Volume 4 Issue 2

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State Updates:

ASPIRE Arizona youth are exploring their future educational opportunities!  One example is Santiago.  He has researched and toured colleges, and is beginning to explore scholarships!  Santiago uses a wheelchair and wants to give back to his community by becoming a physical therapist!  His positive attitude and determination inspires everyone!

There’s lots happening for ASPIRE youth and families in Arizona this month:

  • Self Determination workshops in Tempe, Payson, Glendale, Avondale, and Window Rock. 
  • Financial Education workshops about taxes (EITC and VITA) in Douglas, Tucson, Phoenix, Apache Junction, Flagstaff, and Prescott. 
  • Raising Special Kids workshops in Phoenix, Benson, and Sahuarita.
  • Employment workshops including help with resumes and interview skills

Talk to your ASPIRE Case Manager or check out the ASPIRE Arizona calendar: https://tinyurl.com/ycw87v23

A new Administrative Assistant has joined the ASPIRE Arizona team!   Venesa Hernandez. Previously worked in schools, as well as at Vocational Rehabilitation.  Welcome to the team, Venesa!

Jilda ASPIRE Colorado also welcomes a new Team member this month. Jilda Falco is a case manager working in the Denver Metro office of the DVR (Division of Vocational Rehabilitation). She will work with ASPIRE youth and families in Arapahoe County. Jilda is originally from Central New York, where she received her degree in Psychology. She worked with adults and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a variety of settings for more than eight years. . Prior to ASPIRE, Jilda worked as a Senior Resource Coordinator for the Developmental Disabilities Resource Center in Lakewood Colorado. Jilda enjoys being outdoors. She likes to run, hike, camp, and practice yoga. She spends a great deal of time at concerts and with her dog, Kedle. Welcome to the ASPIRE Team, Jilda!

Kiera Kiera may be on the quiet side, but don’t let that fool you. She may be soft-spoken but you’ll quickly learn that she is planning for her future! An example is when she applied for and was accepted on to the Planned Parenthood Teen Council. This council meets regularly and works on various topics, prepares public presentations and acts as peers for other teens at school. This last summer she attended a three day “camp” to learn team building and other important skills. Her mother remarked this was the first time Kiera had been out of town, without her family. She credits Keira’s participation in the ASPIRE Self-Determination classes with her application and pursuing her goals. As Keira put it, “It wasn’t that big of a deal”.

Keira has worked on her goals and the tasks of transitioning from student into adulthood. One of her first goals with ASPIRE was to select three types of work she would be interested in and would like to explore. After identifying these jobs, she was referred to the local Independent Living Center to job shadow. Unfortunately, her seizure activity prevented her from fulfilling this activity but she was still able to learn more about the jobs. It was during this time her ASPIRE case manager referred her to Vocational Rehabilitation for employment and career services. Although accepted into the VR program, she is waiting for services. While waiting for those services, Keira and her Case Manager explored the MCIS (Montana Career Information System), completing career interest assessments, and learned about specific careers.

Before working with MCIS Keira had expressed an interest in the medical field but her struggles in Math and Science could pose a challenge. Kiera used the MCIS to explore other options for careers outside of the medical arena, and the knowledge, skills and training needed to enter into those careers. Keira is organizing all of this by maintaining the career information in her MyFile for future reference.

Like many ASPIRE youth, Keira’s story is growing and changing. ASPIRE is privileged to be part of these stories and make the future come alive for ASPIRE youth!

North Dakota
Lane ASPIRE youth have worked with Case Managers to achieve self-determination and independent living goals. One youth, Lane, has a passion for hunting. His uncle invited him to join him when he went deer and pheasant hunting last fall. Lane really enjoyed this activity and was interested in taking the Hunter Education course, a pre-requisite to obtaining a hunting license in North Dakota. Hunter Education focuses on safety, ethics, laws and regulations, landowner relations, wildlife identification and conservation. Lane’s Mom learned that a relative taught the class, and he was very encouraging. Lane could only receive his certification if he passed the same exam as rest of the class; however, accommodations were made to read to the test. His sister also decided to enroll in the class. They both attended the 14-session Hunter Education course. Lane passed the exam and is excited for the upcoming hunting season.

Ethan ASPIRE North Dakota Case Managers are excited to start the parent and youth self-determination trainings for 2018. It’s off to a great start with parents and youth already coming to trainings. The trainings are being held at various places in the community, such as the trampoline park. In addition to the trainings, families an opportunity to have some fun and network with other families. ASPIRE North Dakota will continue to hold Parent, Youth Self-Determination and Financial Trainings in communities across the state. Please visit with your ASPIRE Case Manager for details! Join the fun and learn at the same time!

