By Hannah Roberts, Director of Programs
It all started with a pilot session in November 2021. During the pilot of the I Am Self-Advocacy Program, ECNV worked closely with the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Fairfax office to develop processes and to secure referrals of a handful of students. For our Winter Session, we continued to work with the DARS Fairfax office, but we were also able to work with the DARS Alexandria office and offer the program to students in their catchment area. By the Spring Session, we were able to offer the program to students in Fairfax County, Arlington County, Loudoun County, as well as the Cities of Falls Church, Alexandria, and Fairfax.
The I Am Self-Advocacy Program is a Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) focused on helping students with disabilities, ages 16-22, learn about and hone their skills in self-advocacy. Participants discuss a range of topics such as self-awareness, disability awareness, self-determination, disability rights and responsibilities, how to be assertive, and how to engage allies and be an ally to others.
During the program, participants meet virtually with a peer mentor once/week to discuss program topics and as well as on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays (4:15pm – 6:15pm) in a virtual group setting with their peers to learn from one another and build upon what they’ve discussed during the week in their individual sessions. Students who complete the program leave with a greater understanding of how to advocate for themselves.
This Fall, we were able to offer participation to those students working with the DARS Manassas office to cover Prince William County, the City of Manassas, and Manassas Park. Our Fall Session began September 26th and will end December 2nd, with a week-long break for the Thanksgiving holiday. We are thrilled that we are able to extend our reach in assisting students in not only exploring their abilities, but also discovering their power to create change and use their voice.
We will continue to offer program sessions quarterly. Students interested in participating should talk to their special education teacher or Employment and Transition Representative (ETR) at their school for assistance. Alternatively, reach out to your local DARS office to get started. All referrals must come from DARS.
For more information about the program, please contact the Program Coordinator, Hannah Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ECNV’s office number at 703-525-3268.