School Outreach Efforts with Emily, Ashlyn, and Alex

Emily Berndt, Ashlyn Michael, and Alex Cavalcante have been leading the charge on conducting outreach to schools within the Center For Independent Living’s catchman area of 16 counties, which include 16 different school districts. They’re beginning a process of connecting to schools where CIL currently does not have a presence within, to get to know their students and parents and to offer CIL’s valuable services.

We’ll be following Emily, Ashlyn, and Alex on their outreach journey throughout Season 2 to learn about the exciting work they’re doing in the community through engagement, building trust, offering value.

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SPEAKERS: Emily Bernt, Ashlyn Michael, Alex Cavalcante, Tony Delisle

Tony Delisle  00:00

Hello, everyone, and welcome back. It is the summer of 2021. Very interesting time. So what do people do in the summer? What’s on people’s minds what’s going on? Well, here in Florida, two things are very important. One being school’s out for summer. It’s been an interesting academic year and the year of COVID, and natural disasters. And these are the two topics we’re going to be leading off with in terms of season two, we’re gonna first start out with an episode with staff that is working here at the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida, in their efforts to do outreach to schools in our 16 County catchment area, to identify people’s needs, who have disabilities and advocate for them on their behalf. This is something that Centers for Independent Living throughout the state are being charged with doing more and more. And so we’re going to accompany them along their journey into networking into the schools, meeting the students and their families with disabilities, and learning more about what their needs are, so that we can support them. And we’re going to be interviewing them at the beginning and the middle and throughout season two to see how their efforts go. And we are also going to be getting into disaster preparedness. After their first episode, we are going to have four weeks in which we have two episodes a week that we are going to cover the topic of disaster preparedness, or we’re going to meet all different kinds of people, professionals, emergency management organizations, and other volunteer groups that help people with disabilities before during and after storms. So we got a very exciting start to this season two, I hope you enjoy. Well, well, well, school is out for summer shout out to Alice Cooper there. I’m recording this on July 1, this episode with Emily, Ashlyn and Alex, they work here for the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. And they’ve been charged with a project to do outreach to our schools in our catchment area, which by the way, we have a catchment area of 16 counties, which means that we got 16 different school districts that were looking to do outreach to to get to know the schools connect with them, get to know the students and parents, and to offer them some valuable services. Many of these counties were already in, but some were not. And we’re being encouraged to do more in the schools. And so we are beginning a process of reaching out to schools that we currently don’t have a presence with, and to get to know them and garner their trust, and then you know, offer some valuable services. This is a great project in building community. And we’re going to follow Alex Emily and Ashlyn along their journey, they’re two months into it right now and have done some really exciting work that we all can learn from, for those of us that are interested and engaging a community, garnering trust within that community, getting to a point where you can offer some value to that community. And there’s so much there to learn, and what they’ve already learned in terms of the outreach phase of this process, just trying to get a connection with these different schools, getting to know them where they’re at right now. So they got a lot of good information to share about this. And it’s going to be very important and impactful, this work that they’re doing up front is really going to set the trajectory of whether or not we are successful in garnering that trust and offering the value that Centers for Independent Living can offer students and parents in schools. And right now is a really important time for us to really be paying a lot of attention in terms of the educational needs that students with disabilities have before COVID. But it’s all remembered that the graduation rates here in the state of Florida was around 66% versus 88% without disabilities. So we have a huge academic gap in our community of students who have disabilities. What has happened during COVID, to this academic achievement gap, has it stayed the same? Has it gotten wider? Has it gotten narrower? We don’t know a lot of the research and data needed is still out the jury’s out on this one. And my fear is is that it’s going to widen because of a lot of the different ways that schools have had to be conducted during this time, were students with disabilities properly accommodated during this transition, were students with disabilities afforded the access that they needed to the educational materials content and classes that were offered to them? Did they have the the social supports and the other things that are needed to be able to do some of the work that never been asked for them to be done before? Who knows? You know, we do have some insights from the experiences that we have from some of the programs that we run here. And I gotta say, based on some of those experiences, which largely are you know, anecdotal, and subjective, from my opinion, is that there is a lot of needs that are not being met right now for students who have disabilities in the schools, and certainly not here to push any blame on any area, because this is unprecedented times. But I say all this to say that Centers for Independent Living, and the need for them is more evident right now to me than ever. And so I’m very excited that today on July 1, House Bill 173, goes into effect in which the schools are required to allow Centers for Independent Living and their information about them to be shared with students and parents, especially those that are transitioning out of high school into postsecondary life. This is huge, and can really overcome some of the barriers that are out there when we try to do outreach and connection with schools. So being built into the legislation and required agency to be collaborated with by the schools is a huge thing for us. This day is a very important day, and will help facilitate some of the efforts that you’re going to hear Alex and Emily and Ashlyn share with you about what they’re having, and why it’s so important that we do this kind of work, why it’s important that we come up with innovative value based services to offer students and parents with disabilities, how parents are a very important and integral part of the success of students with disabilities and some really good advice given to how parents can go about doing this. And so I hope you enjoy this conversation. It’s a huge and important issue area that we really need to be needing to pay attention to, because we are starting to before COVID, close the gap in the academic achievements, we need to continue this good work and being able to do it now more than ever, during these times as we transition into a post-COVID educational environment. And many of the other advocacy issues that are going to emerge through this are very important ahead of us. And we need to best be prepared and plan for it. And certainly doing the outreach into the schools is one of the first and beginning steps into getting to do this great work. So enjoy the podcast enjoy the conversation with Emily Ashlyn, and Alex. Thank you all and welcome. This is a very exciting episode for me not just because it’s front loaded here at the beginning of season two of The Independent Life podcast. But I get to spend time talking with some of my favorite people that work at the center, Alex Emily and Ashlyn in the area of doing outreach and education and reaching out to the schools, and began some real exciting efforts in this area. Very excited that we’re leading off with you all, we’re going to be following you all and seeing how you do along the way in these areas and these efforts. We’re going to be talking about what it’s like to be somebody with a disability in the school, and, you know, high school, and then graduating high school and to what life is like after graduating high school, if you have a disability, and what are some of the lived experiences that people are going through. And of course, one of the places that you can find a lot of students with disabilities are in the schools. And right now Centers for Independent Living are being really encouraged and incentivized to really go into the schools and do more connection with people who have disabilities and to let them know who we are, and to offer up our resources and provide advocacy options. And for those that have been following the legislative update, this is a very special day. Emily, this might be a good opportunity for you to talk about the salutations you gave me an email this morning. What was that? 

