Preparing Youth for College & Career—The Ability Center’s Life Skills Program

The Ability Center works hard to empower individuals with disabilities by teaching skills to help with socializing, working, and living independently. In 2017, The Ability Center’s Community Connections Program was restructured. Renamed the Life Skills Program, there is now a renewed focus on helping youth with disabilities develop employability and independent living skills.

Developing skills for life

The program aims to provide youth and young adults, ages 13-26, with interactive classes that will help them with post-secondary school or competitive employment. The classes focus on two major categories; soft skills and employability and independent living. Soft skills and employability include classes such as communication, networking, professionalism, and self-advocacy. Independent living classes include cooking/nutrition, financial management, sex education, and future care planning/benefits counseling, which helps participants to solidify long-term arrangements regarding housing, insurance, and caregivers.

Mallory Tarr, Community Relations Specialist for The Ability Center, explained that the staff design the classes, all of which are held at The Ability Center, to be engaging and hands-on for the students. “It is important to create a comfortable environment for students to ask questions, form their own opinions, and to learn valuable skills. Staff will support them through high school and into their post-secondary education to ensure they are receiving the accommodations they need to achieve their goals and to gain competitive employment.”

The staff teaches most of the classes, though experts do come in to share their knowledge on certain subjects. For instance, Planned Parenthood comes in to help with sex education classes, Fifth Third Bank helps with money management classes, and The Toledo Police Department provides instruction for personal safety classes.

The Ability Center can also facilitate presentations for teachers, parents, and students to educate local school districts about the benefits of the programming and how to get connected to the services.

Connor Smenner.
Connor Smenner.

Wendy Smenner, Conor’s mother: “My son Conor was very blessed to have had this experience. He gained strengths in so many areas, job skills, advocacy, and true dorm life. All of the staff was awesome, and he made some very valuable connections with others who have disabilities.”

Nick Hyndman.
Nick Hyndman.

Nick Hyndman: “I am thankful to have been chosen to be a part of this wonderful program. This program has given me confidence in myself that I didn’t know I had. It has allowed me to become proud to be disabled because I’ve been surrounded by fellow people with disabilities that are absolutely wonderful people. I leave this program a better person and with a new perspective on disability and life.”

Donny Stewart (right).
Donny Stewart (right).

Donny Stewart: “Something that worried me was being able to successfully live on my own. I am so thankful I was able to be a part of the Next Steps Summer Program. I was given the tools and help I needed to reassure myself that I am capable of successfully living on my own. I saw everyone overcome their disability.. I know I’ve already done a lot, in terms of overcoming my autism, but it gave me hope that I could do even more.”

For more information, please visit

Upcoming Classes

August 28: Employment Class begins
September 5: Cooking & Nutrition Class begins