Native Youth Guide ‘Finds Their Way’ Community Collaborative

Native youth from across Arizona shared personal stories about overcoming challenges as a person with an intellectual or developmental disability during the first meeting of the Cross-Cultural Tribal Community Collaborative. The youth found peer-to-peer support through the Arizona Youth Leadership Forum, a program of Diverse Ability Incorporated. 

The Finds Their Way: Communities for Youth Transitions project is underway within the Native Center for Disabilities.

In March, project leaders led the first meeting of a diverse group of Native, state and community partners known as the Cross-Cultural Tribal Community Collaborative. Together with the Sonoran Center, the Community Collaborative will share their expertise and knowledge to implement systems change that improve employment experiences and outcomes for Native youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities

In a recent Arizona study1, only 18 percent of school and employment services staff who work with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities reported their students experience employment or post-secondary education as typical outcomes following graduation.

“Transitional services for Native American youth are an essential resource and support to help with planning their future after high school,” says Treva Roanhorse, a consultant for the Native Center for Disabilities and former executive director for Navajo Nation Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.

The first meeting of the Community Collaborative also served as a platform for Native youth to share their stories in a traditional Talking Circle. One participant spoke about peer-to-peer based training and support. He had dropped out of school because of bullying related to his disability. But because of the support system he found through the peer-to-peer program called the Arizona Youth Leadership Forum, he returned to school and graduated at the top of his class.

Listening to Native youth stories help frame and provide context for the project moving forward. It also helps broaden perspectives about different approaches to supporting and empowering Native youth as they think about their future and how employment can fit as a goal in their life.

As a host of the 2nd Annual American Indian Youth Disability Summit, project leaders will conduct another Talking Circle with youth, community members and professionals from across Arizona.   

The Finds Their Way project was developed in collaboration and with support from nearly 30 tribal, state and community partners, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living.

Both the Finds Their Way project and the American Indian Youth Disability Summit are administered by the Native Center for Disability within the Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

Read more about the Native Center and the Finds Their Way project.

1. Duncan, A., De La Rosa, J., & Parent- Johnson, W. (2021). State of the State Report: Post School Transition in Arizona. Tucson, AZ: Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities, University of Arizona.