Emily  08:45

Oh yeah, so we’re recording this on July 1. So it’s officially HB 173 Day.

Tony Delisle  08:52

House Bill 173. This is the House bill that got passed because of a lot of advocacy this year, in which schools will be required to provide information about Centers for Independent Living so that we can provide them information about resources and advocacy options. So thank you for acknowledging today as happy HB 173 Day. that’s a huge one. And we’ll get into why that is as we go into this podcast. But maybe quickly, one of the things I would like to maybe go around the horn with a question is just to ask you all to briefly talk about some of the experiences that you’ve had already here at the Center for Independent Living, and some of the things that you’ve been doing before you started this work. I know Alex and Emily, you are working here before you really got onto this project of the school. So Alex, I’ll start with you. What are some of your experiences here working at the center promoting independent living?

Alex  09:46

So it’s great to be here with all of you, thank you for the for the opportunity. I’m talking to you guys from Brazil so I hope the connection stays stable.

Tony Delisle  09:54

Our first international podcast. I love it.

Alex  09:59

So in the in the center for independent living I’ve it’s been an honor to be here and to be connected to the center for the noble, amazing work that is done in so many different areas. And I’ve had the privilege of working with folks in the employment area and helping people with disabilities prepare to find work many different areas, for example, wood, there’s a process in which we help people with their resumes and prepare for interviews. And I always like to go even a little bit further if they have the, the willingness and the one to find resources and classes that are available to increase in the capacity and add things to their resume and, and skills most importantly, to be able to be more employable. So it’s one of the areas that I have worked with. And also, working with the youth social group is one of my favorite joys, favorite things to do is having that experience to be with some amazing young people connected to the center. So that’s a little bit of my experience in the center.

Tony Delisle  10:57

Yeah, just a little bit. I know you’ve done more. But that’s, that’s a nice little window into you know, some of the things that you’ve done before here. Now, Emily, you volunteered here for a while before coming on board to take on this project, talk about some of the things that you did here.

Emily  11:10

Yeah, and thanks for having me here today. I started off originally, my first year as a student at the University of Florida, I was taking a course that encouraged me to do some volunteer work, and I found Amy’s contacts, and got in as soon as I could. So I started off in high school high tech, I was doing some tutoring for a couple students here. I think that was like three students and just kind of individual work. After a while, I think just the change of the season, I went into ILS class independent living class with Terry. And that was a completely new experience for me. I had never worked with adults with disabilities before it was always use prior to that. And I just loved it so much, I ended up sticking with it even past the class. It’s been, I think, three years now. And now I have this job here as a educational advocate from COVID.

Tony Delisle  12:14

Well, yeah, and thank you for your experiences there in high school, high tech, which I think is really helpful here as you work to do this outreach into the schools. And there’s independent living skills classes that group is is an amazing group and planning lesson plans and in delivering them and working with all different kinds of learning styles. I think it’s very helpful and is certainly made you well prepared for some of the work that you doing here. And so Ashlyn, so you come to us as a practicum student from the University of Florida, you and I had a conversation, I believe in the fall of 2020 first getting connected to see if we would be a good fit. After the conversation. I gotta be honest, I felt like kindred spirits a bitto you, you and I both share a low vision disability, and talked about some of the similar challenges that we experienced coming through the education system. So I’m wondering if you can maybe give us a bit of your story, as it pertains to your experiences of having a disability, and education, you know, how that really is something that’s, you know, important area for us to be focusing and tying into the efforts that you all are ultimately doing and that we’ll talk about?

Ashlyn  13:17

Yeah, absolutely. So basically, as you mentioned, I was born with a visual impairment. And so growing up disability wasn’t really talked about that much in my household, it was very much that idea of, let’s not really talk about it, let’s be more like, Oh, you’re just like everyone else. And I think that kind of speaks volumes to how society as a whole is, it’s not necessarily sending negative messaging. There’s just not a lot of messaging out there. And so I think while there’s good, people are trying to do good with that attitude, I think it comes it brings with it this feeling of Ooh, why shouldn’t I talk about it, maybe I should be embarrassed, maybe it’s something I should be self conscious about. And I think that was kind of my experience growing up and trying to minimize anything that drew attention to disability. And then most of my schooling was online, which was to kind of cater towards my family’s lifestyle, because we moved around a lot. But I think it also stemmed from that fear of How are teachers going to react? Are they going to accommodate her properly? How are peers going to react? So as I went into community college, and then University, I kind of was all of a sudden struck with this, oh, my gosh, I need to be able to identify my disability, I need to be able to disclose it. And not only that, but you have to fight for it. So even though all of us in this independent living world we know like the ADA and the rights students have, but when you’re in the nitty gritty of it, it’s really uncomfortable. There can be conflict, it’s awkward. And so from that I really realized the value of being able to uplift students by letting them know what their disability is, how to request proper accommodation, how to even know what accommodation you need, or what accommodation is at your disposal. So that’s kind of where my, as far as education side of things, where my passion lies is in encouraging parents and schools and students to find power in their disability, because I think you need that in order to advocate. So yeah, that’s a little spiel about me and…

Tony Delisle  15:32

That’s a great spiel, yo, I really relate to what you’re saying in terms of I did come also from a household that really tried to minimize that, you know, I had a disability, but in a way that was really meant to be empowering, and put myself in situations where if I didn’t really have that attitude, I probably wouldn’t have shied away from, and it challenged me to be better for it. At the same time, I see what you’re saying where it could send a message of something to be embarrassed about, I certainly went through a time of being embarrassed about it, and sometimes still do. And it’s contradictory to my attitude about people with disabilities need to be more visible and embrace disability. And so that it seems to be a walk that a lot of people go through. And I really relate that to, you’re kind of describing that. And I think that’s a huge thing that’s probably important in terms of when we interact with students with disabilities during those formative years were their identity and being worried about what others think and all those other kinds of things, it’d be really an important aspect. Before we do go down that road and really get into the the nitty gritty of that, Alex, I want to take this over to you and ask you, you know, as you’ve had some experience here in serving people with disabilities, what is it that you find that inspires you to want to work with people with disabilities? And what have you gotten out of it in terms of working to help meet the needs of people with disabilities? So why is it you do what you do? And what have you gotten out of it?

