Local self-advocate benefits from leadership training

Self-Advocates of Indiana and The Arc of Indiana invited self-advocates to apply for a five-day leadership training program in Muncie.

The organizations contacted the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities as part of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Delaware to develop the training to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities gain skills and confidence that will better allow them to 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 the 22 individuals from around the Hoosier State who completed the training in August.

“It was something I had never been to. It was new things, so I thought, ‘I think I might like this being up in Muncie,’” Bridges said of why he decided to apply after Melanie O’Neal, executive director of The Arc of Jackson County, shared information about the opportunity.

“I did miss my family, but it was fun to get away,” he said. “It was amazing. I had a hotel room by myself. The hotel was huge, clean and super fancy.”

Bridges, a self-advocate for The Arc of Jackson County, said the exercises involved lessons on effective communication strategies, leadership skills, professional skills, goal-setting, networking, handling conflict and elements of an effective team. There were both small and large group discussions.

One of his favorite exercises was the leadership pizza. Each person had to consider his or her skills of helping our community, helping others, innovate, establishes big goals and accepts who we are. If they didn’t need help with that skill, they drew a pepperoni at the top of the pizza. In the middle meant they needed a little bit of help, and at the bottom meant they needed a lot of help.

“It was actually a lot of fun really,” Bridges said. “I love helping others, and I would like to help our community.”

He also learned the value of communication and how important it is to be mindful of others and not be mean or hateful while getting your point across.

“We need communication on talking, and we need to let other people know we need to stand up for ourselves because there are people out there with special needs who can’t talk,” he said. “We can stand up for ourselves. We can’t give up. We need to keep trying, do our best.”

Bridges said he feels like more of a leader now.

“I am an advocate for The Arc, and I speak for others that don’t have a voice,” he said.

The weeklong program also allowed him to meet other people.

“We networked, met with others and I made new good friends. They actually 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 about communication, helping others and all of that stuff.”

Now that he’s back home, Bridges looks forward to applying what he learned through the program.

“My goal is to help others in every community and not only help others but also help our community on picking up trash and other things,” he said.

Self-Advocates of Indiana and The Arc of Indiana received grant funding from the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities to host the leadership development training.

Along with being provided housing and meals, the self-advocates were awarded a stipend of $1,000 for their participation.

Next, Bridges has his eye on returning to Muncie to go to the Erskine Green Training Institute, which provides postsecondary vocational training for people with disabilities that empowers and leads to meaningful employment. That could be in the hotel, food service, health care support or inventory distribution environment.