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YES Academy 2020

Reflections from the 2020 YES Academy

Reflections from the 2020 YES Academy

Despite the many changes to LightHouse programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Youth Programs team rose to the challenge of adapting the Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) Academy to go ahead online. This summer, our YES students participated in a five-week virtual academy filled with engaging, interactive activities to help them gain employment and independent living skills. S]tudents also learned how to investigate their career interests along the way.

Read the first four parts of the series below.

Want to find out more about LightHouse’s youth programs for the fall? Email youth@lighthouse-sf.org.

Jump to Week One
Jump to Week Two
Jump to Week Three
Jump to Week Four
Jump to Week Five

Week One: New Discoveries

Fernando Olivera, age 18

Fernando Olivera

Mondays are our mentor spotlights, where a guest or two comes on and discusses their hardships and challenges they faced while pursuing their career or growing up as a blind/low vision individual. They also discuss how they overcame those hardships and what they learned from those experiences. I find the mentor spotlight empowering and intriguing, since it makes me reflect on my personal life and what adjustments I could make in my life, if any.

On Wednesdays, we dedicate that day to learning independent living skills (ILS), and Orientation & Mobility (O&M). This is the time where we can learn about many aspects of living independently and learning different O&M tools, such as learning how to use and read tactile maps, GPS, navigation apps, etc. I also enjoy this aspect of the YES academy because in ILS, I don’t feel like I’m just limited to cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc. The prospect of being able to cook on a stove or in an oven, truly excites me and makes me wonder about all the possibilities that can be accomplished. As for O&M, I find it informative. Yes, it’s not like get full O&M in person. However, it does open other doors to explore other tools. As I previously mentioned, learning how to read and understand a tactile map was very fun to learn. Honestly, I never sought a reason to ever use a tactile map, but they can come in really handy, especially if you’re going to college and the campus is too big. I learned a lot of maps and what certain things indicate.

On Friday, it’s our social hour, where we relax and get to know one another. We discuss general topics or whatever folks throw out there. It’s just a very different atmosphere compared to our busy Monday and Wednesday meetings. It’s also a great way for us to get acquainted with the other YES academy students and mentors.

All in all, the YES summer academy has been a great and memorable experience. Thus far, it has really made me reflect on certain aspects of life that I never took into consideration. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the academy and what it has to offer.

Mason Fessenden, age 19

This first week of the program was a blast for me! I really enjoyed getting to know my peers and being able to collaborate with each other. During these past sessions, I really liked hearing the panelists in discussing how they navigate life as a blind/visually impaired person and their career goals. During O&M, I learned how to read a tactile map, which I am slowly getting the hang of, but I can happily enjoy it a lot more than I did when I started. I hope to hear more panelists, continuing my engagement within the program, and grow and develop more skills that I didn’t think I could do, (like map reading), and prove to myself that I can do those things. I would also like to be less anxious during these weeks as I tend to be.

Leslie Jaramillo, age 18

Leslie Jaramillo

This is my first time doing the YES Summer Academy. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever done a summer program virtually through Zoom. I’ve really enjoyed the first week of the academy so far. Monday July 6 was the first day of the academy and I had so much fun. We began at 10 with an overview on how the academy was going to look for the remainder of the program. After the overview, we had a mentor spotlight which I also really enjoyed. On Wednesday, we were divided into 2 groups. One group did independent living skills and the other did Orientation & Mobility (O&M). For the second session, the groups then switched activities. On Friday, I had an O&M session which was very fun because I learned how to utilize an app called Soundscape by Microsoft. Finally, the entire staff has been very helpful and supportive. I’m looking forward to continuing on with the program.

Week Two: Convention Time

In part two, students discuss attending a virtual blindness convention and learning how other blind youth advocated for themselves.

Mason Fessenden, age 19

During the sessions, I learned a lot about the disability rights movement and advocating for accessibility in the classroom. My favorite part was the meeting on the topic of accessibility when one of the students in high school had mentioned her struggles of getting a test in an accessible format, and how she fought with the College Board to receive an accessible test, and how the board later agreed to help her. I loved the convention.

