Another Successful Disability Mentoring Event

“Disability Mentoring Day is not just a day on the calendar; it is a reminder that our community is richer and more vibrant when we embrace the unique strengths and perspectives that come from individuals of all abilities,” is the message Joycelyn Mahmoud, Bender Leadership Academy Alumni and current part-time employee with Calgon Carbon, shared when she spoke at our Disability Mentoring Day Kick-Off Reception last month.

Held on the third Wednesday of every October, Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) is an international program designed to provide a day of mentoring for youth with disabilities with regional employers. The Bender Leadership Academy is proud to partner with American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) to act as the regional coordinators for DMD in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In Pittsburgh, we like to celebrate DMD in a big way, with a reception the Monday prior to honor our sponsors and promote awareness of employment equity for the disability community, including our youth with disabilities. Today, youth with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed as youth without disabilities. Watch the DMD Kick-Off Reception.

At our reception, we heard remarks from Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive, Mick Malec, CEO of enGen, Angelica Starkey, Manager, Diversity Projects & Workforce Development of UPMC, and Karen Emmerich from the Jack Buncher Foundation. I. King Jordan, Disability Rights Leader and first Deaf President of Gallaudet University, was our keynote speaker.

In addition, we heard from some of our Bender Leadership Academy students and alumni about their experiences with our programs. One of these students was Gregory Davis from Roxborough High School and Insight PA Cyber. Gregory, who participated in three of our programs (Bender Student Leaders, Advanced Student Leaders, and DigitalAccess@Work) drove to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia with his mother to share remarks at the kick-off event, then back to Philadelphia the same day to ensure his mother could make it to work the next day. A 2022 Linda Dickerson Scholarship winner, Gregory, had this to share about his experience with Bender Leadership Academy, “I stutter so growing up it was hard for me to read and speak because of that. I never liked to speak in front of people because I would stutter and get nervous. That changed when my mom signed me up for Bender Student Leaders.” Gregory spoke in front of over 200 hundred guests comprised of business leaders, educators, politicians, and students at the event.

Kaitlyn Anderson, a student in the West Jefferson School District and a Student Leaders alumni shared, “My experiences with Bender Leadership Academy have helped me gain the confidence to seek employment, to know how to be a good employee, and to understand the importance of self-advocacy.” Kaitlyn is another example of how critical programming that empowers youth with disabilities to realize their strengths and value to America’s workforce. Kaitlyn is an example of the tenacity and work ethic found within the Disability Community. A recent graduate of Saint Anthony’s Post Secondary Program at Duquesne University, Kaitlyn works three part-time jobs.

Jason DeSantis, a senior within the Ambridge School District, received certifications at Beaver County Career and Technology Center through a partnership with Bender Leadership Academy helping him to prepare for careers which build on his interest in technology. “My experience with The Bender Academy has been nothing but positive. The knowledge taught is quite useful and important today. Topics like customer service, business of retail, and teachings related to the International Computer Driver’s License are all essential topics that are necessary for success in society.”

At the event, Bender Leadership Academy also honored key partners with awards for their work to address barriers to employment and create opportunity for youth with disabilities. Connie Feda of Cookie Cookie Ice Cream was presented the Bernita Buncher Employment Innovation Award, Beth Habbyshaw received the Judy Heumann Educator of the Year Award, and Diane Dufour-Guadio received the Pioneer Award.

The 2023 Sam Miller Award was presented to Brooklyn Walker a Bender Student Leaders and Advanced Student Leaders graduate from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The Sam Miller Award is presented annually to young person with a disability between the ages of 16-21 who has shown through action, their dedication to advocacy, anti-bullying, and leadership efforts in support of youth with disabilities.

This year Bender Leadership Academy hosted over 400 high school students in 44 school districts across 33 employer locations. If you would like to personally support mentorship of students with disabilities as a volunteer mentor or host a DMD event, contact us today.