Disability Mentoring Day Kick-Off Event

Speech submitted by Connor Flinn 

Each year we celebrate Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) and National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with a special kick-off event the Monday before DMD. This year we returned to an in-person event at the Heinz History Center. It was so great seeing so many of our students, educational and business partners, as well as our community partners, including the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).  

Connor was one of several Bender Leadership Academy students who spoke at the event. Please find a transcript of his speech below.  

Thank you, Ms. Bender.  

I am Connor Flinn, and I am happy to be here with all of you this evening.  

Let me tell you all a story about two people. A mother and her son. You see the little one was different amongst his peers. He would act out a lot and just couldn’t control himself no matter how hard he tried. After a lot of doctor appointments and research, the boys’ mother learned that he had a disability that made his brain different. The boy struggled with social communications and interactions with other kids his age. He also had a hard time learning in school. But the mother made sure the boy was always happy. Some hard times happened to this boy and his family, and it was difficult for the mother. Her medical coverage didn’t accept or acknowledge that her son had a “real” disability. She tried to get social security but was denied twice because she made more in a year than the maximum income that was allowed, even though she was of a lower income. She had to pay out of pocket to make sure the boy got the therapy and medication he needed. It was very hard for them to get the support. Thank goodness she never let it interfere with having enough food and a roof over their heads. She even made a drastic change and moved the family to a new town and to a new school. This school would provide more help than she could provide on her own.   

As the boy grew up, he found his place at Baldwin-Whitehall school district. He finally got the support they were looking for. The boy was at last able to understand and control his emotions, find great friends and mentors. Even with the obstacles he had to face the boy prevailed and is now standing here before you!   

Yes, that was me!!   

I did so well in this new school environment, that I was asked to join a program to learn skills on becoming an adult and how to be accountable for a job after my high school graduation. I was invited to join the Bender Leadership Academy as a Student Leader last spring. I enjoyed the program so much; I was seeing new faces and students that also had disabilities, like me, learning & succeeding. I also enjoyed meeting Ms. Bender and all the teachers who are great people.  

 Apparently, they liked me as well since they invited me to join their Advanced Student Leader program this past summer. This program was like Student Leaders however it left me feeling more confident of myself and my future.  

The final message I want to leave with you is that even through all of my challenges and obstacles I have found my best self!  

Both Baldwin High School and the Bender Leadership Academy have given me the tools and the support that me and my mom were hoping for all along!  

These new learned skills allow me to be successful. I am finally seeing everything that I had to learn for years come into play! I am now seeing myself getting better and better! I know that I will be a success at whatever I decide to pursue!  

What I’m trying to say, is that no matter how difficult the path, or what others might think or say about me, I know what I want to do, how I’m strong enough to do it, I’m smart enough to do it AND that I WILL do it! 

If I can succeed at my goals – anyone can!!  

Thank you!