Alex  16:55

That’s awesome. That’s a great question. I think the, one of the things that has inspired me in some aspects is, it’s something I haven’t really shared a whole lot. But like, my dad, when I was six years old, my dad became disabled, he became completely visually impaired. And I lived with him until I was 13. So I progressively had to care for him. And I didn’t think about that for a very long time until I became connected to the Center for Independent Living, and he passed away then, but then I realized how, from an early age, I was very much connected to, you know, with a situation at home with the person with disabilities. And then when I was younger, also, in my late teens, I helped a person with disabilities, and that was a personal care assistant. And I’ve become over the years, you know, very interested in working with people and supporting helping people and in many ways, finding ways to become useful in helping people because I’ve come to learn is that one of the most important things and values we can learn is okay, how, how are we doing with our fellow human beings? Right? How are we becoming, and being good human beings per se? Because I think at the end of the day, or the end of a long lifespan, you know, we might come to this to the questions like, What have I done in this world? Have I accumulated wealth or have I am I going to be somebody that people can be, you know, remember, somebody that tried to be a good fellow human being per se,  right, to them. And so that’s one of my things that drives me about this work is being able to, to, to add something, right, and to maybe bring something good to somebody’s life. But, you know, at one point, I worked with a group of young people bringing a program to a community center, and I shared with these kids, like, don’t think that we’re going to do anything special for them. Because many times we get so much more out of that when we’re able to be able to help and support to others. And so, just literally just the feeling of being useful, and be able to have the, the honor to be able to support others and to serve others in any capacity that I’m able to, is one of the things that really motivates me, but not from the sense of like I’m serving because I’m helping somebody, in that sense is like, because I know in my heart, I know that what I do, it’s really it’s like, if I had capacity, in any capacity, I you know, that’s, I feel almost as if it’s a duty to, to help my fellow human beings and honestly, I feel better about myself. In that sense of like, if I feel useful. And if it feels good to be to feel useful, you know, and I can say 100% of the time that you know, in in anything that I do, I feel like I get so much more in return, right in blessings and we’ve been working to get in the social group, per se we learned so much from them.

Tony Delisle  19:58

That’s beautiful Alex, really circulates and goes back around the being able to be your contribution to somebody else to help someone else out really feeds our bucket fills our bucket and feeds our soul. And so Emily, I’m going to ask you the same question because you got, you know, some of the and Alex, by the way you you do have a big heart that you wear on your sleeve. And that’s something that I want to acknowledge about you, when you do work with people that I’ve seen, you really do get the time to connect with them. And I can tell that you’re giving a lot and also receiving a lot. So I it’s definitely very apparent that like this, you do. 

Alex  20:33

Thank you. 

Tony Delisle  20:33

Emily. So talk to me, what is it that inspires you to work with people with disabilities? And what are you getting out of it?

Emily  20:40

Now my life power is about the same as Alex is it’s I like connecting with people, I see it as a win win. So I’ve always liked meeting new people and people have disabilities. It’s such a large portion of our society that it would really, you know, stink to leave them out of the conversation, because he has so many unique perspectives. And I’m constantly having my mind changed about things. Yeah, I just like meeting new people. It’s gratifying helping people reach their goals, but I feel like I’m also gaining so much out of it. The work that I do is exciting.

Tony Delisle  21:20

It is exciting. So Ashlyn. I’m gonna ask you, why is it important that, so, like I said, at the beginning, Centers for Independent Living, are being encouraged to do more in the schools, which means we got to connect with the schools, get into the schools, and really reach people and do all kinds of important work that need to be done. Why is that important that we do this kind of work, reaching out to students with disabilities, parents and families and etc. In the arena of education? Why is it important that you think we’re involved in this area?

Ashlyn  21:53

Um, I mean, I think there’s a lot to it. One of the layers is just helping teachers in schools fill in those gaps that they don’t have the ability to fill. So for instance, like with our youth social group, reaching out to these schools and making that known to parents and students and teachers that we can be here, sense of community disabilities, a super isolating experience for some people, including myself. So it’s such a gratifying reciprocal experience to have that sense of community that we can. Yeah. And then that referral aspect of, so we offer all of these different services to you. We offer independent living classes, all of this, but we can also help you find specific resources that we may not even offer that are out there in your specific community. So I think there’s a lot to that. But it’s vital that we’re being there for these teachers, students, families, and just letting our our services be known because a lot of these schools are just unaware of the resources they have at their disposal. And so right now, our big push is just letting them know we’re here. And we’ll stay here. And we want to hear from them and hear what their needs are too, and kind of formulate our future curriculum and things like that at the center around what they currently need.

Tony Delisle  23:15

Well, I love that. Yeah, I think you’re really talking about offering a couple of things, why it’s important that the sense of connection and community where people have disabilities is really important. And you’re right, people with disabilities are tend to be more socially isolated, has smaller social networks, and particularly during the ages that these students are at, where that need is much more elevated and amplified, is a huge thing to have that connection. And I love how you said also that we could wraparound services that we offer, you know, through that connection, getting to know people, you know, if there’s something that we do, or we know of somebody that does that can meet a need, you know, we can really bring that into the equation. So Alex, how about you? What do you what are your thoughts on why is it important that we focus our energy time attention resources into the arena of education, and youth?

