Why Hire People With Disabilities?

What do you think it takes for someone to work in theatre? 

Immediate answers that might come to mind include an interest in drama, interpersonal skills, great communication, and an interest in learning new things. Thousands of people meet these qualifications – but how often do you encounter a person with disabilities working at the theatre?

People With Disabilities Working in Theatre

One of Independent Futures’ participants, Sarah, was working with a job coach from Jewish Vocational Services when she earned an apprenticeship with Piven Theatre. After exploring what Sarah might like to do for employment, Sarah’s job coach helped her get in touch with Piven Theatre. 

Sarah smiles during a photoshoot wearing a lavender shirt and using her wheelchair.Together, the pair went over tips and what to expect in informational interviews. Sarah’s dream job was to be an assistant teacher. “The best I thought I could shoot for was taking tickets,” Sarah said. But then, her informational interview took a positive turn. 

She was offered an apprenticeship where she could learn about teaching. After looking at schedules and options, Sarah accepted.

Learning New Skills & Building Dreams

Throughout her apprenticeship, Sarah worked with 4th-8th graders in Piven Theatre workshops. She got to know the students, and she was responsible for making sure they were safe. 

Interacting with the students as often as she could, Sarah was able to support the students in many ways. A budding writer herself, Sarah helped one student write a poem. This was one of Sarah’s favorite parts of her apprenticeship.

“The apprenticeship was an important way for me to get out to see what I want to do in terms of a degree or job and what field I want to go into. It was a way of finding myself,” Sarah shared. 

History of American Disability Employment

In 1988, the government announced October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. During this time, government agencies will publish articles and host events to highlight the opportunity to hire individuals with disabilities. Corporations will tout statistics about how many people with disabilities they hire. 

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.For the rest of the year, startlingly high unemployment rates for people with disabilities persists. We dream of a day when more individuals with disabilities have opportunities like this one that Sarah had, when community employers discover the gifts that individuals have to share.

Before we get there, we need to understand where we have been and the milestones that advocates before us have achieved. Employers without disabilities sometimes think that there are limits to what someone with a disability can achieve, but these employers are proven wrong over and over. Over the last century, people with disabilities’ fight for employment equality has been long, hard, and limited by perception.

Beginnings of Anti-Discrimination Legislation

In the early and mid-twentieth century, only physical disabilities were eligible to receive public services and benefits for disability employment. When the Smith-Fess Act passed, the act established vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities – but only physical disabilities. 

In 1945, President Truman announced “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Later, the word “physically” was removed, making the week more inclusive in the 1960s. Eventually, this week turned into National Disability Employment Awareness Month, dedicating more time to the need for employment among the disability community. 

Expansion of Civil Rights 

By the ‘60s, creating inclusive spaces became increasingly important. While the courts had not caught up, President Kennedy introduced the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. This committee explored ways that people with disabilities of all kinds could be included in every day life. 

two individuals preparing food at a soup kitchenIn 1972, the Independent Living Movement was born partially in response to President Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act. Later passed in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on someone’s disability by federal agencies and contractors. The Independent Living Movement is alive today, working to protect every individual’s right to choose where they live and how they are supported in community. 

It wasn’t until 1977, when the government implemented Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, that people with disabilities gained civil rights. This was also when legislation acknowledged every student’s right to be in a public classroom. The precursor to supported employment, the “Try Another Way” campaign, was also born paving the path for us to where we are today.

Redefining Ability & Disability

Through the 1980s, the U.S. passed several pieces of legislation that supported individuals with disabilities’ employment prospects including the Job Training Partnership Act (1982) and the Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act (1986).

The Americans with Disabilities Act was finally passed in 1990, expressly prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in hiring or career advancement. Since then, the perspectives of employers have been slowly evolving with the help of the federal government.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit passed Congress in 1996, providing tax credits to businesses that hire people with disabilities. The government’s support led to an increase in community employers hiring disabled employees. 

