Volume 2 Issue 6
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The Director's Corner

Summer is here! So much is happening!

Summer is a great time to check out jobs, and youth across ASPIRE are learning more about what it means to work. Some youth are participating in exploration opportunities through their Vocational Rehabilitation or Workforce agencies. Youth are volunteering at local non-profits. Youth are working in summer jobs! Summer is the perfect time to explore the world of work!

Staff are busy too! With school out, Case Managers meet youth and families in the communities and explore the available services and supports. The Evaluation Team has been visiting each of the sites conducting focus groups with youth, families and staff to learn how to improve ASPIRE. Sara McCormick and I participated in a review of ASPIRE with the Department of Education and federal partners at the beginning of the month. It was great to share how ASPIRE has been successful in meeting with youth and families, learning their needs, and assisting them to develop knowledge and skills for education, employment and self-sufficiency. We look forward to learning what areas can be improved as well.

Summer is a great opportunity to grow and explore. What will you do this summer?

Carol Ruddell
ASPIRE Project Director


June 15, 2016

In This Issue:

The Director's Corner

North Dakota
South Dakota

Staff Highlight - Anjanae Merida

ASPIRE Website

Follow ASPIRE on Facebook

"Include Us in YOUR Newsletter!"

ASPIRE Partners

Contact Us

Include Us in YOUR Newsletter!

Do you connect with youth and their families through a newsletter, or know of an agency that does? Let us know if you would like information about ASPIRE or PROMISE to include in your newsletter. We will gladly provide you with a brief article and additional information. Simply email us at aspire@aspirewest.org or call 1-844-880-9712.


Staff Highlight - Anjanae Merida

Anjanae Merida and family

Anjanae joined ASPIRE in July 2015 as a Case Manager. Prior to that she worked with survivors of domestic violence, Head Start families, and a home visit program with Utah County, as well as interning for the Division of Child and Family Services. What appealed to her most about working with ASPIRE is the opportunity to work with youth. She believes prevention and intervention are vital to help young people with disabilities and socio-economic barriers to become successful adults.

I was raised in a small town in the middle of nowhere called Manti, where the smell of cows and turkeys was second nature. When I graduated high school, and after a semester at Snow College, I decided I was going to learn Spanish so I signed up to be a volunteer in Guatemala.

I worked in a private school in the city of Chimaltenango teaching English to children. I also ended up meeting and marrying my husband in Guatemala. We moved back to the States in 2002. I went back to school and eventually graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, all while raising 5 children (2 boys and 3 girls).

We moved to the beautiful and sunny area of St. George 5 1/2 years ago and we love it for its beautiful landscapes and lack of snow!

I don't have much time for hobbies but when I do I like to go on outings with my family, watch documentaries, attend the local theaters, and go hiking.  

Anjanae Merida
Case Manager


ASPIRE Website - www.aspirewest.org

The ASPIRE website is a great place to find resources for youth and their families in your area, as well as contact information for all six of the ASPIRE states, and information about ASPIRE and the PROMISE Initiative. If you received this newsletter from a friend or colleague and would like to be on our mailing list, click on the "Subscribe" link to sign up for our newsletter.

You can also view ASPIRE related events in your state by going to your state page, then clicking on the upcoming events link on the menu.

ASPIRE on Facebook:

For links to articles and information to help youth and families, follow us on Facebook.


ASPIRE Partners

ASPIRE is excited to partner with the following agencies:

ASPIRE Partners: Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, and the Office of Public Instruction, Colorado Office of Community Access and Independence, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, South Dakota Black Hills Special Services Cooperative, North Dakota Center for persons with Disabilities at Minot State University, Arizona Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families

State Updates:

School is out for the summer, and as Arizona starts to heat-up so does the time for youth and families to participate in more summer activities. Arizona Case Managers have been filling up their schedules meeting with ASPIRE youth/families, connecting them with local resources, attending workshops/trainings with them, and providing great information on upcoming conference/workshops. Upcoming conferences/trainings for youth and families include the Transition Institute for Parent and Youth on July 16. Learn more at raisingspecialkids.org

Please contact ASPIRE Arizona with questions on our toll-free line at (844)260-2890.

May has been an exciting month for Case Managers. They have been busy teaming with ASPIRE youth completing college, employment, and scholarship applications. Case Managers are also finalizing summer job club and summer activities for the youth..

All of the ASPIRE Colorado Case Managers have been asked by youth and families to attend high school graduations. Celebrating such an exciting milestone has highlighted the true meaning of the work we are doing with participants.

July 1st marks the official movement of Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation from the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). ASPIRE Colorado is eager to begin this collaboration and capitalize on opportunities for ASPIRE youth and families.