Alex  24:07

This is so important, right? As a child, personally, I feel that I didn’t have access to a lot of good schools or education based on that location I lived when I was a kid. And when I moved to the United States, I was 14 years old, and I met a family, African American family and they were professors at the University of Massachusetts. And they were like, almost adopted me in some aspects. And they helped me even with learning English. I remember the lady. She said to me once she says Alex, education is one of the most powerful tools that you can acquire, because it’s something that nobody can ever take away from you. Right. So the importance of providing content, providing support accessibility to kids with disabilities, young people with disabilities and people with disabilities in general. Having access to equal access to resources, right? To have tools to develop leadership skills to develop advocacy skills and to develop independent living skills and capacity to really become very well rounded individuals, I think it’s so important to have a balanced life and to find, to find happiness and, and to find the capacity to then to serve others and help others as well. And I’m often you know, when I talk to people that don’t know about much about disabilities in independent living movement, even here in Brazil, I often like I talk about Ed Roberts, and I talk about Judith Heumann, and other folks that had to overcome incredible challenges. And they had access to education, and then had to fight for the rights to be able to work even. And so it’s, it’s just so amazing how, how beautiful some of these stories are. And, and I believe there’s such an importance that in whatever role we can play in supporting this is going to be phenomenal. And it’s it’s crucial for individuals and young people with disabilities to have a full breadth rounded experience in the educational areas in going through their education in their life.

Tony Delisle  26:36

You guys have just recently begun work. And again, we have a 16 County catchment area. So that means there’s 16 different school districts that we’re looking at to network in. And we do have presence in a good handful of those districts. But we’re not so much in other ones. Right now, I’ll just kind of set the stage of being networking with schools can be very difficult. They got a lot of responsibilities on their plate, they’re very busy what they do, they got to make sure that they’re protecting the identifiable information of their students and parents from any older organization off the street coming in to want to peddle their services to them. So they got to be good stewards of that. And there’s other layers that we can talk about in terms of barriers into networking and doing outreach to school. But before we do that, maybe we can learn a little bit about what are some of the initial again, we’re at the very beginning stages of really reaching out to these different school districts, to let them know who we are, and etc. So we’re very much in the beginning. Emily, I’ll come to you, you can give us a broad snapshot of some of the things that you all have undertaken since beginning this project and what you’re doing.

Emily  27:45

Yeah, so whenever we started off, we were just kind of making a game plan because we’re waiting for the bill to be passed, HB 1003. In that process, we were kind of just reaching out to interagency groups, you ESC directors, staffing specialists, ESC teachers, just anybody we could get the contact of and compiling it onto a list with their phone number, their email, the school and the county that they were from. And then we figured out like what we were going to send them just to introduce ourselves, because with HB 173, they can’t deny us access anymore. They legally have to provide their students with our information. So we need to initiate the contact. So even before today, we’ve sent out emails to these people we’ve sent out snail mail, is trying to get in contact any way that we can. We have had some challenges with teachers being on summer break a lot of out of office emails. And one thing that surprised me was a lot of outdated emails that aren’t correct by part. Yeah, yeah, trying to get around that and figuring out who is the right contact breach school, and working with other agencies that help, like agency for persons with disabilities or network on disabilities. Yeah, working with other agencies to try and collaborate on what we’re going to offer, you know, students and families and part of that was also making a needs assessment for the families. We did that through just like a Google Sheet, asking questions that I believe will be linked in the show notes right?

Tony Delisle  29:39

Yeah, we’ll put anything in there. Y’all want I think it’d be great to have the survey and opportunity for people to complete it. 

Emily  29:44

Yeah. So it’s very helpful whenever we do get the responses because we’re trying to, you know, make our material and see what we can do to help. And then outside of that, trying to come up with some kind of newsletter, keeping everybody in the loop and connecting them to release versus. So that’s just been some of the initial steps of the project. But after today, I mean, now we can get a lot more proactive.

Tony Delisle  30:09

Yeah, I like how you really laid that out there. So at the beginning, this merely getting all the contact information, the potential people, you would want to contact in all the different counties that we serve. That’s a lot of different contact information from ESC directors. So like you said, and interagency organizations to other school administrators, you know, in the number of counties that we have getting that directory, so to speak, built, the common things with the 211 system, is your outdated information, getting populated into there and getting the updated information, information referral, it’s notoriously always an ongoing kind of thing that we have to pay attention to. And like how you also then went into you all, were reaching out to the schools then afterwards, once you found out the people that were there and doing multiple means of doing it. So like emails, and I saw you all hundreds of snail mail, as you put it, letters that you all were folding and doing, you know, I got the got to be able to see that. So you know, going that route as well. I also believe, Ashlyn? Did you all start a social media kind of thing? An effort? Yeah. Were you dabbling in some of this effort as well?

Ashlyn  31:16

Yeah, absolutely. So that’s another thing we’ll have linked in the show notes is, we’ve started a Facebook group and to connect with PTA groups, ESC groups in the areas that we’re overseeing. And that’s been a great avenue to be able to share our survey, because we really, the place to launch from, from any of this outreach type of stuff is what is actually needed within these communities. So we can assume, but we don’t really know till we make that direct one on one contact. And then we also have started an Instagram, and we’ve tried to do some more casual survey type of things. So we’ll, we’ll, you know, have some educational information on our feed, but then prompt it with a oh, what Independent Living skill would you like your child to learn? Or as a student? What are you curious about? So social media has been a great tool through the needs assessment, kind of getting some firsthand contact, and really hearing the needs and wants and concerns of parents and teachers. So yeah, social media has played a really important role in all that.

Tony Delisle  32:28

So again, another conduit to communicate out and you’re talking about this survey, this needs assessment survey, where you all have really come together and wrote some really good questions to identify, what are is on people’s minds, what’s working, what’s not working, what is it that you need, but don’t have, what is the service out there that you don’t have that you need, as well, and you put together a really, really good survey there. And I encourage you, if you’re a parent, or know somebody that has a student with a disability, to complete that survey, and let us know. And I love how you’re allowing that to drive, what you all are going to do and the outreach that you’re going to do with the people that you’re trying to connect with. You know, that brings me then to Alex, you’ve, you’ve been helping to really lead and manage and supervise some of these efforts here that are going on between collecting the information and sending out various communication platforms and organizing everybody and doing that plus the needs assessment and all these other kinds of things. What is it that you’re learning through this process, about the ability of, you know, organizations, like Centers for Independent Living, to really network into schools, and to do outreach and to really get connected? What is it you’re learning about this whole process so far?