Like Mason, the student advocating for themselves struck a chord with Fernando as well.

Fernando Olivera, age 18

We attended several sessions given by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). The part I found most informative was about a blind student who fought the college board to make the SAT accessible to all. If sighted students had access to it, then why couldn’t she? I really liked how she fought back and advocated for herself. Things like that make people realize that blind individuals have voices, too. I’m glad she didn’t just take no for an answer.

Just knowing that there are other blind individuals that have gone through life and been successful at it, is a great feeling.

Week Three: Leveling Up Kitchen Skills and Finding Your GPS Groove

Mason Fessenden, age 19

These weeks of the YES summer Academy have been very informative for me. I learned how to properly measure food in a bowl using the appropriate measuring spoon that I received in my box of LightHouse goodies. That was very enjoyable, because very seldom do I measure food independently and cook on my own. I also enjoyed the GPS Orientation & Mobility presentation, because aside from Microsoft Soundscape, Google and Apple Maps, I didn’t know the other apps existed and would be useful and accessible. Now I have a better understanding of these apps.

I enjoyed (eating) and creating a marshmallow tower with spaghetti noodles as well as making ice cream. One thing I‘ve learned about cooking is to prep ingredients ahead of time and know which ingredients go in the correct order, as well as the measurement sizes of the spoons and cups.

Leslie Jaramillo, age 18

In week three for the YES Summer Academy we had a [blind] mentor spotlight which I really enjoyed, because these spotlights make me reflect on my personal life by making me think about what adjustments I could make, if any.

On Tuesday, I attended the “So You Think You Want a Guide Dog” workshop. I enjoyed attending this workshop, because it gave a lot of information to think about regarding getting a guide dog and what it would be like as a guide dog handler. Honestly, what I figured out when attending this workshop, was that currently I’m not ready to have a guide dog because I won’t be able to give the dog the necessary attention that it needs.

On Wednesday we had sessions in ILS (Independent Living Skills) and O&M (Orientation & Mobility). I really liked the ILS session because we learned how to utilize the measuring cups and spoons by learning how to level things properly. On Friday I had my last O&M session with my instructor Marie. I really enjoyed it because I learned how to use the BlindSquare app.

Fernando Olivera, age 18

Week three was pretty busy. On Monday, we had our normal mentor spotlight. The first person was Tim Elder. He talked about being an attorney for disability rights and what it’s like working in that particular field. He talked a little about his background and where he went to school. As for our second session, we had Shen Kuan. He talked about using tech such as computers and phones and how the software and apps work on both Mac and Windows computers.

On Tuesday, I attended an online guide dog workshop via Zoom. I learned a lot. I thought I knew a good amount, but the workshop provided more details and information that I wasn’t aware of. On Wednesday, we had ILS and our O&M class. In ILS, we learned the different sizes of measuring cups and spoons, which was really helpful for me, since I want to learn how to cook. We also learned how to level out the item that’s in the cup/spoon. For example, we used rice and we practiced filling different cups with uncooked rice and learned how to level it. We could either use a butter knife, finger, or anything else that had a flat surface. Again, I feel like I learned quite a bit for this ILS session. For O&M, we learned how to use GPS and navigational apps. We technically learned 5 apps, but out of the those five, three were the main focus. I found that I liked Microsoft Soundscape the best. I also learned that you can get step by step directions on Apple Maps, which I think is cool because it can come in handy, especially if you’re in a new place.

On Friday, I met with my O&M instructor for our last meeting and we discussed many characteristics of an intersection. That day we also had our social hour, where we talked about what could happen if someone adds too much details in a speech or idea. We used liquids to sort of get an understanding of how too much can ruin a topic. I thought that little experiment was pretty neat and helped some people understand the meaning of too much information.

Week Four: Speeches, Interviews and Ice Cream

Fernando Olivera, age 18

Week four of the YES Summer Academy was pretty interesting. On Monday, we began with a little activity that involved playing cards, dry long thin noodles, and marshmallows. The point of this activity was to see how well a person could communicate with others. It was fun. Then we had our mentor spotlight with Joe [Strechay]. He is a blind producer who works on an Apple TV+ show called “See”. I think I would’ve really benefited if I had talked to him when I was going through a phase where I wanted to be an actor.

