“Seeing the potential and drive in our students with intellectual and developmental disabilities has always been paramount. This program, and the subsequent support from the General Assembly, is a testament to our commitment to ensuring every North Carolinian has the opportunity to thrive in their chosen career path. We're not just investing in a program – we're investing in the future of our state and the undeniable talent of these individuals.”
In the 2023 state budget passed by the General Assembly, we approved nearly $4 million in recurring funds for an initiative that will change lives, uplift communities, and lead North Carolina towards a brighter, more inclusive future.
This initiative revolves around creating statewide regional support networks dedicated to helping students with developmental and cognitive impairments get the training and job opportunities they deserve. It's an initiative that I'm personally proud to have spearheaded, and I want to take this opportunity to share with you how it all came together and why it matters so much.
The Genesis of Transformation
This journey began in November 2019 when a comprehensive report was commissioned to assess the services and programs available to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in our community colleges. The findings were striking. It was evident that we needed to revamp our approach, creating training programs that would not only empower these individuals with valuable skills but also pave the way for sustainable employment.
A Vision Takes Shape
The report's findings caught my attention, and I couldn't ignore the urgency of the situation. I joined forces with Lisa Estep, a member of the State Board of Community Colleges, and together, we envisioned a pilot project to address these pressing issues. Our aim was clear: create programs that empower individuals with IDD, improve employability skills, and provide essential on-the-job training and apprenticeships.
With the support of my colleagues in the General Assembly, we launched a pilot project in January 2022 with $500,000 in non-recurring funds. Catawba Valley and Brunswick Community Colleges were the first to step up to the challenge, and what they achieved in a short time is nothing short of remarkable.
Transforming Lives: The Pilot's Success
The pilot project at these two colleges has demonstrated the immense potential of this initiative. Students enrolled in a variety of programs, from horticulture to manufacturing support, have gained not only vocational skills but also life skills such as First Aid/CPR, computer literacy, financial literacy, and soft skills.
Among the pilot's standout success stories is Jaylen, who, after completing the Early Childhood Education Basics Academy and Employ-ABILITY courses, graduated as a registered NC Pre-Apprentice and is now employed full-time in a licensed childcare facility.
Changing Perceptions and Building a Brighter Future
This initiative is about more than just job training; it's about changing perceptions and creating a world where individuals with IDD are seen for their unique talents and abilities. It's about empowering parents who now see opportunities opening up for their children that they never thought possible.
In March, the team hosted the "Different Abilities, Different Pathways, One Destination Conference" at Davidson-Davie Community College, where representatives from all 58 community colleges came together to learn best practices and strategies for implementing inclusive vocational programs.
The Path Forward
As we move forward, we recognize that the success of this initiative hinges not only on government funding but also on support from communities and businesses. North Carolina possesses an untapped workforce eager to contribute, and with programs like this, we are poised to lead the way in inclusive education and employment.
This initiative isn't just about investing in education and employment; it's an investment in the limitless potential of every individual, regardless of their abilities. It's about ensuring that every North Carolinian has the opportunity to thrive in their chosen career path.
I want to thank all those who have supported this initiative, and I look forward to witnessing the transformative impact it will have on our state. We are building a more inclusive North Carolina, one where every citizen, regardless of their abilities, has the opportunity to succeed.