Mia: Acquiring Skills to Lead and Motivate Others



Mia lives in Des Moines, Iowa. She enjoys running, swimming, bicycling, movies, and traveling with her friends and boyfriend. She also enjoys speaking and singing in front of large groups of people. In high school, Mia participated in theater and speech competitions. She also is an avid reader and writer and enjoys communicating through her written work and videos. Mia is now putting all of these skills and interests together to run her own business.

What's Important

Mia stands at a podium, with a microphone in front of her, hands grasping the sides of the podium, and smilingMia's parents have always been strong supporters, networking to help her find resources and mentors. The year before Mia graduated from high school, she and her dad attended a conference in Ohio where she met Essie Pederson. Essie had grown up with a brother with Down syndrome. She knew that opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to become well educated and employed were rare.

Essie was creating a program in Cincinnati, Ohio called Capabilities Unlimited. This program would offer educational and employment opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities. Mia consulted with Essie, showed her some stories she had written, and told her about plans she had for the future, including her idea to start her own business. Essie gave Mia the chance to do an internship with Capabilities Unlimited. Mia would move to Cincinnati, learn to live independently, take classes, and work on a career plan.

Mia was full of enthusiasm about the internship. She started putting her skills to use right away, working on a grant proposal with Essie. The grant would pay for a meeting of people with intellectual disabilities in Ohio. At the meeting, they would decide if the state was ready to start a chapter of People First. People First is an organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities advocate for themselves and achieve their goals.

Mia had never written a grant before, so Essie talked with her about what should go in each section of the proposal. They submitted the grant proposal--and they got the money they needed! As word spread about the Ohio meeting, Mia and Essie wrote more proposals to pay for the growing number of people who wanted to attend.

Mia had never run an event like this before. But during the three-day meeting, she relied on her writing and public speaking skills. She took notes on a whiteboard and made sure that everyone could participate easily. She also learned to explain the discussion topics in ways that were accessible to everyone. Essie encouraged Mia to increase her leadership responsibilities with each session of the meeting. Getting more and more responsibility felt great to Mia, and she proved her skills as a meeting facilitator. At the end of the meeting, the group decided to start a chapter of People First in Ohio--and they elected Mia the new chapter's first president.

Through Capabilities Unlimited, Mia took classes at Xavier University that related to her future goals. In one class, she worked hard to develop her presentation skills. Mia also did more planning about starting her own business. She decided that in her business, she would work as a motivational speaker. This means that she would travel around giving talks about her experiences and sharing what she had learned. Mia decided to call her new business Aiming High.

Essie introduced Mia to a small-business community group. The group liked a presentation Mia gave about Aiming High, and they helped her write a business plan.

Mia worked on polishing up the presentation she wanted to give as part of Aiming High. She practiced it several times for one of her professor's classes. She also gave it as a speech for a meeting of Toastmasters International, a group that improves people's public speaking skills. As word spread about Mia, she was invited to speak to larger groups. At one convention of the National Down Syndrome Congress, she was the keynote speaker, and spoke in front of 2,000 people.

Meanwhile, Essie and a colleague, Tia Nelis, got a grant focused on developing leadership skills. This grant paid for them to adapt a self-help program called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This seemed like a natural fit for Mia. She joined this project and learned to apply the program's principles. Mia enjoyed presenting the program to groups. She started out presenting just those parts she liked and understood best, and gradually took on other sections too.

What Happened

A portrait-style headshot of Mia smiling against a blue-gray backgroundMia runs her business, Aiming High, and gives presentations at conferences and for organizations. Her father helped her create business cards and manages her travel plan and finances. Her mother helps her tailor her speeches for each new audience. In Mia's talk, she shares her story of growing up as a person with a disability, learning to work on her strengths and get support in other areas of her life, and becoming a successful business person and advocate. Mia also continues to develop other public-speaking employment opportunities. She has presented parts of the Seven Habits curriculum and has coached people with disabilities to speak to others more confidently and make sure they understand what other people are telling them. Her work training other people to be advocates also led to her participation in a work group that studied how Iowans receive disability and mental health services and made recommendations to improve service delivery.

Lessons Learned

  • Define strengths and interests. When looking for a job or exploring a career, individuals should know what their strengths and interests are. Job developers, family members, and mentors can help people figure out their strengths. Mia identified her strengths on her own in high school and explored them in her internship and with help from her mentor, Essie, and decided what she wanted to do with them.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to learn. Mia seized every opportunity to improve her skills. She took classes on giving presentations and practiced presenting whenever possible.
  • Just do it! Find something you love to do and don't be afraid to do it.

For more information, contact:
Mia Peterson