Disability Mentoring Week Spotlight

Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) is a one of the favorite things that my company does during the year to promote employment of people with disabilities. My company has participated in DMD as a volunteer since the beginning and I am so excited at how the Pittsburgh community has supported this event in 2018.

This year it was a pleasure to host students from Tillotson at our offices. My staff enjoyed spending time with these young superstars to share more about what we do everyday to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. But our own experience is just an echo of all the positive feedback our regional DMD Coordinator, Scott Hammerstrom, and his team have been receiving. One company participating for the first time this year has already committed to participating again in 2019!

We kicked off the week with a wonderful event last Monday night at the Heinz History Center. It was great to see so many Pittsburgh area employers come out to support mentoring of our youth with disabilities. Helena Berger, President and CEO of AAPD was among the attendees for this event and shared her thoughts on the importance of economic equality for all. We also heard from our main event sponsors at UPMC, Ashli Molinero and Susan Baida, who shared the impact participation in DMD has had on them. Judy Heumann, a well-respected and internationally recognized leader in the disability community, was our keynote speaker. Let me tell you, when I say Judy Heumann is well-known, I mean that no matter what country I go to everyone who is working to promote civil rights for people with disabilities knows who she is. Her speech was so powerful and had such a great message for the audience, “The issue is not what you are doing here [at this event], but what you are doing in the community when you leave.” I wanted to cheer when she shared this message of commitment and action.

I am also so impressed with my two students from the Bender Leadership Academy, Kiah Stenson and Jayla Youngblood, who were speakers at the 2018 DMD Kick-off Event. These two young ladies said it all with their comments about courage and patience. These phenomenal young women embody the message Judy shared with the audience. Jayla shared a poem that she had written about being labeled that was so moving and showed how much people with disabilities want that opportunity to be independent and not denied the same dreams as everyone else because they have a disability. Kiah shared with the crowd that she wants to be a part of the change, and my message to her is that she already is! It was no surprise to me that both Kiah and Jayla received a standing ovation for their speeches Monday night.

It is because of events, like DMD, and the commitment of this community that these brilliant young people received the opportunity to show everyone what they can do. We saw their commitment on Monday night. Now, it is up to us, as employers, to take Judy’s message to heart and act to create opportunities for people like Kiah and Jayla, students with disabilities who have so much potential to offer to the workforce.

Below I have included a copy of the speech Kiah shared last Monday:

Lead on Kiah!

Welcome Message from Kiah Stenson, Taylor Allderdice High School

Hi, my name is Kiah Stenson and I’m a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School.  I’d like to welcome you to this year’s Disability Mentoring Day Kick-Off Event. Thank you for taking time from your evening and busy schedules to come together tonight to raise awareness about hiring people with disabilities and thank you for your commitment to giving young people with disabilities an opportunity to learn more about their options for future employment.  It’s a pleasure to be speaking to you all today. 

I met Joyce Bender through the Bender Leadership Academy. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the Bender Leadership Academy is a non-profit with a focus on empowering young people with disabilities and teaching them about leadership and work skills.

Prior to participating in the Bender Leadership Academy, I lacked confidence speaking in front of a group of people.  It still is not on my list of favorite things to do but stepping up to the podium has helped me to build the courage and confidence I need to be my best version of me.

I have learned that having a learning disability does not mean I cannot succeed. I have made a commitment to myself that it will never stop me. Instead I will treat it as an opportunity to work harder and move forward. Understanding challenges and having perseverance builds character and makes me the person people will want to hire.

Another thing we discussed at Bender Leadership Academy is the importance of not standing by and letting someone be bullied. Whether a person has a disability or not, no one should be bullied.  If every person takes a stand against bullying, it will create a positive change.  I want to be a part of that change.

I’m currently working at the Everyday Cafe for my Start on Success internship.  I take orders, make food, as well as different types of coffee and tea.  This internship has given me an opportunity to demonstrate the skills I’ve learned at the Bender Leadership Academy and during my 3 years of involvement in the Start on Success program. I can tell you these skills are invaluable. 

I now have a set of transferable skills that I can use in all aspects of my future endeavors.  The experience I’ve gained, and continue to gain through these programs, as well as the network of contacts I’ve acquired through these experiences are a great stepping stone for my future.

I’d like to thank everyone here again for coming out to support Disability Mentoring Day.  A special note of thanks to Bender Consulting Services and AAPD for working to coordinate this event every year and to our 2018 Sponsors.  Your commitment is changing the future for people with disabilities like me.

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