The month of June is a busy one for the ASPIRE Montana team, as we continue to meet with our families, participate in a site visit from the ASPIRE Formative Evaluation Team and confer with our State Advisory Committee

The Evaluators from the University of Montana are tasked with monitoring the implementation of ASPIRE Montana by reviewing site data, conducting annual site visits using fidelity checklists, and by holding focus groups and interviews with staff. The Evaluators will analyze data and identify any concerns with project implementation and help to make course corrections. ASPIRE services families in the Helena and Billings areas have been invited to participate in family focus groups this month. Those who participate will receive a $50 gift card to help cover the cost of their time and travel. They will help to provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of ASPIRE Montana

Montana’s State Advisory Committee will meet later this month to continue discussions about the progress of the project, including the coordination of intervention trainings across the state, share strategies and provide valuable insight and direction to the ASPIRE Montana staff. In addition, there will be self-determination trainings and parent trainings this month. For more information on upcoming trainings and resources in Montana, check out the ASPIRE Montana webpage at aspirewest.org/montana.

North Dakota
May was a very busy month for North Dakota. ASPIRE North Dakota attended the All ASPIRE training in Phoenix, AZ the beginning of May. Trainings included a day of Motivational Interviewing techniques, preventing student drop-out and how to record information to collect data for the PROMISE study. We also went over some of our most complex cases as a group and gave new insights and options to the case managers. It was great to meet up with new and old co-workers from across ASPIRE. ASPIRE North Dakota also met with the ASPIRE formative evaluators from the University of Montana while in Arizona.

The evaluators returned to ND on May 18th and 19th and we were given the chance to ask questions about how the research is going and were provided feedback on how to enter data. This allows the researchers to accurately see what ASPIRE case managers are providing to ASPIRE families. The evaluators also had the opportunity to meet with ASPIRE families to gather input about how things are going and areas for possible improvement in our work with families.

ASPIRE North Dakota staff met with Self Determination and Parent Trainers to develop a schedule for future trainings in North Dakota communities. Staff also attended a two-day “Four Cornerstones of Financial Literacy” train the trainer event. Topics covered included creating savings, building a good credit rating, debt reduction and asset building and consumer protection and financial institutions. The information was both beneficial to all the attendees and will shared with ASPIRE families through a partnership with the Centers for Independent Living.

As the school year ends for the ASPIRE youth many are looking for jobs or planning on working more hours if they are already employed. Some youth have been connected with Vocational Rehabilitation and others have assistance from their case managers in finding summer employment and volunteer opportunities. Several youth were excited to learn that ASPIRE is going to assist them to attend summer camps by helping the family look for scholarship funds to attend and/or helping paying for a portion of their camp fee if needed. This camps are a great way for youth to build their self-determination and independent living skills.

South Dakota
Tynell Millner, ASPIRE South Dakota Case Manager tells a story of one of South Dakota’s ASPIRE youth.

“This is a story about a 16 year old female with Down syndrome. Mom has been very hesitant to allow her to do things on her own. Through ASPIRE we have been working on independent living skills. The skills have also been reinforced and practiced as school as well. . Video modeling is being used to help her learn how to use the microwave, and she is memorizing her mom and dad’s phone numbers. The young lady is doing more chores around the house, and Mom has agreed to get her a cell phone. Mom has decided that her daughter will start practicing staying home alone, beginning on the weekends when mom is working and dad is with her. Dad will check on her periodically and see how she is doing. This is a huge step for Mom, who said her daughter would NEVER be able to stay home alone.”

If you were to ask parents whether the ASPIRE project makes a difference, what do you think they would say? Recently, a number of parents shared their experiences through a focus group conducted by the ASPIRE formative evaluators. Here’s what they had to say:

  • One youth is more willing to talk to his parents and socialize with the family. The parent reported, “He’s done it (talked with me) more times in last 5 months than in the 16 years he’s been alive.”
  • A mother stated she has more hope now that her son can actually work. She was not aware of options like supported employment and supported housing. She is optimistic: “My son can have a better life than I thought he could.”
  • One youth routinely earned poor grades in school. The parent noted, “Last semester he got almost all A’s. Without ASPIRE I don’t think he would have got there.”
  • Another parent stated the youth used to “have a problem with beating up his brother --really bad.” The ASPIRE case manager sat down with the youth and explained what could happen if he continued to torment his brother. The parent noted that the case manager had credibility with the youth because the case manager had worked in juvenile probation. Since then the youth “has stopped [beating his brother] for the most part.”
Stated simply, as one Utah case manager likes to say, “ASPIRE works!”

Be a part of the ASPIRE Newsletter

If you would like to be included in our next newsletter, email us at aspire@aspirewest.org or call 1-844-880-9172.