Beyond the Americans With Disabilities Act

Woman's Club and Center for Independent Futures volunteer to make soupSince 1990, disability continues to be defined and redefined again. The Olmstead Act promoted community-based, independent living whenever possible. Recently, the ADA Amendments of 2008 altered the definition of “disabled” so it is easier to establish eligibility for protections. 

Since the Obama administration, the federal government’s employment agencies have supported integrated employment policies. This includes updating and improving access to services, implementing accommodations, and community outreach. 

Why Should Businesses Hire People With Disabilities? 

There are tons of reasons to hire individuals with disabilities, not the least of which is that they are just as capable as able-bodied employees. In fact, employees with disabilities are excellent problem solvers, stable workers (30% higher retention), safer in the workplace, and more productive.

Plus, much of the disability community is an untapped market. There are 56 million Americans with a disability of some type. The discretionary income of people with disabilities of working age alone is $21 billion. Add into this number individuals’ connections, like family and friends, and businesses realize they are missing a huge market share.

Most accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing. The majority of accommodations that employers pay for cost less than $500 – and this cost can be offset by the tax credit businesses receive for hiring employees with disabilities. 

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.At the end of the day, there are many reasons to hire people with disabilities and very few reasons not to. Ability is not a marker of a great employee; many individuals can work successfully without accommodations while allowing a person with disabilities to grow and achieve their dream. 

For Sarah, her apprenticeship at Piven Theatre was a big milestone. Her experience “marked the first time I had a job that wasn’t through a friend. I had to show up on time. More importantly, I had to do it for somebody else.” 

 

How to Reduce Costs of Care Without Sacrificing Quality

Families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities face many difficult decisions. From choosing how to manage care to determining how an individual can live in the community, none of these decisions are easy. But it is possible to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of care.

Determining What Supports Are Necessary

Man holds out microphone to young woman in front of small audience.Happiness is one factor in many families’ decisions. The costs associated with care are another concern. According to data from 2009, the average cost of a person with disabilities living in an institution was more than $180,000 a year. For someone living in a community-based setting with supports, the cost is closer to $42,000 per year. 

These home and community-based services costs are averages and don’t reflect how costs are distributed. When individuals need more support, it is possible that community-based care could cost more. But for many individuals, learning life skills reduces costs by decreasing the amount of support needed for everyday activities. 

For families who aren’t sure independent living is an option, a life skills assessment is a great place to start. An assessment can help you and your loved one understand where they need more support. This helps your family can decide what care costs your loved one truly needs.

How Learning Independent Living Skills Reduces Costs

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.When direct service professionals focus on teaching life skills, such as cooking healthy meals and cleaning their home, an individual’s need for support in skill areas decreases. Learning life skills like these doesn’t only help individuals with disabilities maintain their spaces. It also helps them build community connections and employment skills.

Increased skill capacities have the potential to reduce staffing costs and limit the need for support. In fact, an Independent Futures direct service team member shares, “After learning life skills, the hope is that an individual is able to reduce tutoring hours. And most of our participants are able to do so, saving money and living independently as a result.”

While most individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities will always require support, their potential remains limitless. By using life skills tutoring and person-centered planning, new windows of opportunity are within reach.

Impact of Person-Centered Planning

Person-centered planning takes place when direct service professionals account for the individual’s existing skills, hopes, and dreams. This type of care results in individuals setting their own goals and learning the skills they need to achieve their dreams.

That is just one benefit of person-centered plans though. In addition to self-directed goals, individuals with disabilities seem to have fewer requests for specialized care. Part of the reason why could be related to what funds are used for when a person’s hopes and dreams are considered. 

Volunteer supports participant in volunteer activityHome and community-based services funds have the potential to be used for a number of non-medical needs. Supports like employment help, remote monitoring equipment, and peer services aren’t traditionally covered. But with home and community-based services, access grows. Each of these supports can help an individual with disabilities achieve their dream of living in a community.

Reduced Costs and Independent Futures

For most people, moving out of our family’s home is something we look forward to excitedly. Finding the perfect apartment or house, decorating it to fit our own style, and having new freedoms changes someone’s life. Many individuals with disabilities have this same dream. 

