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The Path to Freedom and Possibility

The Path to Freedom and Possibility

“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” - Toni Morrison

Beginning last spring and into the summer, PEAK Parent Center staff began the momentous task of writing grant proposal applications to continue our work for the Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center project and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Shift project. After a ton of work, It came down to the final hours and we rallied as a team to produce two proposals that met the stringent set of parameters required of a federal grant. We are delighted to announce that we have received notification from the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services Administration that both grants were awarded through 2025!

You might be asking, What do these grant awards mean? Or, What does this have to do with me? Why should I care?  Well, according to the CDC, 21% of adults in Colorado have some type of disability. And according to the Colorado Department of Education in the 2019-2020 school year of Colorado’s 913,223 students, 94,247 students received special education services.  So roughly one-fifth of Colorado adults and more than 11% of our students in Colorado schools are attempting to navigate medical and educational systems or simply access the tools and services to make their day-to-day a bit easier. That excludes the children with disabilities from birth to three who haven’t entered the school system. And we know there are many parents, families, and educators trying to support struggling students of all ages who haven’t been identified. Nationally, one in four adults has a disability. You likely have a disability yourself, or know someone who does. If you’re a friend of PEAK or follow us in any fashion, you have likely also heard that disability does not discriminate; any person of any gender, sexual orientation, or skin color at any stage of life can suddenly acquire a disability. More, the aging process alone puts a large number of people into the disability category. Every person should care about disability-related issues because at some point a disability will affect you/those close to you.   

These grant awards mean that PEAK is retaining our status as Colorado’s federally designated PTI. It also ensures that the Shift transition project expands its role to serve as a regional transition training and information center for parent centers, youth, and families in Colorado and six other states. PEAK has served families and individuals with disabilities from birth to age 26 since 1986.  We do this so that youth with disabilities will lead rich full lives as adults and on that path their families and educators have the resources and tools to propel them to a future filled with possibility, equity, and true community belonging.  Through the guidance and tools they receive via 1:1 counseling by a Parent Advisor, webinars, trainings, online and print resource materials and our Conference on Inclusive Education individuals, parents, families, educators, and other professionals are better equipped to navigate these complex systems and move from discouragement and frustration to hope and possibility.  

PTI Director Pam Christy offered the following comment, “For over thirty years we have been a reliable source of information and support that Colorado families of children with disabilities, self-advocates, and educators depend on. We know that the families and individuals we serve are as diverse as the children we seek to support. This Parent Training and Information grant will allow us to expand our training so that we can ensure our products and services provide effective, appropriate, and impartial outreach and service provision to underserved parents of children with disabilities. This includes parents with limited English proficiency, parents with low literacy levels, parents who themselves experience disability, parents of youth involved in the juvenile justice system, foster parents, military-connected parents, and Native American parents. We look forward to continuing our work to ensure parents receive training to help improve outcomes for their children in Colorado.”

Likewise, RSA Shift transition Director Beth Schaffner offered the following: “All young adults go through a transition when they leave school beginning their adult lives.  The process can be extremely difficult when the young person experiences disabilities, both for the young people and their families and the people who care about them.  Young people need to learn to speak up for themselves, however they communicate, and learn to navigate new support systems.  Parents often need assistance shifting their role to be ‘guides on the side’ for their young person without getting in the way of them developing self-determination.  PEAK’s RSA Shift Project is excited to have the opportunity to build on the work of our 2014 - 2020 RSA project and continue to provide information and support to youth and families and to walk with them as they begin their journey toward included, successful adult lives.”

At PEAK we know the path to a good life starts early. We advocate for inclusive education because there are over 40 years of evidence that conclusively show it creates better outcomes for students with and without disabilities. We know that when diverse children grow up together  not only are their test scores higher but they are likely to have friendships that carry over into adulthood. Not to mention, those who grow up around kids with disabilities are more likely to hire adults with disabilities as they enter the workforce. 

We also know that wherever a parent, individual, or educator is on their journey of knowledge and awareness of best practices, it is all right. We are here to support you wherever you may be on your individual path. We’ll meet you where you are and help you through the next steps. The world of disability-related issues is complicated and whether we find that we are advocating for ourselves or someone we love, the work seems to never be done. But with the right support, a good life is possible for everyone. The quote from Toni Morrison above appears in this month’s Institute on Disability calendar and it is quite fitting of our work, especially as we consider that only just a few decades ago, it was normal for people with disabilities to be sent away to live in isolation in institutions - some of which subjected people to deplorable and inhumane conditions. “The function of freedom is to free someone else” indeed and a life of freedom is a life filled with possibilities.

Securing these grants does not guarantee a rosy future, nor does it mean that we’ve got all the funding we need to reach every Coloradan that needs our services. It means it’s time to pull our boots on and get to work; we’ve retained our status and our basic funding, but Colorado is a rapidly growing state with diverse geographic terrain and an even more diverse set of people in faraway corners. Amid COVID, we’ve pivoted - our work has shifted to the virtual world and we’re working to innovate our programs to bring you the very best. If you know of someone who may need our services, please share our name and information. If you know of a business looking for an opportunity to give back to our community in a way that effects immediate and long-lasting change with a deep impact, please share our name. Share our name, share our website, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

While the notification of being awarded these grants does give a great feeling of relief and is certainly a cause for some socially distant celebration, we are ready to muddy our boots and get to work to continue to pave this road to freedom and possibility. 

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