South Dakota
Chase One of the first youth to enroll in ASPIRE in South Dakota was Chase. When he first began in December, 2014, he struggled in many aspects of his life. School was a particular challenge as he had few friends and was bullied by classmates. Since working with ASPIRE Case Manager, Linda Schoon, Chase has set and achieved many goals and is really looking toward the future and has made some positive life changes.

First Chase began meeting monthly with the staff at school to address his concerns of self-esteem and bullying. He started to talk more, dream bigger and take the steps to identify and reach goals. With small steps, he changed his appearance and demeanor and became more comfortable with himself. As he did that, other things began to change. Small steps became large leaps. Chase set goals and graduated with his diploma in May of 2016. It was a monumental moment for him as he paraded across the stage to get that diploma, smiling from ear to ear.

One of the first goals Chase achieved was to complete his intake with Vocational Rehabilitation. After being found eligible, Chase was able to have paid work experiences through Project Skills. While the first two were not good fits, Chase learned a great deal about working and being responsible. He found a great fit at Culver’s, where he has worked for the past year and a half. He has advanced from carry out to being a cashier!

Over the past 4 years, Chase participated in all but one Self Determination training. He attended two Financial Trainings and even brought his step-dad along to one of the trainings. His mom, Heather has been a constant support as she encouraged him to attend and participate in everything ASPIRE has to offer. She has also attended Parent Trainings. Heather and Chase met with a Benefits Specialist to help them understand SSI and working. Chase has learned a lot, even to report his income each month!

Chase is now 20 years old. His goals and dreams are changing. Now he is working to be live independently in the future. He also wants to get his driver’s license, and he has been practicing driving.

Chase, his family and Linda are very proud of Chase and all he has accomplished. He has worked hard to overcome his low self-esteem, graduated from high school and is now working in his community. He has become a responsible young adult! Way to go, Chase!!

ASPIRE is always looking for ways to improve how we serve youth and families. ASPIRE Utah recently hired an additional Case Manager, Erin Talley. This means that each Case Manager will have more time to meet with youth and families to address their needs as well as help them plan for the future. This month, ASPIRE Utah’s other Case Managers, Misty, Fa'a and Ryan will introduce Erin to the youth and families she will serve.

Here’s a bit about Erin. She was born and raised in Salt Lake City, attended Hillcrest High school, the University of Utah and Utah State University. For the past seven years Erin has worked at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and as a supervisor. Moreover, Erin has experience as a job coach, an ABA tutor and teacher. Erin has also enjoyed time as an event planner in New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Las Vegas and Jacksonville. When you see Erin, be sure to give her a big welcome!!

February 15, 2018

In This Issue:

The Director's Corner

North Dakota
South Dakota

ASPIRE Website

Follow ASPIRE on Facebook

"Include Us in YOUR Newsletter!"

ASPIRE Partners

Contact Us

The Director's Corner

It’s Tax Time!

Tax time can cause worry and angst for all of us. But there’s good news for ASPIRE youth and families. There are a several tax credits available, especially for college students! And there’s help to figure it all out and file your taxes.

First is the Earned Income Tax Credit. Then there are others – especially to help with college expenses, like the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits.

Be sure to check out the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) which lets someone with limited income, keep more of their earnings. To qualify, you must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if you do not owe any tax or are not required to file. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may give you a refund. Learn what the IRS has to say at

The American Opportunity Credit is a credit for expenses toward a four year college degree. The credit equals 100% of the first $2,000 of a student’s qualified education expenses plus 25% of the next $2,000. The maximum annual credit is $2,500. Expenses covered include tuition and mandatory enrollment fees, and the cost of books and course materials. Learn what the IRS has to say at

For the Lifetime Learning Credit, you must be in an undergraduate or graduate college program. The credit is 20% of up to $10,000 of qualified education expenses. So the maximum credit for 2017 is $2,000. Like the American Opportunity credit, qualified expenses include tuition and mandatory enrollment fees at an eligible institution. Books and course materials can also count, but only if you are required to purchase them directly from the school. Learn what the IRS has to say at https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/llc.

There is help to figure all this out. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) offers tax preparation help for those needing assistance. The VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less. It also helps persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

To find help in your local community call 800-906-9887 toll free or go online to https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/.

Happy Tax Time!


Carol Ruddell
ASPIRE Project Director


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 some 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.



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.

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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

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.