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Announcing PEAK’s Brand New Shift Project!

Announcing PEAK’s Brand New Shift Project!

Shift! Transition To a Future of New Possibilities

By Beth Schaffner

Assuring productive, fulfilling lives as adults is the ultimate goal of schooling for any student. Schooling is preparation for life, and schools, along with families and communities, are charged with seeing that young people are prepared...for life!

Families of children with disabilities move with our students through school and find there is a lot of extra, hard work to be done. But, we still remain engaged, learn everything we can, ask questions, and talk to and learn from other families. We celebrate our children's accomplishments. We steel ourselves as we prepare to go into challenging IEP meetings. Advocacy can be a struggle fraught with frustrations, but our children's accomplishments, large and small, achieved through hard work, help lead us closer to our dreams for the future and make all we put into the process worthwhile.

As our son, Rob, transitioned from school to the "great adult beyond" during his teens and early twenties, my husband, Bob, and I were excited along with him for a future full of possibilities. As Rob's school years drew to a close, we were also relieved because we had survived school! No more challenging IEP meetings! No more educators who struggled to understand how important our high expectations and positive goals for the future were for Rob! No more waiting for the school system to get their act together and put best practices into place! Naively, Bob and I did not fully realize then that advocating with Rob as an adult would present its own unique set of challenges and that the hard work was not finished.

Navigating the multitude of adult systems and support services when transitioning felt like traveling through a maze. Which way should we turn? How could we know whether a particular service would support our son's friendship development and natural relationships as well as his inclusion in the community? How could we be sure his adult supports did not lead to segregation and group programming? Will a decision to utilize certain services help Rob achieve HIS dreams for the future or lead to a dead end where we will need to regroup and try a different path? How will we maintain our positive energy and resolve when difficulties arise? And, as we as parents get older, how can we assure there are solid plans in place to help guarantee that his life will continue to live up to our positive expectations as we move out of the picture?

Good news! PEAK has a new project to address these questions and more! PEAK's new state and regional Transition Information and Training Project, named Shift, is designed to help youth with disabilities and their families get information and learn to navigate systems so they can move forward to life in positive, productive ways! This new grant focuses on support for employment (through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Workforce Investment systems) and on independent living (through the Centers for Independent Living) in particular. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (a division of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the U.S. Department of Education) awarded seven 5-year grants to groups from across the country, including PEAK as a successful grantee.

Why did we call the project Shift? We want this project to shift the way self advocates, families, and professionals think about transition, shift expectations, and ultimately shift lives! It is our hope that this new project will "move or cause to move" the lives of young people with disabilities as well as the systems that provided needed services in a positive direction.

Through the Shift project, PEAK will now be able to increase our efforts to offer more direct services to youth and families in two states: Arizona and Colorado. In this new grant, the Shift Project will extend the services of PEAK (who also serves as the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) for the State of Colorado) and will also will collaborate with Raising Special Kids (the PTI for the State of Arizona). The services that this new project will provide are:

  • Finding, developing and distributing current resource information and tools.
  • Providing face-to-face and internet-based informational and self-advocacy workshops. These trainings will be customized to be accessible to families and youth with a full range of disabilities.
  • Offering ongoing one-to-one navigation assistance for youth and families provided by trained Transition Advisors.
  • Develop and Disseminate Products Regionally: During the last several years of the project, Shift will extend services to other Parent Centers in the 10 state region currently served by The Region 5 Parent Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at PEAK Parent Center. We will combine project-recommended or developed resources and tools into a Parent Center Toolkit and provide support for using the toolkit to the other centers.

This new project emphasizes assisting people who have typically been underserved and will be available to youth and families who represent cultural, language, economic, and geographic diversity in Colorado and Arizona.

Could my family have used this kind of information and support when my son transitioned? The answer is a resounding, "Yes!" So, from both a personal and professional perspective I am excited that, through Shift, PEAK will now be able to extend our vision, values, and assistance to youth and families who are transitioning to adult life!

And, as a final note, my family has several key pieces of advice from our "lessons learned," which PEAK will infuse into The Shift Project. 

  • Help your young person find and use his or her own voice. Don't assume that if your child struggles with communication or does not communicate in typical ways that he or she does not have preferences and desires and the right to be treated as an individual. Find ways to ensure that your child is listened to as options are discussed and decisions are made that impact his or her life. This can be tough for parents as our children get older, but we must gradually let go of the control we're accustomed to having over their lives and transfer it to them so they can become empowered to speak up for themselves and make their own decisions and choices!
  • Learn all you can about adult services and systems. Sometimes there is a big difference between Graphic with Inspirational Quote about Life what an agency is intended to provide for a person and what is done in actual practice. Let the agency know that you are aware of their charge to support people in quality ways, and articulate what you and your young person expect from them.
  • Remember the importance of your young person having positive relationships and friendships, maintaining connections with family members and friends, and being included and respected for his or her strengths as a meaningful member of the community. Don't turn your child's life over and allow it to be dictated by segregated programs based on what service systems say they have available. Some terms you might hear that are red flags and should warn you that the system is not acting in a person-centered, inclusion-based way are: "John will be in our day program," or "Wednesday is our 'CP' (community participation) day," or "You need to be realistic – your best job option is custodial work because you can't read." It is our job as individuals and advocates to challenge agencies to deliver services in new ways.

If you have questions about Shift resources or want to learn how you can get involved, please contact Beth Schaffner at bschaffner@peakparent.org or 800.284.0251.

Copyright 2014 © by PEAK Parent Center, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce may be obtained from PEAK Parent Center.