Grantee Committee Member and PACER Center Board Member Kathy Graves highlighted in Pacesetter

September 12, 2018

Paul’s Pals Committee Member Kathy Graves also serves on the board of PACER Center, one of Paul’s Pals recent grantees. Graves recently had the opportunity to travel to Siberia to help the international community in building inclusive communities. Read on to learn more about her work.

The article below was originally published in the Fall 2018 Pacesetter.

PACER Board member travels to Siberia for transition project collaboration
Fall 2018 Pacesetter

PACER board member Kathy Graves traveled to Russia in June as part of a group from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI). The Peer-to-Peer project is funded by the US Embassy in Moscow. It brings together researchers from ICI, parents and other experts with experience guiding young people’s transitions from high school to community living, employment and post-secondary education with like-minded colleagues and parents from the Krasnoyarsk Krai region of the Russian Federation. The project builds on established connections made by ICI and the Rotary Club of White Bear Lake.

The team spent a week in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, collaborating with parents, advocates, business representatives, and other local experts, as well as visiting non-government day programs for youth with disabilities.

PACER participated at the request of ICI. “The Krasnoyarsk folks specifically wanted a parent perspective on transition, post-secondary education, and community-based living,” Kathy explained. “We met with and made presentations to spur more integration for youth with disabilities into the community. There are many motivated people in Russia who want to move in that direction. We explored what Krasnoyarsk can learn from what we’ve done well and not done well int he U.S.”

PACER’s transition website, PACER.org/transition, was a key part of Kathy’s presentation. “The resources on the website were very helpful,” she said. “People loved the concept of parents helping parents. They were also really interested in assistive technology.” Kathy’s presentation included her knowledge of PACER programs and personal experiences with her son Sam, a young college graduate whose talent for technology landed him a job in social media communications. Sam, who has cerebral palsy, is a former PACER intern and recipient of PACER’s 2016 Otto Bremer Youth Leadership Award.

“I walked through a day in the life with Sam, how he gets to work, the accommodations he has there,” Kathy said. “I shared how he got to where he is today and how we built support throughout his time in school. Showing images and videos made a big difference in being able to translate educational and legal concepts.”

Many young people with disabilities in Krasnoyarsk live in institutions, Kathy noted, or if they live at home, are not integrated into the community or employed. “We shared ideas to give people hope and see possibilities for a different way of living. Many of the young people with disabilities we met are highly employable.”

One of the most inspiring experiences Kathy had was meeting a 25-year-old woman named Vasilina and her mother. “Vasilina has cerebral palsy. Her mother fought for her to go to university, and she now has her degree,” Kathy said. “She has a great job in social media with an oil and gas company. While she doesn’t speak English, she did grab my phone and immediately connected us on Instagram,” Kathy laughed.

Vasilina’s mother does not speak English either, and Kathy speaks little Russian, yet they understood each other almost instinctively, Kathy said. “We are both mothers who are doing all we can to support our kids,” she said. “In that way, we speak each other’s language.”

The ICI-Krasnoyarsk project; a group will visit Minnesota, including PACER Center, in October.

To see the original article in the Fall 2018 Pacesetter, click here.