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Grants

Helping youth with disabilities on the "Road 2 Independence"

January 24, 2020

The Endependence Center, which provides disability advocacy and services to youth and adults in the region, recently launched the “Road 2 Independence” program with the support of a Hampton Roads Community Foundation grant.

When students with disabilities graduate from high school, many face an uphill battle for employment or access to institutions of higher learning.

Nearly 75 percent of youth ages 16-22 who have disabilities are neither working, in a training program nor in college, according to the latest U.S. Census Data.

One local nonprofit, the Endependence Center, is determined to be a part of the solution.

The Endependence Center, which provides disability advocacy and services to youth and adults in the region, recently launched the “Road 2 Independence” program thanks to the support of a three-year grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Each year, staff members at the Norfolk-based center receive calls from parents asking for resources for their recent graduates.

“They didn’t know what was next or what to do. The fear that the youth were just going to ‘graduate to the couch’ were so very real.” Nichole Davis, Executive Director

Twenty-three young people have participated in the program since Summer 2019. The center holds multiple four-week sessions throughout the year. The local public schools as well as Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services refer youth to the program.

In the program, youth work with an education coordinator to identify their career interests and map out the training or education program they will need to complete in order to achieve their goals. They also participate in real-life work and budgeting simulations designed to give them a closer look at what independent work and living entails.

Youth receive guidance from staff and a peer mentor. The peer mentor also has disabilities and understands the barriers that the youth may face. The mentor has successfully transitioned from high school to college or career and uses those experiences to coach and support the youth in the program.

This program helps youth determine the best path for their success and encourages identification of the resources available to help them make that transition a success.

Elizabeth Hair, 17, who participated in a recent session, said she enjoyed the program and learning how to use advocacy to get what she needs to be successful in life.

“The program helped me learn how to pay bills and what they would look like and how to discover what careers would be best for me,” she said.

“With the kids, we always say that independence is about using your voice to make a choice and being OK with what follows. These kids now are able to actually say yes I’ve made a choice and I know what steps I’m going to do next.” Nichole Davis, Executive Director
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