Knowing that loved ones are able to advocate for themselves will provide you with renewed peace of mind. Learning independent living skills and living in the community means families of adults with disabilities can reduce costs without sacrificing quality and rest easy. 

 

How We Prepare for Bike the Drive

For the last four years, participant Caleb Streeter has joined our Bike the Drive Dream Team biking up Lake Shore Drive. Over these four years, the event has become a family tradition for the Streeters. Caleb’s father, Bill, joins the Dream Team too, and together they typically bike from Buckingham Fountain to Sheridan. But this year Caleb and his dad are looking for a challenge.

Caleb and his father smile at the camera, both wearing purple shirts and blue helmets“We’re going to start from downtown and go all the way to Sheridan this year. That’s 15 miles,” Caleb explains. “Plus, me and my dad’s church friend wanted to accompany us this year. We’ve been talking to him about it, and he decided this is the year to do it!”

Biking with the team is part of what makes Bike the Drive so much fun for Caleb. “It’s more enjoyable than riding by myself. I like having a person to talk to, somebody watching me. My dad and me are used to it because back home we bike together too.” Biking Lake Shore Drive with a team also means that Caleb can look out for his friends and family, and they can help him too.

How Caleb Is Getting Ready

Caleb wears green, the same as Lindsay on the left. Caleb is preparing for his 15-mile bike ride with longer rides, especially since the weather is finally getting warmer. But first, he needed to get his bike checked out at Wheel & Sprocket after the long winter. This year it was time for some upgrades for Caleb’s light gray Giant Revel bike. “I had to install new wheels because my old fat tires were getting hard to lock up outside my apartment, so I got thinner ones.” Caleb continued, “My bike seat was old and it kept getting loose. The bicycle people said I should get a new seat. It would just slip out, and I couldn’t deal with that anymore!”

In preparing for Bike the Drive, Caleb demonstrates responsibility and enthusiasm, but he knows to ask for help when he needs it. His tutor, Ricky, supported Caleb in figuring out how much air should go in his tires and how to secure his bike better after his old bike was stolen. With Ricky’s help, Caleb is more confident and safer when he is biking.

Caleb is excited to continue participating in Bike the Drive and our Bike Club. The club meets on Wednesdays, and Caleb joins Activities Director Jeff Morthorst and several other participants in biking around Evanston. The group often bikes around Northwestern University or along the lakeshore.

How You Can Help Caleb & the Dream Team

Caleb and his dad prepared for Bike the Drive together and stand in front of colorful mosaic wallThe Dream Team fundraises every year to support activities Independent Futures provides like Bike Club. Every dollar donated helps to keep our activities calendar full of exciting events. If you donate today, the funds you contribute will support supplies for Art Club, snacks for Saturday Cinema, and bicyclists in getting to and from Bike the Drive.

Explaining his favorite part of Bike the Drive, Caleb shared, “Doing Bike the Drive, you have a different vantage point than what you would normally see. It’s fun! I’m getting excited about it! The more people the better!”

With the support of our generous community, we hope to continue providing participants like Caleb with opportunities like Bike the Drive for many years to come. Donate today to help the Dream Team achieve their goals!

“I Feel Valued Here”: Person-Centered Approach

Image features Jenny wearing a pink turtleneck, pink scrunchie in hair smiling at the cameraStrolling down the aisles of Jewel-Osco on Chicago Avenue in Evanston, it’s easy to bump into Center for Independent Futures’ participant Jenny Mottola. Whether she is working a shift or doing her own shopping with her life skills tutor DeeDee Block Goldman, Jenny brings vibrant energy and joy to her community.

Jenny’s Full Life

Jenny, in pink, stands with her boyfriend Nestor, who wears a black and white flannel shirt.Originally from California, Jenny has called Evanston home for more than 25 years. In addition to supporting Jenny in traditional ways, DeeDee helps Jenny pursue new, healthy interests. “Both me and my boyfriend Nestor have to be on a Mediterranean diet, so we cooked shrimp scampi. It was delicious!” Jenny said. “But, we have only cooked once. We need to cook more!” To help them stay on track and be healthy, Nestor even got Jenny a new Mediterranean cookbook.