Wednesday, we did speeches. I thought two minutes was not enough time. I think three minutes or more would’ve been a little better. I would’ve loved to talk more. Then again, the topic I chose had lots of information. After speeches, we had our last ILS session where we did an ice cream challenge. The ice cream was very easy to make, and the instructions were clear. My ice cream turned out gross, but I think it’s because I shook it too much. Mine had a weird consistency. It’s pretty difficult to explain. The best I can explain is that it was thicker than butter. On Thursday, I had an informational interview. I found it cool how the person I interviewed is working to make construction sites and streets accessible. For example, private cars aren’t allowed on the street. But other forms of transportation are still being allowed like buses and bicycles. So, since bicycles are allowed to get through, they made a bike path. One side of the path is for bikes and the other side is for people to walk on. The path has a line in the middle to let people know what side to be on. A blind or low vision person wouldn’t be able to tell if they’re stepping on the line or not, so instead of the line being painted, the city would add tactile markings.

On Friday, we had our social hour, and had a virtual talent/passion show. Where if we’re passionate about something, we share. Or if we have a talent, we share. I feel like people didn’t want to share what they’re passionate about, but then the conversation switched to people’s biggest pet peeves. That was definitely fun. I feel like people were more comfortable sharing their pet peeves and it really got the conversation flowing and us starting to get to know each other.

Leslie Jaramillo, age 18

On Monday we had another mentor spotlight. I liked this week’s mentor spotlight because a mentor talked about his experiences of being interviewed.

Wednesday, we had our presentations. I had so much fun. Honestly, I usually get nervous when I’m going to present, but when I did my presentation, I wasn’t nervous at all.  Also, we had a cooking competition. I really enjoyed this because we learned how to make ice cream.

On Thursday, I had my informational interview. I really liked doing this because I got to connect with Ethan Meigs who works in the IT department.

On Friday, we had a social hour. It was really fun, because we had a really engaging conversation. Thus far, the YES Summer Academy has really been a memorable experience.

Week Five: Final Thoughts

In the final week, students reflect on their overall experiences and, as a bonus, we hear from a Peer Mentor.

Ian Doporto, age 21

Ian Doporto

Time has moved differently during shelter in place. While initially I felt a surge of uneasiness (which I still am feeling from time to time, minute to minute), I’m happy to say that, I was able to spend my time well as a student of the YES Summer Academy. There’s a bushel of stuff and experiences I have been enjoying but I’m going to focus on only a couple of moments in case any reader gets tired of my slovenly drollery.

I particularly enjoyed team activities (even if I wasn’t completely at my best with all of them). For a long time, I wasn’t too keen on what we were going to be doing with marshmallows, but I knew it was going to be something engaging and that we had to be an active participant. I was able to make a half tower of sorts that didn’t necessarily turn out the way it was supposed to, because I didn’t get all of the directions. I learned that I should’ve communicated better and should’ve spoken up beforehand to say that my peer instructor’s directions were not very clear. I was still more than ecstatic to be part of something interesting.

The future is a winding staircase, a tunnel of opportunities. In order to help myself with accessibility and tools that I’ve needed, I decided it would be a good idea to get an insight on the pros, cons, responsibilities, and adventures in having a canine/companion. I have a few friends that have guide dogs (including one that I’ve known since I was little). I learned the truths and untruths and a few myths about guide dogs that were debunked. The most important thing I took from this lecture is that just because you have a guide dog, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be able to use a cane to move around. To sum up [Rehabilitation Teaching Specialist] Bobbi Pompey’s lecture: in order for your guide dog to be a good fit for you, you need to help the dog as much as the dog helps you, because people and animals are very social, and you should communicate, establishing a connection with them. Establishing boundaries and routines for a guide dog can be fun, but I was glad to be informed of the responsibilities that come with caring for a new friend! I guess until then, when I feel ready for a guide dog in the future, my cat who’s been with me for almost a decade will have to do. She’s not exactly certified, but at the very least she’s got the emotional support down!

