During our second year of the Next Steps Summer Program, we were introduced to many local students interested in expanding their independent living skills. Our objective with the program is to provide a comprehensive plan preparing students for college and beyond. But not all participants are the same, so their journey to independence shouldn’t be either.

The Next Steps Summer Program is a component of The Ability Center’s (ACT) Life Skills Department designed to prepare students with disabilities for college and post-secondary training. Students enter the summer program ready to increase their independence and foster leadership abilities. Ana McGuire connected with our program just before the summer of 2017, after being referred by friends who participated last year.

Ana recalls, “My parents and I decided to contact the organization to learn about how to live with my disability.” Ana is hearing impaired and uses hearing aids and cochlear implants. Her disability has been ongoing since birth, although she wasn’t diagnosed until the age of two when she was adopted from an orphanage in Russia.

Never letting her disability hinder her love for the arts, Ana captures moments with her camera and has a deep appreciation for music. She reveals, “My favorite hobbies are nature and bird photography and writing in my journal about my life ever since I was in junior high. It’s helped me to express my feelings and find my goals for the future.” Her interest in the arts paired perfectly with her Next Steps Summer Program employment placement with the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA). All students were linked to a local organization or business and were provided real world work experience. For Ana, it was glimpse at her dream job. “Because of The Ability Center, my life has changed by making friends and working at the Toledo Museum of Art. My favorite part was helping the little kids with art,” she reveals.

During her time with TMA, Ana jumped right in to programming and assisted in the Family Center. A friendly face and a helping hand, Ana thrived in the environment. Students were paid minimum wage for their four-week work experience, but collected skills that will impact them for a lifetime.

The staff at TMA shared Ana’s sentiments about the experience, “The Toledo Museum of Art participates in the Next Steps Summer Program because, as an employer in the community, it’s our responsibility to help all people acquire the necessary skills to become gainfully employed,” TMA Human Resources Manager, Siccorah Martin said. “The Museum takes pride in assisting in the development of future leaders in the community through participation in programs such as this one.”

“Ana has been a welcome addition to the Family Center staff this summer,” said Family Center Manager, Regina Jankowski. “Not only have the students benefitted from the Next Steps Summer Program, but it’s been a wonderful experience for Museum staff and Family Center visitors.”

As she looks to the future, she envisions becoming a college graduate and successful musician. She shares, “I plan to go to Owens Community College. Also, I will be joining the Sylvania Community Orchestra where I will play violin and may be signing up for a photography class.” Ana is now actively engaged in our Life Skills programming and currently attending classes to further enhance her independent living skills. This program is assisting individuals like Ana navigate through challenges and provide decision making skills that the participants will need entering their next stage of life.