Jenny’s mother Jackie Mottola observes, “Jenny needs support about how to advocate for herself and how to be safe living on her own. I think those are things that Center for Independent Futures has really helped her with.” Beyond safety, Jackie explains how Jenny’s involvement enriches her life. “One of the most wonderful things about Center for Independent Futures is that all of the team members know her relationships, good and bad. They support her in relationships with young adults, even those who are not in the program. There is no hesitancy to help Jenny and her roommate, who is not a regular participant, in making their relationship as good as it can be.”

Jenny poses with a friend, who is wearing a lighter blush shade of pink.Every Thursday morning for the past 7 years, I am given the great gift of spending time with Jenny,” said her tutor DeeDee. “She is living a fabulous independent life in her own apartment in Evanston. She has a rich social life, successful work history, and she is constantly growing as she creates her unique dreams and follows them.”  DeeDee adds, “I am honored to be able to support her in continuing her journey and growth.”

Impacting the Community

By living her full life, Jenny improves the community around her. Her mother observed, “I will be with Jenny miles away from Evanston, and somebody will run up to give her a hug because they know her from the grocery store. There isn’t a trip that goes by that we don’t run into somebody who wants to tell me how Jenny brightens their day.”

“I love the philosophy that you have to try things, you’re not going to shelter people, and you have to learn from experience.” Jenny’s mother continued, “You have to teach them how to be safe in their lives, and then let them go out and do it, make mistakes and learn from them.”

Jenny, in pink, poses with her mom who is wearing a gray shirt with red neck line.When asked if she would recommend Center for Independent Futures to a potential future participant, Jenny answered quickly. “Yes! Because it’s a great thing to do, and because you’ll learn a lot of things that should be learned. I think Center for Independent Futures gives a lot more support than other programs. It makes me feel happy. There are a lot of great people here who can really help. I feel valued here – more like home.”

 

Jonathan’s Jolly Old Trip to England & Ireland, Part Three

Jonathan Shuman is a young man who loves to travel the world. He sees the world in a positive, friendly way, and he wants to share his travel recommendations with all of you. This is the final England & Ireland installment of Jonathan’s new travel series, Jonathan’s Jolly Trips.

Tower of London in front of a clear blue sky with a tree to the right.The next day, we went to the Tower of London where prisoners were being held by the beefeaters or Yeomen during the War of the Roses in the mid-1600s. We also took a river cruise along the Thames river, and we saw many famous buildings such as a pub owned by a British actor named Ian McKellen. We also saw the Royal Naval College. We learned about the Greenwich Mean Time – if you go west from this point, you subtract the hours. If you go east from Greenwich, you add the hours.

We packed and we left for our trip back to Chicago the next day. The flight lasted 6-7 hours. On the airplane, I watched two movies: Game Night with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams and Lady Bird with Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe. I had such a blast going to England and Ireland with Search Beyond Adventures. I took lots of photos, and I emailed some of these photos every single day by email to CIF participants and my parents. What I learned about Ireland is that it’s green all around. That’s why Ireland gets its nickname, the Emerald Isle. In England and Ireland, you have to drive on the left side.

Jonathan standing in front of StonehengeI would recommend England and Ireland as a travel destination for the summer. I recommend it because lots of people are happy, drink beer, and are friendly. There are lots of sights and wonders to marvel at. There’s lots of live music to enjoy in London and Dublin.

I would recommend England and Ireland as a travel destination for someone who has a disability because they are bound to have a fantastic time. It’s pretty easy to get around if you have the skills of using public transportation. People are nice and friendly. It’s accessible to get around if you are bound in a wheelchair, and they speak English so there is no language barrier.

Thanks for reading this article and stay tuned for travel recommendations for my next trip to Athens, Greece!

