The annual “I’m Determined” Youth and Parent Summit is in full swing right now. Students and their parents are learning all about self-determination from professionals and volunteers at James Madison University in Harrisonburg this week.

But as we found out from one mother daughter duo attending for the first time, lessons can be learned before the session even starts.

Donna Robel, Family to Family Network Coordinator for the Tidewater region, explains.

“The application process alone has opened up so many opportunities for (my daughter) Alaina and I to talk about disabilities in general as well as some of the specific challenges she’s faces every day. We’re preparing for our first ‘I’m Determined’ experience with a lot of excitement.”

“As part of the application, the youth has to write a short essay about having a disability, how it affects them and what they hope to get out of the Youth Summit.”

Donna and Alaina Robe
“Last year Alaina applied for the I’m Determined Youth Summit, but wasn’t accepted. She went through all of the expected emotions. Excitement of learning about the program and submitting her application, anticipation of waiting to see if she was selected, and disappointment, when we received the email saying she wasn’t accepted. At the time I was heartbroken for her, but then I quickly realized this was part of what I advocate for every day! I’ve never asked for ‘special’ considerations for Alaina. I’ve always wanted her to be treated like everyone else. It was an awesome reminder for me, and a meaningful life lesson for her.”
“Fast forward to this year. I told her back in March that applications for I’m Determined were being accepted. She quickly said, ‘I wanna try again!'”
“A few fellow parents pretty much suggested that I do the essay for her, to get her into the program. No! How the hell can I speak for how she feels about her disabilities?? That made ME determined to see to it that Alaina’s essay was her own work, in her own words! But first she had to have a true understanding of what the essay was supposed to be about. That lead us into a discussion about her challenges, where does she feel the most challenged, and how it makes her feel. Before applying this year, I had never really asked Alaina how she feels about having Down syndrome. It gave me the opportunity to talk to her about disability and that there’s really nothing that special about it, it’s part of life.”
With this much growth for mother AND daughter in the application process, we cannot wait to find out what they’ve learned at the summit!

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