Emerson Lout – Chairman and Founder
Throughout my life, I’ve had the pleasure of working with individuals with disabilities in school, extracurricular activities and simply in the community. Whether it was working at the Special Olympics, or working with students in school, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the pure compassion and joy emanated by these individuals. At Texas A&M University, I found that we offered some fantastic educational programs for individuals with IDD, but due to the tremendous costs of attending a postsecondary institution, many students were unable to attend. Programs like the Aggie ACHIEVE and PATHS Certificate programs provide a unique opportunity for individuals with IDD to receive an education, learn to live independently and pursue a career they are passionate about. They give the students a chance to experience all of the exciting parts of life that many of us take for granted. Therefore, we decided that we would do whatever it took to make these programs more accessible and alleviate the financial burden of an education for these students. In the spring of 2019, with the help of a great group of friends and colleagues, we were able to start STRIDES.
Margaret Hood – Vice Chairwoman
Hi, I am Margaret Hood, a junior at Vanderbilt University majoring in Human and Organizational Development with an emphasis in Education Policy. During high school, I lead our campus chapter of Best Buddies, a nonprofit focused on creating lasting friendships and support for individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Carrying on these friendships I made through Best Buddies into college, I watched many of these friends and parents struggle to figure out what would be the best “next step” for them after graduation. Additionally, I have gotten to explore these kinds of questions and more through my education policy curriculum, especially as I delve into an independent study in higher education access and policy. So, when Emerson pitched the idea of STRIDES to me, it was a no brainer— I was all in and excited to get to work. I am proud to be a board member of a nonprofit organization that is helping increase access to students with disabilities to pursue what could be the best next step for them.
Jim Lout – Secretary
Having close friends who have children with disabilities, I have learned about the day-to-day struggles they can face and the hopes and dreams they have for their children to become successful, thriving adults. Universities have stepped up to help families meet this challenge by developing higher education programs for students with disabilities. However, the financial burden associated with higher education can limit many from participating. STRIDES is trying to help remove that limitation. When my son brought this idea to me, I was proud that he wanted to commit his time and resources to individuals who needed help. However, I was hesitant because I knew how difficult his journey would be. Of course, I wanted to support him wholeheartedly, and it made it more special when my daughter joined him as a founding officer. I am now even more sold on this great organization after witnessing the heart and effort this entire group of young people are putting into STRIDES. They are working hard to make a long-standing source of assistance that will not only help students at their university, but also pioneer new programs at other universities. My role is to serve as an advisor to the STRIDES team, using my management and board experience. I am so proud of the countless hours they have invested to help change the future for so many college students.
Finding fulfillment through everyday activities, relationship building, and an engaging workplace are things that all people deserve an opportunity to do. Self-actualization looks different in every individual’s life, and college plays a large role in that journey for some. I am passionate about the work STRIDES does because they lessen the financial burdens and make college more accessible for incredible students who want nothing more than to develop themselves through fantastic programs like Aggie ACHIEVE and PATHS. I am thankful to be joining the STRIDES board after serving as the Director of Corporate Outreach. Nothing has been more rewarding than getting to send award letters to the deserving applicants who will be enrolling at A&M; I am excited to see the impact this organization has within the IDD community in years to come.
Before helping found STRIDES, I was insulated in my experience with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I knew very few individuals and their pursuit of post-secondary education was not an issue that was on the forefront of my mind. However, after investigating the challenges faced by students at Texas A&M and at other universities across the country, I realized how difficult the process truly is and became exceedingly invested in working to change that. During my time with STRIDES I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with fantastic people, both inside and outside our organization, that inspire me in my work on a daily basis. Additionally, developing personal relationships with students in the PATHS and ACHIEVE program has provided validation for STRIDES’ endeavors and goes to show just how incredible the students we are working to assist truly are. I am very proud of STRIDES’ impact up to date but know that it pales in comparison to what we will achieve in the future. I cannot wait to see what that will look like.