Jonathan’s Jolly Old Trip to England & Ireland, Part Two

Jonathan Shuman is a young man who loves to travel the world. He sees the world in a positive, friendly way, and he wants to share his experiences with all of you. This is part two of three in Jonathan’s new travel series – catch up on part one here!

a busy Temple Bar in Dublin, IrelandThe day after we hiked to Glendalough, we took a stroll of the Temple Bar district in Dublin, Ireland. We also took a tour of the Wall of Fame where famous Irish musicians held their place in the Irish music industry such as U2, Thin Lizzy, Enya, Sinead O’Connor, The Corrs, and Celtic Woman. We also ate dinner in an Irish restaurant and we listened to traditional Irish music. One of my favorite Irish foods that I ate in Ireland was the traditional Irish breakfast which consisted of an egg, blood sausages, 2 pork sausage links, mushrooms, ham, bacon, and roasted tomato. Another favorite food that I tried in Ireland was the fish and chips, which is beer battered cod fish with chips – or as the Americans call them, French fries.

The next day, we flew from Dublin, Ireland, to London, England, via Aer Lingus airlines. When we arrived at London Heathrow Airport, we took a shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express hotel located in Stratford, London, England. The first thing we did in London was we went to Westminster Abbey. It was closed to the public unfortunately.Jonathan and his friend, Ross, outside of Windsor Castle

The next day, we took a shuttle bus and we traveled to Stonehenge in England. Stonehenge is a collection of Neolithic stones that the Druids constructed. The Druids were a Celtic tribe that practiced an earlier form of Christianity. We also learned what life was like during the construction of Stonehenge. For example, people had to live in huts. They didn’t have the technology to move the stones, so they moved the stones by their hands. After Stonehenge, we went to Windsor Castle where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spent their honeymoon.

Westminster Abbey when it was closed to the public.

The next day, we went to Buckingham Palace and we saw the changing of the guards. We didn’t actually see Queen Elizabeth II – maybe because she was busy doing something else. After the changing of the guards, we took a tour of the interiors of Buckingham Palace. We also went back to Westminster Abbey, and we saw the interiors of Westminster Abbey this time.

Watch for the third installment of Jonathan’s travel series to learn about the Tower of London and discover his recommendations for England and Ireland!

Jonathan’s Jolly Old Trip to England & Ireland, Part One

Jonathan Shuman is a young man who loves to travel the world. He sees the world in a positive, friendly way, and he wants to share his experiences with all of you. This is part one of three in Jonathan’s new travel series,

Jonathan standing in front of a rock at Berkshire National ParkMy name is Jonathan Shuman. I’m 29 years old. I live independently in the Chicagoland area. I currently work as an office assistant at an architecture firm called Solomon Cordwell Buenz in downtown Chicago. I’m a huge fan of world travel. Some of the places in the world that I’ve been to include Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, St. Martin, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, France, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden. Today, I want to share my experiences from my recent trip to England and Ireland with Search Beyond Adventures.

On Thursday, September 20, 2018, my mother Joelle picked me up at Photo of Aberdeen Lodge with large garden surrounding circular signHarrison House in Evanston, Illinois to take me to Chicago O’Hare International Airport where I would meet the tour guide and new group of friends that I would be traveling with for the next 9 days. It was a normal flight and our flight from Chicago to Dublin, Ireland lasted 6-7 hours long. When we got to Dublin International Airport, we went to the Aberdeen Lodge which is a Victorian-style hotel that’s located at Park Avenue in Dublin, Ireland. I was roommates with my new friend David who is from Hastings, Minnesota.

When we were in Dublin, Ireland, we did lots of fun stuff. We went to places such as St. Stephen’s Green and Christ Church Cathedral, which was built at the time that the Tudors ruled England. We also went to the Guinness Brewery and I learned how beer got its name from barley which is used to create beer. I tried a Guinness draught beer, and it tasted very strong.

Image of Wicklow Mountains, green pastures surrounding a lakeThe next morning, we went to the Wicklow Mountains and the Sally Gap and we went to Glendalough, a tiny town in Ireland, which is home to a monastery built by St. Kevin. The monastery is called Sevenchurches. Over the course of its 1,000-year history, it has been raided by the Irish clans, the British, and the Vikings. That same day, we took hikes and we went to a lake located in Glendalough and we watched the sunset. One cool thing that I saw was a tomb that was used as a filming location for a TV show called Vikings starring Alexander Ludwig.

