Iowa's UCEDD Hosts Inaugural Summer Youth Leadership Academy

September 14, 2020

With funding from the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council (DD Council), and working in partnership with the Iowa Department of Human Rights (DHR), the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD, Iowa's UCEDD) hosted a virtual five-day Youth Leadership Academy during August. Six youth, aged 15 to 22, from east central and northwestern Iowa, participated in the inaugural cohort.

Creation and implementation of the Leadership Academy was a model of collaboration. It began when Iowa's former MFP program manager, who now serves as the director of the DD Council, Brooke Lovelace, reached out to UCEDD director Derrick Willis with the proposal. Staff from the DD Council, DHR and CDD met to design the project and identify a training team. As development of the training progressed, the team recognized the need for expertise in creating youth-friendly activities, and added a youth program specialist from the center for independent living in Iowa City. CDD's employment services specialist joined in, and worked with the Iowa City Community School District and CDD's Transition Clinic to recruit members of the training cohort.

Director Willis set the stage on the first day by sharing a powerful message about the importance of setting and achieving goals. Each day, trainers presented a new theme for participants, including goal-setting, self-determination, civic engagement, leadership, and mentoring and social networking. Frequent participant polls and virtual voting were hallmarks of the week-long training, with lots of "thumbs ups" accompanied by upbeat music. At the end of each session, participants set a goal, and reported on their progress the following day. The training culminated with a panel of young leaders with disabilities, including the self-advocacy coordinator for Iowa's UCEDD, Ed Esbeck, sharing their experiences and wisdom with participants. Family members joined participants for a virtual graduation ceremony.

"The program was a rousing success," said Mike Hoenig, UCEDD program coordinator and training team member, "full of encouragement and coaching, passion and praise. All six participants attended the entire training!" Hoenig plans to convene collaborating agencies in the near future to debrief and plan for future cohorts.

To learn more about the Leadership Academy, get in touch with him by email at [email protected].