and deputy director Maureen Gallagher worked tirelessly in pulling together the agenda and sucessfully reaching out to organizations and individuals throughout the state to make the event a success.
The weather outside failed to dampen the mood of the students as they broke into small discussion groups in the morning and shared with peer leaders and each other the events of their busy lives since the last YLF – as well as what they are currently doing to work on their goals for education and employment.
During lunch, Brooke Ellison ’00, current M.P.P. candidate at the Kennedy School of Government, was the keynote speaker. Delegates and guests were visibly moved by Ellison’s sensitive words and wisdom encouraging them as they approach the next steps in their lives. Rayleen Lescay was among the many delegates who posed thoughtful and probing questions. Each of the delegates received a copy of Ellison’s book (which she wrote with her mother, Jean), “Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey.” At the close of her talk Ellison was surrounded by eager delegates with “just one more question.”
In the afternoon, the delegates attended sessions on “Post-secondary Education” and “Careers and Employment.” These lively, interactive workshops (run by workshop leaders from the Massachusetts General Hospital, the New England Medical Center, the New England ADA and accessible IT Center, and the Institute for Community Inclusion) provided a wealth of resources and helpful information.
During the late afternoon wrap-up session, the delegates all expressed enthusiasm and appreciation for the day’s events. They also shared the opinion that the best part of the day was Brooke Ellison’s talk and her willingness to be so open with them on a world of subjects.
Along with Ellison’s encouraging words, the young delegates left with renewed enthusiasm, inner strength, and some new relationships and resources. For each of the challenges that they may face, these delegates continue to find unique and exciting ways to approach life, and, perhaps, to be among the leaders of the future.
In the words of Helen Keller ’04, the words that Ellison says she has chosen to live her life by, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do something I can do.”