Alex  33:41

It’s been so far an amazing experience. So it’s been an amazing experience. Getting to know some of the folks that work within the school district districts, we’ve been able to participate in some meetings of interagency councils, and connect with other organizations. So the networking aspects, and it’s been amazing to see how many people are they’re also doing amazing work to help students with disabilities. So that’s been really heartwarming, it’s in the process, we’ve been learning very practical things about some of the aspects of projects, managing some of these tasks and be able to collaborate and that in and of itself has been an educational process as well. Right. But one of the highlights that I feel have been important is to connect with individuals out there and folks that work out in the communities, in the counties, in the school districts and that what I can say is that anybody that is good to to listen to this podcast is that if they can share out and share the information, and share the good news that we’re here to support them, and to support ESC teachers and writers and figure out what ways that we can do it and how we can even include more content into the services where you offered to better attend to students in the in our catchment areas and everything. And our goal is to continue to expand our reach and to be able to continue to connect with more people in the different counties that work with students with disabilities. And in to be truly a partner to be truly a support that they can count on. And it’s really amazing to, to have seen that in the meetings we’ve been participating in how, you know, we were welcomed and well received as a as an additional resource that’s been one of the great learning experiences is to be able to connect with people.

Tony Delisle  35:29

Yeah, and I find it very interesting that you know, so we’re in the phase of the outreach, you know, trying to, you don’t even know the community. And it’s a long road ahead. So you’re trying to get in the front door, and there’s gatekeepers and decision makers and stakeholders. And there’s different ways into the community. There’s direct ways, like you all were doing with the calling, emailing, snail mailing the school administrators, then there’s other kind of indirect ways like social media, trying to reach PTA groups, ESA, exceptional student groups that might be affiliated with the schools. And so communicating and trying to get networked and doing your outreach through there. And now, what’s been talked about is this interagency collaboration. And that’s a very specific term, that’s jargon here. And important for people to know that were wanting to do outreach into the schools, is that I believe that every county school board is required to have an interagency council on that school board, that represents agencies and organizations out there that can help to support the needs of students and parents. And so that interagency council that sits on all the different school boards are filled with organizations that can really help link organizations like us into getting into the door. So this is another doorway in, it’s not directly through the school itself. It’s not directly through a support group that’s directly connected like a PTA, through social media. But this is actually built into the school board itself and is an organizations that are not in the school system. And Emily, I believe that you have come across like we were saying, APD,  Agency for People with Disabilities, and the family network on disabilities as well. So talk to me about what you’ve seen to be useful and helping to collaborate with these agencies, and how it can potentially lead for Centers for Independent Living to providing services for people who are already known through other sister agencies that we have.

Emily  37:29

Yeah, so I would say that one of the most helpful calls that I’ve been on, and something that I noticed other calls will do, other meetings will do, is discussing some of the obstacles we’ve been facing in whatever projects we’re working on. And then hearing from other agencies, you know, if they have any similar experience, what they did to combat that, you know, at times when we don’t have a lot of people participating in class, we may not really have an idea of what to do to heighten that. Participation. But other people say that making a mailing list works for them, or, you know, constantly sending out the social media posts, having the calendar, just being really proactive with that. So that’s been helpful, also, just kind of working, because you don’t want to do something that’s already been done. Figuring out what other agencies are offering, and where the gaps are, that we could fill in. We want to make all these workshops and webinars, but so many of them have already been done. No, like, I discovered Project 10, and their websites insane, like, all of the information that they have on there, and these webinars, so a lot of it’s out there. And, you know, even by us knowing that it is out there, we can connect people to that, right. You know, as long as people have the information, it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from. And now you’ve got to figure out what we can provide and how we can be of use to them.

Tony Delisle  39:06

And I think that’s a big part of it is understanding what’s out there. And this is part of really what we’re doing is trying to be seen as a resource that is out there. And we’re aware of other organizations that are also out there that can meet needs so that we’re not duplicating services, that’s really important to make sure that we’re doing. Alex, what would you say like our role that we can provide a Centers for Independent Living are that are kind of unique to what we do that maybe other agencies don’t do for students with disabilities as they transition from school to out of school?

Alex  39:39

It’s a really good question to independent living skills, right. It’s a that’s one that really comes right. You know, to the top of my mind, the fact that, you know, the CILs do more than 51% often of people who work in CLS are people with disabilities, right? So that’s one of those things that we live day in and day out. And folks really kind of, kind of have that experience already, you know, on a daily basis, and they can share from their own experiences and can relate very much to, you know, the consumers. One of the things too is the approaches that we have, and the different classes that we have, and, and the community building that we we work together. And then there’s a force in a lot of what we do too, right. And when we have independent living skills classes, when we have the social group classes, there’s a there’s a movement that starts and then there’s a lot of support, there’s a lot of even, I’m trying to say the word, we begin to have like a lot of camaraderie and, and it’s it’s amazing, because the classes that it’s not all about disabilities per se, right, it includes every aspect of life and culture and art and, and literacy and poetry and mindfulness and current events, and but we always kind of, because of the work that we do, will always tie in to the area of disabilities and see how it’s at the same time. It’s not something that should be stigmatized that All right, one day, we did a presentation for our youth social group, and I showed a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an important president in the United States. And one of our youth started, like, you know, basically giving us details about Frank Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then he was a person that had a serious disability and, and he was able to overcome so much of that and, and do so many important things. Right? I think that’s one of the things that we can bring is having that, you know, in house experience, and community building, and support a support network, and peer support too which is very important.

