The Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council’s four-year Transition to Adult Life grant was awarded to the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL) in order to develop a replicable approach to the transition to adult life for young adults. The program has also been designed to educate stakeholders on the need for systemic change in the area of transitions. The S2L (School to Life) transition program has continually evolved over the life of the grant and supports young adults with disabilities, ages 14-21, who would like to live independently or with support in the community of their choice. The S2L program takes a holistic approach to transition services in order to reach out and work with as many young adults with disabilities as possible and empower them to do the things that they want to do with their lives. At the same time, the program works with parents and caregivers, providing information and support so that families can best assist young adults in making the transition to adulthood.
Seth Hoderewski, LVCIL’s Director of Transition Services, oversees the S2L program and all of its components. Mr. Hoderewski sees the program as constantly evolving and growing and becoming a brand in and of itself. Hoderewski, Amy Beck, LVCIL Executive Director, and Micha Cecere work with groups of 25 young adults each year with a variety of disabilities. The group meets at least once a month during the school year. The structure of each meeting changes with the needs of the group. While one meeting might have a speaker on the topic of independent living, another meeting might be about team building, learning activities, or just movie nights. The young adults in the program also like to participate in fundraising activities. Additionally, parents and caregivers meet monthly to cover 16 points of interest that will facilitate a better understanding of the transition process in order to be better able to guide young adults through the transition journey.
The highlight of the S2L year for each student is the summer program “The Real World Lehigh Valley” that meets three times each week during a six-week program. A theme chosen for each year is the focus of the program. Employment was the theme for the summer of 2012 program that saw the young adults working on interviewing skills, filling out applications, and team building activities. The participants were expected to formulate a business plan and then implement the plan that revolved around one of four business groups; a deli, a carwash, a magazine, and a cookie sale.
The goal for Seth Hoderewski is to give each young adult experience and empower them to make decisions for themselves by providing opportunities for self-advocacy and person centered planning. Hodereski is also looking to change the system by which young adults with disabilities and their families obtain information on transitions, making it easier for those young adults to do the things they want to do with their lives.
Influenced by his parents’ open-minded philosophy, Hoderewski knew from the time he was a young man that he wanted to work with people. He attended Penn State University, choosing to major in psychology to build the foundation of his goal. Married to Melanie with two children, ages 11 and 5, Hoderewski often involves his children in the S2L program, even if it is only in small ways such as grocery shopping for one of the meetings or events. The young adults involved in the program know the kids and frequently ask about them. When he is not involved in S2L activities, Hoderewski can often be seen throwing a baseball in the backyard with his children. The Hoderewskis attend as many major league and minor league baseball games as possible.
At the beginning of the grant Hoderewski worried if there would be five people interested in the program. Today, there is a growing waiting list. Considering the success of the S2L program, Hoderewski and his team began to wonder how they could reach out to more young adults and their families. The “Have you thought about…Life?” school program was being presented to schools and community groups. “Have you thought about…Life” is an interactive program that provides young adults with information about what they can expect from impending transitions. The “Have you thought about …Life” conference took place, bringing together young adults, parents, educators, professionals, and advocates in a forum for information sharing and education.
As the program drew to a close, Hoderewski measured the success of S2L because of the young adults it served. For some, being part of a team for the first time was a huge step. For others, S2L meant having friends for the very first time. All participants have goals and dreams for their future and know they do not want to be sitting at home on the couch when school is over. Several of the young adults who have gone through the program are now regular S2L volunteers. Though there have been some challenges, Hoderewski feels the benefits have far outweighed any difficulties. The major difficulty for Hoderewski is he has known there are young adults who may need assistance and are not being reached. For now though, the concern is making sure the program has the ability to continue after the term of the PADDC grant. Staff, parents, and young adults are all working together to make sure that happens.