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.
Wesley Thompson – Vice Chairman
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.
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.
I first found my connection to the disability community through friendship. In elementary school I began to develop close friendships with my peers with disabilities and I often reflect fondly on many of the typical elementary memories that I got to share with them – field day, recess, PE, and so much more. As I grew up however, I began to realize that my friends with disabilities had increasingly less access to the same opportunities that I had. This became the most evident when I began applying for college and began to realize that there were almost no post-secondary educational opportunities for my friends who wanted to live independently, attend college classes, and have the college experience just like everyone else. That is why I believe so strongly in the PATHS and Aggie ACHIEVE program and the mission of STRIDES. Everyone deserves to be able to work hard and attend college if that is their desire. Everyone deserves to have a community and to feel valued, seen, and appreciated. I am proud to be both an Aggie and a member of the STRIDES board and I cannot wait to see how many doors are opened for students with disabilities on this campus and beyond!