Tim Houle: Learning to be a leader

New Hampshire programs are leading the way for those needing support and services

Tim Houle with NH Leadership speaker Robin Carlson.

Tim Houle, 26, of Raymond, works hard at the two Walgreens stores where he has been employed for six years and looks to the future and possibly owning and operating his own comics shop.

“I’m a huge computer and comic nerd,” he said.

Tim was born with cerebral palsy and his parents were told early on that he would never walk and that he even might not survive infancy. Tim proved them wrong.

A graduate of Raymond High School, Tim receives day supports from LifeShare, an organization founded in New Hampshire 20 years ago, which utilizes a person-centered, community-based approach to support people of all abilities to successfully live in their community, including competitive employment.

With six years as a Walgreens employee, Tim is “just another member of the Walgreens family,” said Epping Walgreens Store Manager, Chris Petersen. Even though Chris has been at the Epping location for less than two years, Chris has noticed how Tim has grown in his role, taking on additional responsibilities. Tim stocks shelves, participates in online training, and works with store customers.

As a young adult working toward his goals, Tim is also acquiring important skills as a member of the 2014-2015 New Hampshire Leadership Series, a seven-session training program that provides parents and adults with disabilities with information and strategies to effectively impact local and state organizations on issues related to individuals with disabilities.

Each of the 35 participants was selected on the basis of their degree of motivation to become informed about and active in policy-making and systems change for individuals with disabilities in the Granite State.

Tim is learning to be an advocate for himself and others in a world where, even 25 years after passage of the American with Disabilities Act, many people are judged on their disability and not on their abilities.

Started in 1988 at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability/UCED (A University Center for Excellence in Disability), the Leadership Series’ more than 800 program graduates serve on school boards, family support teams and councils, judicial benches, local and state government, and other community boards.

One NH Leadership speaker, Robin Carlson, recently spoke to a group from LifeShare. With 30 years’ experience as a direct support professional (DSP) for individuals with disabilities, she said, “We are on a civil rights journey for people with disabilities where amazing things can happen.”

She said she learned to understand community inclusion from the perspective of individuals with disabilities. Robin worked with some of the first residents who transitioned from Laconia State School, one of the country’s many state-operated institutions where so many thousands of children and adults lived a life of isolation and total segregation. When Laconia State School closed its doors in 1991, New Hampshire became the first state in the nation to have a totally community-based system of services.

“I learned to see the capacities, capabilities, strengths, and interests of those I supported,” Carlson said.

In her role, she supports the building of advocacy skills among NH Leadership participants, including Tim. “Participation in the community is so important for individuals with disabilities and their families,” she said. The community provides more natural supports, community participation, jobs, friends and family support.

When Tim heard about NH Leadership, he was anxious to participate. “I like to try new things,” he said. “It’s an education process and I’m learning a lot about people, the educational system, and the legislative process.”

He has also learned to speak about himself and direct his own life by sharing his story with others, something that did not come easily at first.

When you are different in some way from the other kids in school, he said, it is a challenge. Many of his personal student experiences were not pleasant, he said.

NH Leadership program participants form small groups that work together on an issues-based project with a final presentation at the program’s culmination. Tim’s group is focused on the issue of bullying, which he says he experienced first-hand.

“I can relate to that [topic],” he said. The goal for his personal project is for every school bus to have a camera installed on it to catch inappropriate and/or bullying behavior.

“I believe all buses should have cameras [installed] so administrators can see what’s going on.”

Tim said he has “had a blast” being part of the Leadership Series. It’s been an opportunity to receive a wide range of information and strategies designed to assist him and his group participants in setting visions and achieving dreams for themselves and their families. He has learned about best practices in education, including secondary and post-secondary education, employment, housing, and participation as full members of the community.

Individuals or families interested in participating in the 2015-2016 series should call the NH Leadership Series Coordinator at 228-2084.

Annette Kurman has more than two decades of experience in public relations, marketing, health care, and disability rights and advocacy. Annette, who holds an MBA, Accreditation in Public Relations, and is an active RN/BSN in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, has worked with organizations whose missions have been to advocate for the least restrictive environment and the best quality of life for children, adults, and seniors with disabilities and other challenges.

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