Preparing the Next Generation of Advocates

Advocacy Academy in its ninth year

We are excited to be offering Advocacy Academy again this summer for the ninth year in Kalamazoo. Advocacy Academy is a six-week, paid, summer program for youth and young adults. After an introduction to the Disability Rights Movement, participants work as a group to select, plan and carry out a disability rights advocacy campaign.

Advocacy Academy provides training in advanced advocacy and leadership skills while participants do meaningful work in the Disability Rights Movement. Advocacy Academy also provides valuable employment experience and training which can be applied to other life experiences. Many of our previous participants have received employment recommendations based on their performance during Advocacy Academy.

We are currently accepting applications for Advocacy Academy 2020. We are seeking individuals with disabilities who are between 16–29 years of age, able to commit to the entire six-week position, and are motivated to increase their leadership skills. For more information or to apply for this year’s Advocacy Academy, go to Advocacy & Education in the Services area of our website ( or contact Miranda at or 269-345-1516 x120.

Meet Alex . . . An Advocacy Academy Graduate

At the age of 20, after completing high school, Alex was eager to move out on her own and be more independent. Alex has PTSD and a learning disability caused by early childhood trauma. She was living at home with her mom when she initially connected with Disability Network Southwest Michigan to work on finding and preparing for her first job. Alex is very ambitious and was eager to get a job and move out on her own. Our staff worked with her to develop her resume and submit job applications. When summer rolled around and Alex had not yet found employment, she applied for Disability Network’s summer internship program, Advocacy Academy in which participants learn about the disability rights movement and select a disability-related community issue to advocate. The program develops team-building skills and gives the interns experience in developing and implementing an advocacy campaign, in addition to learning general employment expectations and responsibilities. Alex was a natural working within the group dynamics; she quickly showed strong leadership skills and was very enthusiastic about the group’s advocacy work.

At the completion of Advocacy Academy, staff continued to work with Alex as she applied for jobs. Alex wanted to move out of her mother’s house and be more independent; staff worked with her on budgeting and financial independence. That fall, Alex got a job as a customer service representative at a local bowling alley. She enjoyed the work and quickly began assuming additional responsibilities and helped to train new employees. At the same time, a friend of hers was looking for a roommate and Alex was thrilled to move out on her own. Disability Network has continued to support Alex as she adjusts to her new independence; staff have assisted Alex in applying for food assistance, learning the public transportation system, and are working with her to obtain a drivers license.

Alex is being trained at work for a promotion to Shift Manger after just a couple of months of being hired. She is enjoying the freedom and independence of living on her own. Alex said that what she appreciates the most about Disability Network is that we have been available to her every step of the way—she knows she can go back to us whenever she needs assistance navigating something new.