Tony Delisle  41:53

Absolutely. And we have been able to provide all those things, especially as they transition at high school is huge. So interesting that you brought up Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his disabilities and he had overcome many disabilities actually, in his lifetime. And really, when interviewed about it, really sees that as what really forged him to make him a stronger and better man and to be of service for our country. So very interesting biography there to learn about, I think, your wisdom for everybody with and without disabilities there. Hey, Ashlyn. I want to come to you now and talk to you about what you foresee. Assuming so we’re at the very beginning here, we’re trying to you know, get in the door, getting to meet people get buy in. This takes time, any of us that do community based work and understand that does take some time, then there’s garnering, you know, trust and making sure that we, you know, the people have the trust that we can and bring in value, like Alex was saying, like some of the value that we can bring, as well. And so if we’re able to do the outreach that you’re currently doing now, and we can reach the people, we can get the trust of people, and we can bring a value to meet needs that aren’t being met, and, you know, not duplicating services out there. What do you foresee the world looking like? What is a better world look like for you in terms of we can do our job, right? What would that mean to the people that we’re trying to reach, get their trust, to bring value to? What is it that you see as being you know, the world that we will create, if we’re able to be successful in this mission?

Ashlyn  43:19

Oh, I see a world of where a lot more voices are being heard. And we’re making the world accommodate this large group of people who for so long, have not been able to make their voices heard and be incredibly active members in society. So my goal for all of this and what I’m perceiving the long term outcomes are this new generation of empowered individuals with disabilities who feel ready to take on the world and are met with a world that is not only willing to, but excited to accommodate them in any way possible. So just recognizing that all of these individuals with disabilities, like myself, just happened to be born in a world that accommodated a different type of person. So it’s not really a hindrance, we just need to be working to pave the way for them to be able to live to thrive in life instead of just surviving as many have to. So I hope that doing this work will create a world where people like myself are met with open arms and that we’re able to thrive like I said, and yeah, there’s a lot to that. And sometimes it’s hard to see what that world will look like, just because it seems so far, but we’re doing the work right now to make it happen as soon as possible. So I’m really excited to see how all of this outreach plays out. But in the long term, I just hope that all of these students are able to feel like they’re supported, feel that they’re not alone and that we have their backs and know how to advocate for themselves.

Tony Delisle  45:18

Thank you Ashlyn, then I want to ask you, Alex, what do you foresee then being the barriers towards getting to this place that Ashlyn has laid out? So, you’re doing the outreach, gaining the trust, bringing value to them? What do you see being some of the barriers? And what do you see being potentially some of the solutions or innovative ideas out there, to be able to do some of this work of the, the outreach and the trust and the the value that we can bring to them?

Alex  45:47

Right, in terms of short term barriers that we felt, you know, one, of course, is the period of the year in which we’re in which is summer break, right. So sometimes, you know, we do find some vague staff directories, we’ve gotten some out of office replies, and so forth, as Emily mentioned, right. But at the same time, already, in many ways, we, you know, we understand that sometimes teachers in schools, they have a lot on their plate, right. And if we’re able to get the message out there that what we’re trying to do is not to add more to that plate, but hopefully share some of the load in terms of some ancillary or some additional support that we can give, to provide more, value more, more goodness to their students and more things that that can allow them to grow and become more even more excited about school and learning and feel supported. Like as, as Ashlyn said, I think that’s the idea is to overcome the barriers of sometimes overwhelmingness. And by us being able to be creative in being able to reach out to SC, ESC, teachers and administrators get their support in sharing the word and motivating parents and students to reach out to us and for us to be able to be that additional support, right, that they can count on. Because some of some of these folks is the first time they could be hearing that about a CIL, for example, right. And then so it’s important that if we can find ways to be proactive, and, and even though we’re starting from, you know, from the beginning, I have a lot of hope. I believe that education is the key, right, to a better world in many ways. Education itself is something that is very important from perspective, let’s say, of empowering people and, and developing leadership and developing advocacy skills, and developing self, self esteem and self worth, and self love. All of these things can be incorporated into a program that can be provided as an additional resource to the education resources out there, right. That’s kind of one of the things that really inspires me about the Centers for Independent Living, they provide a place of love to, to their consumers, you know, it’s there is a lot of love and support. And one of the things that we do try to work with our students is to be able to have them participate in our classes, and present and treat presentations and so forth. So that’s one of the things.

Tony Delisle  48:25

Yeah, and I think there’s a lot there, in terms of what you were saying is that kind of connects back to building a sense of community, you know, having that sense of love and belongingness. And, and a place where people can be accepted, I think is huge. And that is something I think that’s an important thing that would, I think, very innovative to really help and provide for people, especially will help concerns of bringing value, and certainly deepen trust that people can have. And I love how you put that. So Emily, I’m going to come to you now and talk to you about what do you see as being some of the innovative ideas that could be putting into place in terms of reaching or garnering trust or providing value to students with disabilities and or their parents? What are some of the ideas that you have?

Emily  49:12

Just communicating with them as well as we can because I, I can’t predict it too well, I don’t have as much experience as somebody who has it firsthand. So it varies so much from each individual. I mean, if we could find overlapping areas of need, it would be a lot easier for us because you can kind of kill two birds with one stone. Have not only the class where you’re learning something, but also some kind of component of peer support. If you’re not just working with one person at a time and you have a group of like three or four consumers then you know, we all talk and we have a good time and then we’re helping with several areas of need. So we’re just gonna kind of look for the overlap.

Tony Delisle  49:57

Efficiancy. Build efficiancy.

Emily  50:00

Building trust with the schools. Yeah, that’s also just communicating with them as best as we can introducing ourselves and developing a personal relationship with them, you know, where they don’t just see us as center, but they see like, they see my face, listen to me, they see Alex, they know we are, they can’t turn us away, because we are so kind.

Tony Delisle  50:24

Yeah, and this outreach is no joke, you were saying that just even making contact with people, you know, expired emails, or were out for summer, or where you’re just making that initial contact is super hard, then like you’re saying, like, once we make the contact, developing a personal relationship, time. Takes time to be able to do that, you know, well spent time I love doing that time and connecting with people. And I know you all do too. And then on top of that, figuring out when to fit in, perhaps the services that we can offer the time to carve out that the value that we can bring this networking and outreach that you all are doing is so important. And I don’t want people to underestimate how complicated it can be. It’s an art, it’s a science, you all having a conversation about this, I think can maybe help illuminate the the amount of planning and creativity and innovation that needs to go into this. And often I think a lot of people overlook this part of community work, and how much really needs to go into the front end here that you all are doing. And I always find it to be very exciting work, I’m challenged by it, I’m always looking to connect more, you all are people that are all about bringing people together and connecting. And so one of the important aspects of this, I think that also can be a facilitator. And sometimes a barrier and connecting is the role of parents and or guardians, you know, people and students with disabilities, and Ashlyn you lead us off with in talking about how you were raised. And you and I also when we first talked, you know, talked a lot about the role of parents and guardians. And you and I talked about even, you know, getting groups together and those kinds of things. But what do you had to say about the role of parents and guardians of students, their children, those that are responsible for with disabilities, being a person who was raised by people yourself? What advice do you have for people that are doing the raising?

