SJCS Stories

Interview with Laura Strmel, Regional Director, SJCS-DE

There are times when the adage ‘it takes a village’ to describe a successful accomplishment can be over used. Just ask Laura Strmel, our Delaware Regional Director, and she’ll probably tell you that, as cliché as it sounds, it is still true. Over the last few months, Laura has been putting the finishing touches on a new community partnership with the University of Delaware-Wilmington and their Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS). This exciting new opportunity offers secondary education for individuals with disabilities, allowing them to pursue a certificate in the Career and Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program. SJCS-DE will bring its expertise in employment services to support students in this program to get and keep jobs while in school and after graduation. We are thrilled to have a new initiative available in the communities SJCS-DE serves.

CDS is a member of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), a national network of interdisciplinary centers that are advancing policy and practice through research, education, leadership and services for and with individuals that have developmental and other disabilities. Located at the University of Delaware in the College of Education and Human Development, CDS is one of over sixty University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities in the country.

As partners SJCS-DE and CDS share similar missions. CDS’ mission is “to enhance the lives of individuals and families through education, prevention, service, and research related to disabilities.” They too promote independence and productivity so individuals and their families can fully participate in the life of their communities in Delaware and beyond.

Recently I spoke with Laura about this exciting new chapter for SJCS-DE, and to get more detail on how SJCS will be working together with the CLSC program.

AM: What makes this program important to the clients SJCS-DE is serving?

LS: The University of Delaware (UD) is creating access by developing numerous opportunities and connections for students with disabilities as they move into the world of work and life after the CLSC program.

AM: What makes this program important to community of the University and the State?

LS: UD is one of the largest contributors to its surrounding communities in Delaware. They contribute and participate in both the social and economic landscapes that shape not only the individuals they educate, but have far reaching stakes in the communities they participate in after graduation. They have a long history of community involvement and service and are known for their stewardship and are well respected. Any partnership with UD shows SJCS-DE’s investment in the community and those we support. People pay attention to partners with UD and see positive outcomes resulting from these partnerships.

AM: From your perspective, what is the best aspect of the CLSC program?

LS: There is a huge amount of team support for the students who participate in the CLSC program, along with staff, SJCS-DE and families of the students. All the students who take part in the program are highly motivated to begin work or continue their education. This program allows for them to better prepare themselves on all personal and social levels to interact and work in the communities they choose to after graduation. They also gain greater independence to make life choices.

AM: What are the future plans for this program?

LS: For my role and the leadership of SJCS, we want to develop internship opportunities within the CLSC program as a first step to the working world. Right now there is great promise to work with Year One students in Guided Group Discovery. This group process allows students to begin exploring their community connections that can aid in a job search. During this 6-week participation course, guided by SJCS staff, the group meets weekly to self-advocate and formulate the direction of their job-seeking and career goals.

AM: What is the greatest success so far with CLSC?

LS: The work with UD is just beginning. To have identified a trusted and like-minded partner in parallel missions is a huge accomplishment. Both SJCS-DE and UD believe in advocacy and providing opportunities for people with disabilities on all levels, and it is this like-mindedness that will create new gateways into employment and living that many of us once thought might not be possible.

CLSC, UD, and SJCS-DE are all engaged in improving the lives of people with disabilities and their loved ones through protection, aiding, and studying the world of disability. Independent living is very important to the inclusive mission of those with disabilities. All three organizations value having jobs that fit the career needs of people they support, attending college, and ensuring they live the best life possible. This connection plants the seed of all-around disability empowerment. Networking among these three organizations is a strong way to true justice for people of all walks of life.