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Chelsea Tobin, Miss
Deaf America 2006-2008, grew up on a farm in rural South Dakota. Her sparkling
eyes and contagious smile are equal only to her enthusiasm and dedication
to growing within, while serving others. I get my information first hand:
Ive worked with her over the last four years.
The day I met her,
I entered the counselors office at her Pierpont, South Dakota, high
school, eager to put a face to the name of this girl who had applied to
take part in our states Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). The week-long,
state-wide training program is for students, ages 15-21, who have disabilities.
Within moments of her entering the room, Chelseas charisma, maturity,
and zest for life were branded on my memory. Of course we welcomed her
into the program.
During the training,
she seemed to naturally absorb the information we covered, including education,
employment, self-advocacy, and community-service. She also began to incorporate
the life skills we taught her into her daily routine. A year later, she
returned to the YLF program to serve as a team leader to her peers. And
the year after that, she took on the role of Master of Ceremonies for
the whole, week-long session.
I realized by
my senior year in high school that I could participate in the Miss Deaf
South Dakota competition, and possibly even in Miss Deaf America,
Chelsea says. And since I was taught to seize every opportunity,
I realized that these were just that.
While she participated in the national Miss Deaf America program, a two-week event, held in Palm Desert, California, her hometown fans eagerly opened her e-mail updates, chocked full of photos and snippets of stories she would tell us in full upon her return. The closer to the final competition, the more the hometown enthusiasm mounted. And when the final votes were tallied, Chelseas fans were ecstatic. Once again, she walked away with the crown, and an opportunity to serve an even larger community.
As Miss Deaf America,
Chelsea is the ambassador for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD),
which represents about 28 million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals
across the country. She takes part in question-and-answer sessions; offers
welcoming remarks at NAD events; presents awards at its ceremonies and
judges its talent performances at competitions. (Chelseas own performance
art includes theatrical interpretations of Dr. Seuss rhymes in American
Sign Language). She also offers workshops around her favorite topic.
is Vanquishing Audism, Chelsea says, referring to the
term given by the Deaf Community to acts of discrimination that take place
due to someones hearing loss and/or deafness. I wanted to
choose something that directly affects the Deaf Community. She talks
to classrooms with as few as 30 students, to conference centers of 300
people or more, and, she says, I always include the importance of
self-advocacy. Ones personal actions can have a huge and powerful
effect in combating discrimination in todays society.
In late 2006, Chelsea
studied at Washington DCs Gallaudet University, a liberal-arts college
that specializes in deaf culture. The credits she earned there will be
applied towards her Bachelors degree in Deaf Education with Early
Childhood Certification from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota,
where she is currently a sophomore. At this writing, she was doing an
internship at Metro Deaf School in St. Paul, Minnesota, and credits earned
there will also be applied to her Bachelors. Ultimately, her goal
is to serve as an outreach consultant for the South Dakota Department
of State, serving families with a deaf child or deaf children.
After that, the sky is the limit, she said. We are so lucky as young people today. There are so many opportunities and so many possibilities out there. I am excited to see what life throws at me. ....Continued in ABILITY Magazine
by Betsy Valnes
For more about the
leadership opportunities mentioned above:
Association of Youth
Leadership Forums, www.montanaylf.org (For the link to the association,
look toward the bottom of the left-hand column.) Youth Leadership Forums
(YLFs) are state-specific leadership programs for high school-age students
National Youth Leadership
of the Deaf/Miss Deaf American Program, www.nad.org/mda. The Miss Deaf
America Program is a bi-annual leadership competition for young women
who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
www.gallaudet.edu, is a liberal-arts college in Washington DC. It provides
Bachelors and graduate programs for deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing
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