Thinking About Employment? This Summit is For You!

By Kelly Wendel

   About the Author

Kelly Wendel is an educational consultant with TennesseeWorks at Vanderbilt University. She provides training and professional development to special educators across the state with a focus on transition. Prior to joining the TennesseeWorks team, she served as Program Coordinator for the Next Steps at Vanderbilt postsecondary education program.

The TennesseeWorks mission to transform the employment landscape for young people with developmental disabilities across the state will come to life at the fourth annual Think Employment! Summit this September. This one-day conference brings together families, policymakers, service providers, employers, educators, and self-advocates to attend useful breakout sessions focused on employment for individuals with disabilities.

With the goal of providing valuable information that meets the needs of all those in attendance, we have established two tracks of programming. The first track spans the full day and focuses on policies, services, and progress in Tennessee. Attendees will learn about different post-high school options and hear from the experts and those on the “frontline” about the supports that are available to those looking to be employed and live more independently. The second track is designed for individuals with disabilities (self-advocates). In the morning, we will be joined by school groups of soon-to-be graduating high school students, as well as students in postsecondary education programs across the state. Programming for self-advocates from the community will begin in the afternoon. Both groups will participate in sessions that will help them identify strengths that they would bring to a job and practice ways to “pitch” themselves to potential employers.

Another exciting aspect of the Summit is the participation of local employers. We will welcome between 10 and 15 businesses that will host a table throughout the day. The self-advocates will rotate through the employer area, interacting with the representatives at each table, learning about the types of jobs performed in their organization, while practicing interview and professional interaction skills. Not only will this be valuable experience for the self-advocates, but it is also likely to leave a lasting impact on the employers in attendance and may even result in their employing individuals with disabilities in the future. Although not a job fair, establishing these connections can be mutually beneficial. Self-advocates are encouraged to bring their resumes.

More than anything, this day will be filled with enthusiasm and inspiration! We will celebrate the progress that has been made in our state by hearing stories of success, and look forward with anticipation as we further the cause going forward. We are especially excited about our guest keynote speaker, Anthony Ianni. He will share his personal journey during lunch, when all conference attendees will be present.

Anthony, who now works for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, is a former Big Ten basketball player for Michigan State University and a person on the autism spectrum. At the age of 4, Anthony was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). Doctors told Anthony’s parents that he would barely graduate from high school, would never graduate from college, would never have a shot at being an athlete, and as an adult, he would likely live in a institution. Anthony’s family was deeply concerned, but they pledged they would help Anthony be successful, no matter what.

And he is. In spite of years of bullying and many personal challenges, Anthony worked hard and never gave up. Not only did he earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Michigan State University, he is the first known athlete with autism to play Division 1 college basketball. Anthony played for legendary coach Tom Izzo while at MSU. He and his team won two Big Ten Championships and a Big Ten Tournament Title. Anthony was the recipient of the 2011 Tim Bograkos Walk On Award and the 2012 Unsung Player Award. He is also the recipient of the Epling Agent of Change Award.

Anthony has pledged his life and career to help those who face similar challenges, particularly around the issue of bullying. He has been invited to tell his story and share his message across the country and has inspired countless individuals to LYD – Live Your Dreams.

Please join us for this day filled with information, innovation, and inspiration! For more information and to register, please visit our website: www.tennesseeworks/summit

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