Ashlyn  52:25

Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And I think usually what’s what comes to mind immediately, and what are necessities are things like, you know, assisting in the creation of IEPs, all that type of stuff. But then I think something that isn’t often viewed as a necessity, but really should be, is finding those pockets of community for their children. I think, during that time, as we all know, you’re kind of wanting to fit in. And that’s not always possible. And so, finding places like this, like Centers for Independent Living, where there may be groups and things like that, where people can feel valid in their struggles and valid in their wins that they have associated with their disability. And just that sense of community is underestimated a lot. And so I would really encourage parents to let their children know that there’s no shame and disability and just kind of having conversations and asking their children questions like, How can I help you, I know that we’re trying to seek accommodation at school, is there anything else that’s like been on your mind, kind of going past those really important things, but moving more into the relational aspects. So I would really encourage parents to try to find those areas where their children can feel like they’re a part of something bigger that idea of like universalism, where when you meet one person who has a shared experience it like, is so mind blowing, because you’re like, Well, I’m not alone. Other people deal with this. So there’s such great power in that. And so I would really encourage parents to seek that out as well.

Tony Delisle  54:10

That’s great advice. And there is a bit of shame that I’ve seen with other parents, not mine. And so I don’t have direct experience with it. But I’ve seen a lot of parents struggle with identifying their children with the schools as having a disability, the label, especially from other marginalized groups, who are just not needing another label put onto them, and have been very challenged by that. And I think, you know, providing centers could also provide aspects there that can really help people understand and navigate the that challenging decision as well. But also then, you know, how to reach out for help, among other parents. You know, one of the things that I thought about that I think would be really good is also support from parents by parents, especially parents that have had students already graduated help him, you know, parents that have students already in school, you know, still in school and being able to support one another and what they’ve learned and navigated in those kind of shared experiences as well. Because I know parents that love and care and want the best for their children, often, you know, doing the best that they can, but don’t always sometimes know what the best is to be able to do or where to go, you know, and I think they could be a valuable resource for themselves, you know, each other as well.

Ashlyn  55:27

Yeah, and just kind of going off of that real quick. I think, even though there’s different ways of parenting, like, I don’t mean to say that one way is necessarily wrong, I think it’s vital to be listening to your child and kind of hearing from other parents. So I totally agree that that parent support is important too, because they have a lot on their plates, they have full-time jobs, figuring out how to live life with the child and adapting with them along the way. So I totally agree with what you say that as parents are encouraging their children, youth, to seek out that community, it’s vital that they start with themselves too. And they may feel that they’re alone. And it so I, I completely agree with what you were saying, yeah.

Emily  56:10

It takes a village.

Tony Delisle  56:11

It takes a village that is so true. And and, you know, it’s interesting, because, you know, we’re being asked questions as centers about what we’re doing in the schools, and one of them is, you know, are we reaching parents, you know, offering our, you know, advocacy offerings to them? Well, that’s a bit of a shift for us, because usually, the focus is directly on the person with the disability, and not their parent or caregiver, which I think is a good thing. In many ways, you know, it’s a shift out of the old paradigm. But at the same time, I think a needed one, especially given that the independence or dependence of you know, students largely based on the parent or guardian, and you know, how they do things with them. And so I say all that to say that I’m open, you know, when we talk about innovative strategies, and those kinds of things that we could be a resource where parents can connect with one another, and learn from each other as well, and be that conduit that can maybe help synergize, you know, the parents and being supports and roles. And we do have a little bit of experience with that here in our center since I’ve been here, they are, that’s out there on the table. So in line with innovative ideas, Alex, I know before you came on to the Center for Independent Living, you did a program, an online program that I want you to talk about, and also maybe even connect to the importance of teaching advocacy to students with disabilities, because I think like that special project that you did, and that you even brought to the center, and I think it’d be really good relevance to students with disabilities, especially as they graduate become, you know, citizens. So, let’s just say. So tell us a little bit about that, and how you think it could connect.

Alex  57:42

Oh, for sure. And we’ve been trying to figure out ways to incorporate some of the components into the youth youth social group classes. Before I came to the center, I volunteered, I organized a group of young people to put together a project utilizing this free video game software that’s online, called was inspired and created. With the efforts and support of Sandra Day O’Connor, retired Supreme Court Justice, I believe she was the first female Supreme Court justice in the United States, if I’m not mistaken. And the whole idea for is to teach kids in schools, through the use of video games and activities, to teach them about civic education and to teach about the responsibilities of elected officials. But it’s completely nonpartisan. And it’s really about learning, you know, what is the president? What does a president do? What is Congress? What is Senate? What is the constitution? What is immigration, and different areas, right? We build this project together, and this is what I told the youth about, like, you know, don’t think that we’re gonna go, we’re gonna be like, helping others, we’re going to get probably more out of it just for the sheer fact that we’re going to be having the privilege of doing something to society, per se, right. And that, and lo and behold, that’s kind of how it worked out. Because in the process, these kids from 14 to 22 years old, they learned about what a project is and project management, and taking responsibilities and public speaking and developing leadership skills, right. And then these are some of the things we’ve tried to incorporate in within the Center for Independent Living youth social group. And one of the games recently that they launched, it’s called Newsfeed Defender, which teaches kids and users who are playing the game about identify identifying fake news and understanding that, you know, no one reads something we need to understand that there’s two sides, needs to be two sides to every story, in where we need to learn to basically examine the facts and use our critical thinking to think for ourselves and, and make our own decisions. And those are really good, important things that that’s good to have in society as a whole right? And when we when we brought it to the Center for Independent Living, again, we have some amazing, amazing kids. I mean, one of the before the pandemic, we did an event, and the participation and the level of knowledge that many of these young people have, it just blew my mind, you know, I was like, smiling and laughing, because they even would bring things in the end facts with a sense of humor. And so we want to be able to continue to find ways to incorporate and use And also, Ashley is working on a presentation that’s going to reference And also, in a class, we’ll be able to talk about news feed defender and, and learning to identify and understand points of views and be able to make our own decisions without being led in any particular way, right, just having good capacity to think critically.

