Group photo of the Emerging Leaders Class of May 2024.

Emerging Leaders Unite for Change

“For me, helping others is the way I live my life,” proudly shared Stewart, a recent graduate of Summit DD’s very first Emerging Leaders Program. “You showed us how to be a good leader and the process to step-up and keep going,” passionately stated Cainan, another graduate.

The Emerging Leaders program was born from Summit DD’s mission of helping people of all abilities reach their full potential, one person at a time. The program also aligns with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities recent long-range goal that encourages every county to recruit a board member with a developmental disability.

“The original goal of this program was to create an educational space around what it means to be a Summit DD board member. But in true Summit DD style, why stop there? With limited county board appointed positions and an abundance of future leaders eager to engage with their communities, a full blown six-part leadership program was born. Whether someone is interested in volunteering or pursuing a board position in their community, this new program led by Community Support Specialist, Dr. Georgi Hudson-Smith, is designed to educate, inspire, and guide a participant’s journey from start to finish, and even a little beyond that!” commented Lynnette Klejka, Summit DD’s Assistant Director of Community Supports & Development.

“Our sights were set on preparing individuals to step up into meaningful positions where their voices and unique perspectives would not just be heard, but truly make the difference they wanted to make. Positions in non-profit organizations or agencies that they held a passion for. There are literally hundreds of non-profits in our county alone. Let’s empower these self-advocates to speak-up, step-up, and wield change!” shared Dr. Georgi Hudson-Smith, Summit DD Community Support Specialist.

At the beginning of May, Summit DD held a graduation celebration for Jessica, Kyle, Marci, Stewart and Cainan—the five passionate advocates and future leaders representing the very first class of this innovative program. “I’m choked up at the opportunities you all have and will continue to have in the future. You’re all courageous. You all have a powerful voice that will be heard. Your voice matters more than you think,” proudly shared Dr. Georgi Hudson-Smith at the class graduation.

This program is only the beginning for these emerging leaders. Kyle accepted an Outreach Specialist position at I Am Boundless, a private developmental disability provider in Medina County. “We all have so much to offer, I guarantee it!” shared Kyle at the graduation.

Marci is currently applying for positions at the Akron Children’s Hospital burn unit. Many years ago, Marci received care in the burn unit and she now has a passion to help others in the same difficult circumstances. “The Emerging Leaders Program has been a safe space for me to open up. I have enjoyed each and every one of you,” shared Marci during the graduation ceremony.

Cainan is exploring volunteer opportunities at One of A Kind Pet Rescue. “I feel like I can be a leader now,” exclaimed Cainan.

Stewart has accepted a trainer position for Project STIR (Steps Toward Independence and Responsibility). The statewide program provides advocacy and leadership training designed to equip people with disabilities and their allies with the tools to advocate for themselves.

And finally, Jessica, who has already been a member of the Summit DD team for over a decade, is leveraging her community-based position to recruit future participants of the Emerging Leaders Program. She also wants to help children with dyslexia because she received a late-in-life diagnosis and earlier detection, and resources could’ve helped her along the way. “The part I enjoy most about this position is when I see the impact I make in people’s lives,” Jessica said.

“Initiatives like the Emerging Leaders Program are so important, helping to support individuals to be strong self-advocates so they feel empowered to engage their local community to seek lasting change,” concluded Drew Williams, Summit DD Assistant Superintendent.

Join us in congratulating Jessica, Kyle, Marci, Stewart and Cainan. We have no doubt they will make lasting change in Summit County and beyond!

Marci, emerging leader program graduate, posing for a photo outdoors.Kyle, emerging leader program graduate, posing for a photo outdoors.Jessica, emerging leader program graduate, posing for a photo indoors.Cainan, emerging leader program graduate, posing for a photo indoors.Stewart, emerging leader program graduate, posing for a photo indoors.Emerging leader participants working together at a large table.Georgi Hudson-Smith leading the program. Speaking to Kyle, a program participant.Lynnette Klejka, Summit DD staff, speaking to Stewart, a program participant.Jessica, a program participant, smiling while working on a project.Hand cutting graduation cake.Cainan, emerging leader program graduate, accepting certificate from program leader, Georgi.Cainan, emerging leader program graduate, posing for a photo with friends.

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