Darke County DD hosts first Project STIR in Western Ohio

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Participants gather during Project STIR Training at Birchwood Training & Senior Center. Abigail Miller photo.

GREENVILLE—Darke County Board of Developmental Disabilities (DD) hosted Project STIR training for the first time ever this week.

Project STIR (Steps Toward Independence and Responsibility), ran by the Ohio Self Determination Association (OSDA), is a training program for self-advocates designed to provide people with disabilities with the tools to advocate for themselves, work with others in advocacy and gain leadership experiences.

The program hosts training about five times throughout the state a year. This week’s program is the first training held on the Western side of Ohio.

“We’re very pleased with the turn out,” Sue Huston, Darke County Board of DD Community Connections and Advocacy Coordinator said. “We’ve got 23 attendees, from 10 Ohio counties, and they like to cap it off at 30 people, so it’s nice to get close to that.”

The three-day training is for individuals with disabilities along with their ally. Allys may be a family member, staff person or friend. The training provides participants the tools to help self-advocate, connect with others and gain leadership skills. Trainers present information, give demonstrations, and involve people in small group activities and role plays.

Attendees learn:
• How to stand up for themselves
• How to speak up about things important to them
• How to become a leader
• How to solve problems
• Their rights and responsibilities
• How to start a local network group

“It’s the first time it’s on this side of the state,” Tonya Clark, Darke County Board of DD Superintendent said. “We wanted to bring the opportunity [for training] to those in our area, those who maybe don’t want to travel to a big city to participate.”

Ann Thomas, Ohio leader from Knox County, reiterated that the program encourages individuals with disabilities to speak up.

“We’re giving them tools on how to speak up with confidence,” she said. “It’s new to them. They’re learning how to use these new tools to better their lives, and to tell their community that, ‘We’re here, but we need your help to be more involved in our community.’ All people belong.”

Some legislative projects the training program discussed were the addition of automatic doors to restaurants and stores, as well as adding adult-sized changing tables in public restrooms.

Huston said a few Darke County Board of DD clients have already spoke to legislative leaders in Darke County, like Greenville Mayor Steve Willman, and the Darke County Board of Commissioners, about those projects.

An issue with trainings like Project STIR is that not all large spaces in Ohio are accessible to those with disabilities.

“OSDA actually reached out to us because they like our space [Birchwood Training & Senior Center],” Clark said. “Together we came up with dates that fit, and of course helped to spread the word.”

Since the training center opened during COVID-19, its long-awaited goal was to facilitate meetings and trainings on topics like advocacy, community engagement, living a healthy life, speak up stay safe, volunteer opportunities, and general community-based opportunities.

Clark said this is the first event of many that fulfill that goal.

“We hope to do it again,” Clark said.

The next Ohio Project STIR training will be in Chillicothe in May, with trainings in Cleveland, Columbus and Canton to follow this year.

Tomorrow, attendees will participate in a graduation ceremony, where they will receive a certificate of completion, and walk away as Ohio Leaders.

“As the Advocacy Coordinator in the community, we’ll take that, and really utilize what they learned here to do legislative advocacy, self-advocacy and advocacy within the community,” Huston said. “So this is really empowering us to take advocacy even further within Darke County.”

For any questions on Darke County Board of DD, follow the Darke County DD Facebook page, or contact Huston at sueh@darkedd.org.