On the next installment of Jonathan’s new travel series, find out who is on the Ireland Wall of Fame and some of Jonathan’s favorite parts of England! Stay tuned!

Evanston Public Library Explores Community

In September, the Evanston Public Library hosted an event called “Human Library,” where people’s lives were the story. At this event, attendees could “check out” a human book and talk with that person about their story for 15-20 minutes. Two members of Center for Independent Futures’ community were available to talk about their lives with the Evanston community.

Learning Differences

Lindsay, one of our participants, was interviewed for “Dear Evanston” by Nina Kavin. Lindsay’s book was titled “Learning Differences,” and she focused on explaining to people how she feels about being someone with a disability. Lindsay says she felt excited to participate, rather than nervous.

Because of Lindsay’s nonverbal learning disability, she says, “I’m not able to read certain cues or body language.” Nina Kavin asked how that affects Lindsay. “It makes me feel overwhelmed and makes me not want to interact with certain people,” Lindsay answered. According to Lindsay, one way to help is to understand how she is feeling and being flexible in their reaction.

Diversity in the Disability Community

Another of our participants, Billy, also participated in this unique library event. Billy is part of the LGBTQ community, and he has recently changed his preferred pronouns to “he/him” or “they/them.” Billy’s story was about showing that people with disabilities are just as diverse as people without!

LGBTQ advocate Sandy“Many people don’t realize people with disabilities can be gay, lesbian, or have other identities. We are not in a box,” Billy says. He chose to participate in the Human Library event because you can never advocate too much, especially when there are misconceptions like that.

One aspect of the event that surprised Billy was the type of questions he was asked. Several people asked why Billy couldn’t continue to be called Sandy – since Sandy can also be a male name. They responded, “I prefer to go by Billy because I picked that name. I think Billy fits me.”

We love having a diverse group of participants at Center for Independent Futures. It makes our community stronger, and it makes each of us aware of the different identities we can each have.

Thank you to the Evanston Public Library for hosting this cool event and for including our community.

A Jam-Packed Life

This story was featured in our 2017 Annual Report, which can be found on the Media Gallery page on our website. Check it out to learn more about our partnerships with families, schools, and agencies across the country.

Just Adam Being Adam

Living a full, independent life is something most people want as they grow up. Adam Wiser is no different. Over time, Adam knew he wanted to live on his own. He wanted to explore the world around him with a jam-packed life full of activities he loves.

Adam smiles at past Something's Cooking fundraiserA road trip offers a chance to experience new places, broaden horizons, and have fun. For Center for Independent Futures participant Adam Wiser, a road trip seemed like a great opportunity to bond with buddies. So last year, Adam and two of his friends went to Pittsburgh, singing along to Billy Joel and enjoying the “thrill of the open road.”

When Adam moved to the Chicagoland area, he left his family behind in Indiana. He fell in love with Evanston, and built a life filled with work at Nordstroms Café, cruising around on his Diamondback, and hanging out with friends. These days, Adam loves movies on the big screen and prefers comedy and action films. “You need to see the second Thor movie,” Adam advises. “It’ll really make you laugh!”  An avid sports follower and loyal Cubs fan, he enjoys an occasional chance to see them play. “It feels awesome to be at Wrigley Field,” he shares. “I am not really into the SOX.”

Following Adam’s Dreams

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent FuturesAdam’s parents, Tom and Gloria, encourage him to follow his dreams. “We want our son to grow as an individual, expand relationships, and have the support he needs to become who he is meant to be…his best self,” shares Tom. With Center for Independent Futures support, Adam is part of a genuine community and has a full life with authentic connections. “If anything comes up, serious or not, someone is there to support him through it,” says Tom. “For parents living away from their kids, that’s a lifesaver.”

