October 30, 2014  

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National Disability Mentoring Day 2013: A Huge Collaborative Success at USM

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Fall is the best season of the four. Of course, this statement is just my opinion. However, many people who share this opinion know that fall trumps the other three seasons with the Pumpkin Spice Latte alone. Well played, Starbucks! Well played. 

Fall offers a cornucopia of events for all to enjoy. Whether you are a Halloween enthusiast with a flair for the dramatic or an amateur chef who can’t wait to unveil a new recipe on Thanksgiving Day, this season has it. Fall brings amazing opportunities to celebrate.

This season also heralds the beginning of a new school year and the promise of gaining new knowledge. Maybe the poet William Blake had a glimpse of the future when he wrote, “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, and in winter enjoy.” That is why it is fitting that National Disability Mentoring Day is observed in the fall, as it provides the opportunity to celebrate and teach.

National Disability Mentoring Day, sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), began over 10 years ago and has expanded to include more than 20,000 people with disabilities attending events in more than 300 locations in every U.S. state and territory, and in more than 24 countries worldwide.

National Disability Mentoring Day began in 1999 at the White House to increase the profile of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is celebrated every October. National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

On October 16, Mississippi Partnerships for Employment (MSPE) for Youth with Developmental Disabilities along with the STEP UP to Leadership Council observed and honored National Disability Mentoring Day with over 60 youth and young adults, with and without disabilities, participating in various activities on the Hattiesburg campus of The University of Southern Mississippi.

This gorgeous fall day began at the Institute for Disability Studies (IDS), when Dr. Jerry Alliston warmly welcomed each participant and proudly introduced them to Seymour, members of the Southern Miss Football team, and several Southern Miss Cheerleaders. After a few autographs and a group picture, they were off to the USM Post Office where participants toured the facility, learned about available job opportunities, and shadowed post office workers. 

After a wonderful lunch at the Fresh Food Company, the National Disability Mentoring Day participants enjoyed a performance by the USM Dance Department students. The group ended their on-campus activities at WUSM, the Southern Miss Radio Station, where they learned about the radio industry and what it takes to become an “on-air personality.” 

After a short break, the End of the Day Celebration was held at the Oak Grove Community Center and featured two of Mississippi’s most inspirational advocates for employment opportunities for youth with developmental disabilities, Trust Jones and Cindy Singletary.

Just as the fall season seems to hold the promise of change, with its subtle and pleasant indicators that the cruel heat of the summer is not permanent, National Disability Mentoring Day 2013 held the promise of change. The theme, “Equal to the Task” complemented this day in October by restoring hope . . . hope that people with disabilities can be employed and be self-sufficient. 

Autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. This gathering of mentors and youth represented a harvesting of hope, opportunities, possibilities, and the dream of a bright future that could out-shine the summer sun.

The MSPE Project and the STEP UP to Leadership Advisory Council are both part of IDS.  MPSE was established in 2011 to develop and direct a state-level collaborative approach to improve employment outcome for Mississippi youth and young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Managing partners for the project are the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights Mississippi, and The University of Southern Mississippi Institute for Disability Studies. The STEP UP to Leadership Council is composed of youth and young adults with and without disabilities. Council members serve as leaders within their schools, colleges/universities, and communities.

For more information on the MSPE Project or the STEP UP Council, contact Dr. Jerry R. Alliston at jerry.alliston@usm.edu or 601.266.5163.