Mason Fessenden, age 19

This program has been fun, despite being bittersweet as the YES Summer Academy nears its end. I had a great time doing my mock interview for a job as a Spanish translator. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to gain more exposure to this type of job. I also enjoyed the program mentors and staff sharing their personal stories about advocacy as well as accommodations. I will definitely miss this program and will still hopefully work with my mentor on other goals in the near future.

Fernando Olivera, age 18

On Monday, we talked about jobs and interviews. We also had our last mentor spotlight. I really enjoyed Deborah Armstrong’s talk and her very interesting stories about life before the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her stories inspired me. If she managed to do all the things she said when things were barely accessible and when computers were new, it makes me realize that we as young blind adults are so lucky to have the things we have today. Whether it’s a screen reader or BrailleNote [a type of braille display]. It makes life and school/work more manageable. I think she was a great person to end on for the mentor spotlights.
On Wednesday, we were split into two groups. My group was first to do a behavioral interview, or a mock interview. I had fun, but I got pretty nervous when actually doing it. Even though, I chose my own questions, I still had nerves. I got great feedback on what I need to improve on. My group was then placed into an advocacy discussion. We talked about advocating in college for accommodations that one would need. I already knew most of the concepts, but I did learn about a few others that I wasn’t aware of. 
Friday, the last official day, was different than our typical social hour. We recorded ourselves during the week talking about what we took away in the program. These were our vlogs that were put into a slide show of all the students of the YES Summer Academy. We ended at 7:30 p.m., when I felt like it actually sunk in that it was going to be our last meeting together as a group. I mean, we were in three-hour meetings, three days a week, for five weeks. People ought to have felt something. I sure did!
Overall, I really enjoyed the academy. Would I recommend it? Definitely. I would love to go in person and experience the full program “live”. Thank you, mentors and staff, for an awesome five weeks. I’m sure next year’s program, whether it’s virtual or not, is going to be great, just like it was this year!

Peer Mentor Reflections from Daisy Soto

Daisy and her guide dog Miles

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of both this year’s virtual, and past years’ in-person YES Academies, which I believe affected my perception of the overall experience. I came into the Academy excited to work with, teach, and mentor a completely new group of students, but felt apprehensive about how easily those organic connections and mentoring moments would happen via a virtual platform. I found myself wondering both if students would still be able to form those meaningful friendships with one another, and curious as to whether we’d still be able to establish the same levels of comfortability with them as the weeks passed.
As part of our curriculum we included both group meetings as well as individual touch-base/lesson time, the latter of which I feel was quite beneficial in helping establish those student connections. It seemed that as the weeks went by and students connected with staff/mentor’s one-on-one, they found it easier to speak out and engage more during our group meetings. It was also wonderful to get that individual time to know students; I found that many of the students I worked with felt more comfortable initially opening up or asking for help during these times. The thing about a virtual YES Academy is that it did have to involve more constant scheduling and structure for every activity, which I didn’t necessarily dislike, but definitely found to be a different experience. Additionally, students establishing new friendships/networking with one another was something I felt inevitably lacked through a virtual platform. I personally prefer a hands-on, in-person way of working with students, but was surprised at how well both students and I adapted to the circumstances. I’m very grateful to have been part of this Academy and feel very proud of our students and all the ways in which they’ve improved, come out of their shells, and remained focused and committed.

To find out more about LightHouse Youth Programs, contact  youth@lighthouse-sf.org.

Youth Employment Series (YES) 2020 Summer Academy Applications Open

Youth Employment Series (YES) 2020 Summer Academy Applications Open

Our Youth Employment Series (YES Academy) is happening again this year for working-aged young people. Students take part in interactive learning opportunities as they participate in work-based learning experiences. They’ll meet life-long friends, mentors and supportive LightHouse staff. They will also have the opportunity to go to one of the biggest blindness conventions in the world. Not to mention, gaining skills needed to get hired.

Apply for the summer 2020 YES Academy

This transformative academy could not happen without the support of mentors and work-experience host organizations. If you or someone you know would be interested in serving in either of these roles, please contact Ann Wai-Yee Kwong, Transition Program Specialist, at youth@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7328.