“It’s an absolute joy to be part of Adam’s team and to watch his confidence and capabilities grow,” relates Community Builder, Aby Karottu. “He brings so much humor, positive energy, and liveliness to the community, and he always lends a helping hand.” Aby adds, “I consider myself lucky to support such a caring, charismatic, and kind young man.”

Adam’s Pittsburgh adventure included the symphony, a Pirates game, and the Heinz Museum, where he learned all about the city’s transportation history…and ketchup. When Adam thinks about his goals, more road trips and see new things are at the top of his list. Adam’s next destination: The Mall of America in Minneapolis. Anybody ready to hit the road?

David’s Senior Bowl Dreams Come True!

Logo for Senior Bowl. David attended and made his Senior Bowl dreams come true. Center for Independent Futures participant David Kromelow has been dreaming for three years about attending the Senior Bowl, a post-season college football all-star game played each January in Mobile, Alabama. The event showcases the best NFL Draft prospects of those players who have completed their college eligibility. The game has consistently been played on a Saturday in January, and the week-long practice that precedes the game is attended by key NFL personnel (including coaches, general managers and scouts), who oversee the players as possible prospects for pro football. Last year, David just didn’t feel it. This year he achieved his Senior Bowl dreams.

How David Made It Happen

“I wanted to go because it would be a great experience to network and interact with people in the NFL and in the journalism business,” explains David. To get himself ready, David spent a lot of time over the course of the past year practicing his craft by hosting a weekly podcast and reaching out to guests via social media. He worked hard on his podcast and website to push out content and to stay on top of all the important NFL news, and to connect with others in the industry.

Feeling more comfortable, in tune with college football, and armed with information to interview journalists, prospects, NFL media relations, and PR teams, David headed for Mobile. “It is hard to describe because it was such an amazing experience,” relates David. “I flew in on Monday, checked into the hotel, and attended an introductory media hosted event. I was able to hit the ground running and interview many prominent reporters.”

The most powerful moment of the week came during the Senior Bowl2 football players in a tense moment introduction press conference. Shaquem Griffin, a University of Central Florida defensive player, and very unique player in the football world given the fact that he lost one of his hands due to a birth defect, was present. David posed this question: “What advice would you give kids with any kind of disability?” Griffin responded with a powerful statement…“It’s not a disability unless you make it one.”

“Hearing his answer made me think, this guy is wise beyond his years and it would be a shame if he didn’t get a shot in the NFL. He has the mental toughness to be successful and to defy the odds – because he has been doubted his whole life. It was an inspiring moment.”

Living Out His Senior Bowl Dreams

After the first day, David met two of the best NFL local beat reporters. He learned that conducting a brief 2-5 minute interview with notable guests is a great way to collect large amounts of quality content and information. “I had the chance to interview Albert Breer, an American football journalist and reporter for Sports Illustrated‘s MMQB, and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the latest buzz in the industry,” David shares about his Senior Bowl dreams experience. “It was awesome! Unfortunately, his phone went off and we weren’t able to finish the interview.” David muses, “I have improved a lot in the past few years in my understanding of social cues, and the experience with Albert demonstrated it.”

Senior Bowl field with logoCenter for Independent Futures Life Skills Tutor, Jake Rohde, has been impressed with David’s determination and drive. “It has been great to support David, and to watch him go after his Senior Bowl dreams. He’s an inspiration!” David hopes to attend future Senior Bowls and similar events to keep building contacts, making connections, and boosting his profile. His ultimate goal is to develop a career in sports reporting. “I am fortunate to have my parents, friends, and family supporting me at every turn,“ he says. “Their constant encouragement motivates me to keep the train rolling!”

So, what does it feel like to be living the dream? “The best way I can put it is that I felt like a kid in a candy store AND the candy there was even sweeter than expected.”

Help David Achieve His Dreams

Visit David’s website: http://www.sportskrunch.com

Listen to David’s podcasts: http://www.sportskrunch.com/episodes-page/

 You may also find David’s podcasts on iTunes, the Apple Podcast App, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Search “Sports Krunch” to find the entire podcast listing.

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