This inspiring guest post is from Heather Stubbs who puts her work and life experience as a stage and concert performer to good use today as a speaker and presentation skills trainer. Here Heather shares the longer-term view of work she did with disabled young women…recounting the successes and joy!
Whatever your challenges, you have the potential to stand tall, glowing with the knowledge that you’re a worthy, valuable human being. That’s what’s happening for a group of young women I met nearly two years ago. They are all people who are supported by Community Living, an organization which helps connect people with intellectual disabilities into their community so that they can participate and be included as rightful citizens.
Community Living in Peterborough, Ontario received funding through a project initiated by the Ministry of the Status of Women Canada. Combining that project with the desire to raise CLP’s profile in the community, the Director of Operations, Barb Hiland, decided to embark on a series of public presentations in which women with intellectual disabilities would speak about themselves and their experiences and, ultimately, conduct presentations to the public about issues pertaining to women living with intellectual disabilities. Knowing there would be training required, Barb hired me to spend four coaching sessions with these young women. In Use Your Gifts, I wrote about how inspiring it was to work with these enthusiastic students.
Eight young women from the group carried on to become “Ambassadors” and leaders for the Status of Women and Community Living Peterborough. Take a look at some of their accomplishments. (What follows are not their real names.) Jenny gave a presentation at a Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, speaking clearly and seriously; Cathy thanked a crowd of over 600 people at a fund raising activity. Christie won the Youth Award at Community Living Peterborough’s AGM for her contributions to increase awareness of women’s issues. Maggie speaks so well that she volunteered to do an interview for the local TV station. The interview publicized a Community Living event to which she donated one of her paintings. This week, Maggie has a photo shoot with a provincial magazine for an article on accessibility. She was chosen as a model from many across the province and will be paid significantly for her time.
Barb tells me that Linda is now a member of Community Living Peterborough’s Board of Directors and a member of People First, a self-advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities. Barb has no doubt that she will be President of the Peterborough Chapter some day. She is on too many committees to remember, and she just shines!
These eight young women have conducted presentations all over the community – over 40 and counting! They carry their heads high and have all the confidence in the world to speak up to have others hear their voices. They are now mentoring another eight women to follow in their footsteps.
Meeting with the PM
Recently I received an email from Barb Hiland to update me on the latest accomplishments of my public speaking students. Barb said, “As the pinnacle of our goals, we hoped to go to Ottawa and see the Prime Minister to thank him for the funding and to tell him about all of the personal accomplishments these women have made to our community.” That dream came true in May of 2012, when four of the eight young women were well received by Prime Minister Steven Harper, as well as the Minister for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose, and Peterborough’s MP, Dean Del Mastro. I have on my computer screen some photos of the event. I wish I could share them all with you, but I don’t have permission to publicize them. The one that particularly gives me goose bumps is of tall, willowy Jenny, formerly so shy, standing at full height, shaking hands firmly with the Prime Minster of Canada, and looking him squarely in the eye. What a transformation!
Training = Growth
Barb writes, “All the women have done exceptionally well. Their former teachers are ‘stunned’ at their growth and they never envisioned such a positive future for them. I think it was critical to have you come so early in the Project and teach the group about public speaking and the skills they needed to develop. It was our most intense topic for training, but well worth the investment. It had a huge impact on the young women’s development and ultimately, their success. Public speaking training instilled them with confidence, and as a result, the sky is the limit for their success.”
Do you find it challenging to speak in front of a group? When I think of the challenges these young women have overcome, I realize that the only thing that holds us back is what’s in our head. When we change our thinking, truly, the sky’s the limit!
“Reach for the Sky” Image from Exploding Dog