Summer Leadership Experience 2023

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What comes next after you graduate high school?

When students toss their caps in the air, a whole new world opens up and they’re faced with a number of new choices that could have a profound effect on their future. Choices like that are hard to make. How do you further your education? Do you go straight into the workforce? It’s difficult for everyone, with added stresses for students with disabilities.

But the UK Human Development Institute’s Summer Leadership Experience Camp exists to help make those decisions a little less scary and make it easier to adjust to that next step in the educational process which could lead to a career. The camp invites speakers who can help young adults find the right choice for the next stage in their lives and how to take advantage of accessibility resources available – and how to push beyond challenges like getting academic accommodations and dealing with social stigma.  

July 2023 was the seventh time the camp has been held, and according to HDI Disability Program Administrator Teresa Belluscio, who leads the team that makes the camp happen, it went wonderfully this year.

“I thought we had a really good group of campers. We had a total of twelve,” Belluscio said. “We had some really good speakers. Speakers were really compelling and engaging.”

Speakers ranged from perennial favorite Cody Clark, an autistic magician who did a special show one day, followed by a talk on resilience the next, a panel college disability service offices to talk about how to access vital accommodations, support and resources, to Travis Freeman, a Kentucky pastor who, in high school, became the first blind football player in America and was the inspiration for the film 23 Blast.

“We packed this camp with so much,” Belluscio said. “There’s more we could do, but we don’t want to make it so busy to where campers are just sitting and sitting in session after session.”

To that end, this year’s camp departed from previous years – fewer speakers, but more fun activities. Students visited the UK Esports Lounge, held dance parties, relaxed at bookstores, and even more. Belluscio thinks this gave the camp a better balance of useful information and fun and made it more effective.

“We made it a little less busy. We built in a little more time in between sessions,” she said. “Even though we were busy, we didn’t feel as rushed.”

Isaiah Jones, one of the campers who attended this year, said that he enjoyed his experience and got a lot out of it.

“It was great,” he said. “The speakers are really helpful because they get to tell you what career you get to choose, how you can get help from your disability center, and what majors to expect you can take.”

He will be attending UK as a freshman soon and felt like he especially benefitted from learning to navigate the campus. But as useful was a taste of the college experience – living in a dorm and with a roommate.

For some, the camp was a powerful experience, giving them the opportunity to see a potentially great future for themselves.

“One of the campers told me after engaging in Cody Clark’s session on reliable resilience, ‘It was like I was looking at myself from the outside,’” Belluscio said. “They connected so much.”