The annual regional LIFE Student Transition Conference welcomed approximately 280 high school students with disabilities from 17 schools in Northern Michigan on December 9, 2014.
The keynote speaker, Mo Gerhardt, accompanied by Lavoi, his service dog, took the stage and shared his life story to motivate the students to overcome their disabilities and live life to the fullest. Gerhardt, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair stressed, “It’s not the diagnosis that determines your outcome.” Gerhardt is a Traverse City native, the author of “Perspective from an Electric Chair,” and a Michigan State grad. “The most important thing I learned from Mo is don’t let your disability rule your life,” said inspired student Kylie, from Leland High School.
In addition to hearing Gerhardt speak, LIFE students attended various breakout sessions throughout the morning to learn life related skills. Topics included: self-advocacy, communication, health & nutrition, banking, how to handle bullies, job skills, the process of buying a car, how to apply & get accommodations in college, and stress management.
Trooper Greg Hubers from the Michigan State Police won over the students, teachers, and volunteers while teaching a breakout session on Internet Safety. Hubers had the class laughing, but still explained the serious implications of the Internet. “My favorite class was Internet Safety, because I think Greg was very funny, and he taught me that I need to be careful with what I share and who I ‘friend’ on FaceBook,” said Montana, from Grand Traverse Academy.
Presenters for the event included: Renee Louvierre-Mitchell and Phil Kozachik from Disability Network, Ben Zork, Brenda Majestic from Chemical Bank, Kate Kerr and Connor Miller from United Way, Rodasi Ishaya from The Bright Path, Katie Randazzo-Erway, Max Dingeman and Todd Nienhouse from Premier Health & Fitness, Debbie Caperton from SOS Learning Lab, Jennifer Taylor from TBA Credit Union, Tim Collins from State Farm Insurance, Dan O’Conner and Todd Flees from Bill Marsh, Leanne Baumeler from NMC, Greg Hubers from the Michigan State Police, and Jane Rapin from MSU Extension.
In addition, employees from Traverse Bay Intermediate School District, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Michigan Works, and several community members volunteered at the event. “We are truly thankful for everyone who volunteered, as well as our partners who funded the event. Without their support, the conference would not have been a success,” shared Jessie Bachmann, Program Manager.
The LIFE conference provides an opportunity for high school students with disabilities to connect with local resources, gain life skills, and build connections. It’s a fun, high energy day that encourages students to take charge of their future. Funding for the LIFE program is provided through a partnership between Traverse Bay Intermediate School District, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, and Disability Network Northern Michigan. For more information about LIFE, or to learn how you can get involved, contact Jessie Bachmann at 231.922.0903, ext. 13.
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