During calendar year 2000, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) implemented a project program with the goal of preparing adolescents who are blind and visually impaired for adulthood. The program was so well received that today the LEAD ( Leadership – Education – Advocacy and Determination) Program has expanded, with groups of young adults meeting monthly in the three regions of the state.
Students in the LEAD Program join voluntarily but know that their involvement requires commitment. LEAD was designed to provide practical experiences, information, and life-skills training through experimental activities, mentoring and interaction with peers and competent adult role models who are themselves blind or visually impaired. High School students participate in growth and development exercises that will enable independence in personal activities such as: grooming; effective verbal communication; safe travel; shopping; managing money; and cooking. The ability to access technology, recreational and social activities, employment opportunities and ways to volunteer for community service are other important components of the program.
LEAD sessions are generally held on one or two Saturdays each month throughout the school year. The program is divided into core topics that focus on promoting independence and the development of leadership qualities. The students are provided opportunities to interact with adults who have the characteristic of blindness or visual impairment. Through these interactions these young people gain an awareness of the variety of challenges they may encounter as they progress through life. The mentors share their experience and knowledge, demonstrating and describing how they manage a variety of aspects of living full and productive lives and receiving the rewards of self-sufficiency.
"The LEAD Kids", as they often call themselves, also receive information and participate in discussions on the Americans With Disabilities Act and other legislation that affects them. Empowerment through the utilization of all available resources, including the advantages of working together as a team are other important areas reinforced by the LEAD program.
Since the program's inception, over 245 students have participated in social activities such as picnics, holiday parties, and gatherings at restaurants. Their other activities included a mock trial, career day, orientation and mobility instruction at shopping malls and train stations, and overnight trips to meet with legislators in Washington DC.
Parents and students have reported increased self-confidence and self-esteem, very positive qualities that will be an asset to successful goal achievement throughout their lives.
Anyone who is blind or visually impaired and is interested in volunteering to work with the LEAD students as an adult role model should contact CBVI, (877) -685-8878.
The Commission operates a two week transition program at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center in New Brunswick, N.J. for students who have completed the 9th grade The focus of this program is exposure to careers and work rather than evaluation and training. In addition to evaluation and training in Independent living skills, such as ADL, Orientation & Mobility, and Communications, Field trips are planned throughout the two weeks to expose young consumers to a variety of careers and occupations that are available following the completion of their formal secondary education. The evaluation reports are shared with the consumer’s Education Counselor, parents/guardians, and Transition Counselor to assist in the identification of areas in need of improvement. This will enable the development and implementation of plans that will both build on strengths and ameliorate weaknesses.
For more information, contact Debbie Kassoff-Sainz, Supervisor of Transitional Services, at 973-693-6489; Debbie.Kassoff-Sainz@dhs.state.nj.us