Indiana Self-Advocates and The Arc of Indiana invited self-advocates to apply for a five-day leadership training program in Muncie.
The organizations approached the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities under the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Delaware to develop training to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn skills and confidence that will allow them to better share their experience and thoughts when asked.
The idea was to hear from expert speakers and participate in exercises to help put the learning into practice.
Dylan Bridges, 22, of Brownstown was among 22 people from Hoosier State who completed training in August.
“It was something I had never done. It was new, so I thought, ‘I think I’d like it to be in Muncie,'” Bridges explained when explaining why he decided to apply. after Melanie O’Neal, executive director of The Arc of Jackson County, shared information about the occasion.
“I missed my family, but it was fun to leave,” he said. “It was amazing. I had a hotel room all by myself. The hotel was huge, clean and super fancy.
Bridges, a self-advocate from The Arc of Jackson County, said the exercises involved lessons in effective communication strategies, leadership skills, job skills, goal setting, networking, conflict management and elements of an effective team. There were discussions in small and large groups.
One of his favorite exercises was the leadership pizza. Each person had to consider their skills to help our community, help others, innovate, set big goals and accept who we are. If they didn’t need help with that skill, they drew a pepperoni on top of the pizza. In the middle meant they needed a little help, and down meant they needed a lot of help.
“It was really, really fun,” Bridges said. “I love helping others and would love to help our community.”
He also learned the value of communication and how important it is to be considerate of others and not be mean or hateful while getting your message across.
“We need communication to talk, and we need to let others know that we have to stand up for ourselves because there are people with special needs who can’t talk,” he said. “We can defend ourselves. We cannot give up. We have to keep trying, do our best.
Bridges said he feels more like a leader now.
“I’m an Arc advocate and I speak for others who don’t have a voice,” he said.
The week-long program also allowed her to meet other people.
“We networked, met other people and I made new good friends. In fact, they were super nice. It was good to meet people like them,” he said. “My favorite thing is meeting new people, making new friends and also being a team and learning communication, helping other people and all that.”
Now that he’s back home, Bridges is looking forward to applying what he’s learned in the program.
“My goal is to help others in every community and not only help others, but also help our community pick up trash and other things,” he said.
Self-Advocates of Indiana and The Arc of Indiana received a grant from the Governor’s Council for Persons with Disabilities to organize the leadership development training.
In addition to receiving room and board, self-advocates received a $1,000 stipend for their participation.
Next, Bridges plans to return to Muncie to attend the Erskine Green Training Institute, which provides post-secondary vocational training for people with disabilities that empowers them and leads them to meaningful employment. This can be a hotel, food service, healthcare service, or inventory distribution environment.