Remarks from Bruce Armah, Brianna Cooley, and Jacob Kroskey

2019 brings another successful Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) event to the Pittsburgh area. It is so wonderful to see the community come together to promote inclusion of young people with disabilities. This year we had 32 companies host over 625 students from 60 different schools in our region.

We kicked off 2019 DMD festivities with a powerful event at the Heinz History Museum where we heard comments from the local business community, students with disabilities representing Brashear, Freedom and Fox Chapel High Schools, AAPD President and CEO Maria Town, and our featured speaker, Ted Kennedy, Jr. It was such an honor to have Ted join us in Pittsburgh to celebrate DMD. As the Chair of AAPD, Ted has been instrumental in the promotion of the Disability Equality Index (DEI), using this innovative benchmarking tool to demonstrate the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

I am so proud of our Bender Leadership Academy students who provided remarks about their experiences at the event. Supporting young people like these is what DMD is all about.  I have included copies of their speeches below.

Remarks from Bruce Armah

Hello everybody! My name is Bruce Armah. Thank you for joining us tonight to celebrate Disability Mentoring Day 2019!

I’m a former graduate from Brashear High School; I’m here to tell you about my experience with the Bender Leadership Academy and what I learned.

Initiative!!! I had heard the word initiative before, but i didn’t know what it fully meant until I came to the Bender Leadership Academy. Initiative is when you show leadership, taking charge in anything and being the first to do something. In the program, every time we showed initiative, we got awarded gift cards. That was my favorite part. We also had guest speakers who talked about leadership and initiative in our classes. Every guest speaker I learned from shared the message that whatever you do in life never give up. I liked the way the speakers shared the ups and downs of their career experiences. I realized something from these speakers; nothing is handed to, you have to work hard for it and, just like when we demonstrated initiative in class, it will pay off.

I really wish I could participate in the Bender Leadership Academy program again because it’s for people with disabilities. Knowing I have a disability, this program helped me feel less insecure about my disability. Lately I have been more open to my peers about my disability because I’m not ashamed of it anymore. Thanks to this program, I am proud of who I am. I feel like this program should be spread throughout the world for people with disabilities, because I know it will help others with disabilities, because it helped me.

Thank you, Joyce, for everything you did for us with the Bender Leadership Academy. I also want to thank the supporters of this program and Disability Mentoring Day for coming out tonight. I know from my experiences with the Bender Leadership Academy, the impact that you have when you take time to share your experiences with students with disabilities. It is because of meeting and learning from people, like each and every one of you, people who care about my success and believe in my ability to do well, that I am here tonight: No longer ashamed and ready for the future.

Thank you!

Remarks by Brianna Cooley

Hello ladies and gentlemen. My name is Brianna Cooley.  I'm 16 years old and attend Fox Chapel Area High School. I’m excited to be here tonight to celebrate Disability Mentoring Day.

When I was in seventh grade, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. By my 8th grade year, it had gotten worse. This diagnosis had a strong effect on my life. It wasn’t until my freshmen year of high school that I didn’t feel completely lost. I met Stacie Dojonovic in October of 2018 … and little did I know then, that it was a start to an amazing adventure.

In my sophomore year, I joined the Bender Leadership Academy. I find it funny how we students all walked in as 12 strangers and we walk out as a 12-member family. It was a great honor to get to know everyone I had worked with in the program. We worked through so much together. We learned how to be a good employee, how to demonstrate initiative at school and in the workplace, and how to deal with bullies.

In the Bender Leadership Academy, we grew as friends and family. In the words of a Lilo and Stitch, “Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” Together we grew, we fell, we got up, we hugged (thanks to Mrs. Bender), and we cried. We went through such a great year and now have many more to look forward to together.

I'd like to take a moment to not only thank Mrs. Bender but Stacie Dojonovic. Without the mentorship of these amazing women, I wouldn't be able to stand up here tonight.

I’d like to thank my mom for being the remarkable woman she is … without her support I wouldn't be the person that I am today.

I’d also like to thank Mr. Kennedy for his support of DMD and everything he is doing to show the great impact that people with disabilities are having on the workforce. With his support, we are showing the world that together we are stronger … that when nobody gets left behind or forgotten, the results are better for, not only the disability community, but the business community too.

And finally, I'd like to thank everyone for giving me this opportunity to represent the Bender Leadership Academy as we celebrate DMD 2019. Programs like these give people like me a chance to realize the many adventures that are still waiting for me out there. As a girl from a small town in Pittsburgh, I never thought I'd be here speaking to so many influential people about my experiences as a person with a disability.

Thank you all for listening and coming out tonight in support of young people with disabilities.

Remarks by Jacob Kroskey

Good Evening. My name Is Jacob Kroskey and I have autism. Because of my autism, I sometimes have trouble sitting still and controlling my feelings. I don’t always get along well with others. I need to work hard on sitting still and paying attention.

I am also a student. I am in the 11th grade at Freedom Area Senior High School and I attend the Beaver County Career and Technical Center where I study HVAC. We learn how to fix air conditioners and heating systems. I like soldering, threading black iron pipe, and brazing.

I am the youngest of three children. My two older sisters are named Lexie and Brianna. At home, we have 6 cats. My grandparents live next door and have a dog.  I enjoy spending time with my grandfather. Together we work on tractors. I love him and have learned a lot from him about the type of man I want to be when I grow up. When I am not in school or with family, I also attend Victory Family Church youth group.

I am a person with autism, but first, I am Jacob Kroskey. I am a son, a grandson and a brother. I am a student and a member of my youth group. I like animals and working with my hands.

Last year, I attended the Bender Leadership Academy. I learned so much from Mrs. Bender about how to get a job and be a good employee. In the Bender Leadership Academy, we learned about bullying and the affect it has on others. I learned that when you see someone being bullied you should not join in and you should do something to stop it. Bullying hurts people’s feelings and makes them feel bad about themselves, but if we stand up to bullies, we can make people feel stronger.

I would to thank Mrs. Bender for giving me this opportunity to share my story with you tonight. I would also like to thank AAPD, Mr. Kennedy, and the Pittsburgh business community for supporting Disability Mentoring Day. It is opportunities like Ms. Bender gives through the Bender Leadership Academy and events like DMD that give people with disabilities the chance to show others not only who we are, but what we can do. Thank you.

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