Tony Delisle  1:00:51

Well, I love it. And you know, I’ve been pulling on the thread here about the value part, you know about what we can bring in here and teasing out some of these innovative approaches that you all bring. Alex, I think that’s a wonderful one. I think we all have more to learn about the legislative process and civic duties, and some of the rules and regs that are out there that gov behaviors, and that are implications for people and students with disabilities, and how that ties into advocacy is a very, I think, in edutainment type way of being able to do it. And so, I look forward to that, and many other kinds of things that you all are bringing forward. So we’re rounding the corner here, in terms of the time that we have, you know, I wanted to just go round and give each of you some parting thoughts or words about, you know, some of the things that you’re undertaking here, in terms of this process, in terms of this specific place that you’re in the process, in terms of outreach, or you know, some of the experiences you’ve had working here at the center, or whatever you would want to share with us, we can have some maybe closing thoughts from each of you. So, Emily, I’m gonna pick on you because I haven’t come to you in a little while. But we’ll start with you.

Emily  1:01:56

One thing I was kind of thinking about earlier that I just learned recently was, it had to do with the parent involvement. And like I said, it takes a village, so parent, teacher, organization, as many hands on deck as we can get just preparing students for success, what I learned was that a lot of people think that socioeconomic status is the biggest predictor in student success. But it’s not, it’s actually parent involvement. So not like making cupcakes or cookies, and coming in and reading a book, but more like, not having education. And like, during class time, there’s this myth of the good teacher, like, a good teacher can accomplish everything in one sitting. And, you know, she shouldn’t have to ask for help from anybody. But if everybody’s as involved as they can be, I mean, that’s really setting a good foundation for a student to become independent, you know, after that.

Tony Delisle  1:02:57

Very good point. That’s a very good point, the connectivity, I’d like to think to what plays a big deal in that parent involvement with their younger one there. Ashlyn. How about you? What do you have any parting thoughts about the work that you’re doing, or any of the experiences that you had, or anything else that you’d want to share?

Ashlyn  1:03:16

Um, I mean, I think there’s a lot but I would just first encourage anyone who happens to be listening to see what we’re doing, take our survey and all of that, because we really want to be hearing from people straight from the source. And I’ve just been very encouraged by all the interactions I’ve had as we’re networking. And as I’m being involved in any of the consumers lives that I happen to be like within the social group, and just, I’m really appreciating the reciprocal nature of it all. Because whenever I’m able to be in contact with any of these consumers, it’s helpful for me to because it’s empowering for me to see them thriving as someone with a disability and then also having disabilities. So, just excited to continue on and hope we can get as many people involved and reached out to as possible.

Tony Delisle  1:04:08

Thank you Ashlyn. Alex?

Alex  1:04:11

Wow. So, as you can see, how I am like so grateful to be working with these two powerhouses Ashlyn and Emily, such an amazing human beings and they have so much to give. And this is a testament to the Center for Independent Living, you know, and to folks that want to know more about the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida is a, is an organization that seeks to put people together with with really good intention, talent and the capacity to support and to work for the cause of independent living in people with disabilities. And it’s really humbling to see all this incredibly amazing work and the amazing amount of people that that are doing so much goodness on a day to day basis, right And so I will echo the words beans that have been said and also ashless, that, you know, reach out to us, you know, take out the survey, get to know us, allow us to support you yesI teachers and administrators share the share the word, share the news and share the information about what we’re trying to do. Because I think that together, we can support your organization’s your schools, your parents, your students, we can, we promise that we’ll find ways to figure out how to connect needs, and how to find resources and also to, to provide content that is going to be, you know, enriching, and help students with their transition. And to, to grow in so many different ways, right, in a very positive way. So appreciate the opportunity to speak about this project, and to be here with all of you.

Tony Delisle  1:05:55

Well, the honor and privilege is mine, I just want to acknowledge all of you, like I was saying you’re the A Team, you’ve been given a project. That’s very important, it’s got a really critical mission to it. We’re just scratching the surface in terms of the overall timeline for it. But it’s it’s such a critical one that I think, from my perspective often gets overlooked by people, but just connecting with the community that you’re trying to reach, you got a tall order, we’re looking at, you know, many, many counties, many different school districts with many different administrators, many different families, many different students, many different organizations that are out there. It’s a complicated system, you got your work cut out for you. This is a very exciting time, I love the kind of work that you all are doing. And it’s been my honor to to see you all come together and put your heads together and come up with ways and strategies. And you’ve laid out some of them here. But it really came out of you all connecting and working together. And think critically, to problem solve, to be creative. And so I’ve really enjoyed you all kind of doing the work that you’re doing over here, and in hearing and getting feedback. So I thought that would be valuable for people to kind of follow along to see how it goes and everything that you’re at, but very special and important phase that you’re in. Now I look forward to connecting with you the next iteration around about how it’s going, we’re going to learn a lot no matter what along the way. And we’re going to always be striving to serve people to the best of our ability and everything that we can. So thank you so much for the work that you’ve done yesterday. Thank you for the work that you’re doing today. And thank you for the work that you’ll be doing tomorrow. Very important and valuable work, y’all. So thank you so much for it.

Alex  1:07:38

Thank you.

Emily  1:07:39

Thanks for having us.

Tony Delisle  1:07:41

It’s my pleasure. Until next time, we’re gonna take this onward and upward.

Amy Feutz  1:07:49

Thanks for listening to The Independent Life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share. Please email us at or call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life.