LIFEPlan member and self-advocate on the Member & Family Advisory Council, Brendan Klein, 25, has turned his love for film-making and social media into opportunities for hundreds of other young adults with disabilities to make friends, share their experiences and have fun while helping others.
As a staff member at the Westchester Institute for Human Development, the Pleasantville, NY resident is dedicated to expanding community service opportunities for young adults who sometimes face social challenges. As the creator and founder of several Facebook social media groups such as Tic Tac Go, Get WIHD It and TTGo Green, Brendan organizes and promotes events including field trips to cultural venues, sporting events and other leisure activities, arts and crafts, and community service. The roughly 16 Facebook groups Brendan organizes are private to ensure everyone’s safety. For additional information or to join you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TTGo Green sponsors an ongoing Community Garden program focused on “Growing together – planting seeds of hope to grow food in our community,” where participants have fun getting outside and learning about gardening and working together as a team.
Brendan also creates promotional videos through “Brendan Klein Studios,” and his films have the feel of major Hollywood motion pictures, complete with opening and closing credits. The messages in between speak of hope, the benefits of teamwork and the importance of self-advocacy.
His message is growing quickly. He now has 16 Facebook groups with nearly 600 members and more in development. His recognition has sparked demand for his services throughout the county and state to assist others in creating these groups in his role as president of the WIHD Hear Our Voices campaign.
“Before I became ‘famous,’ there really weren’t a lot of these groups,” says Brendan with a chuckle. “Now there is so much demand that I am trying to teach others to do what I do. I am dedicated to helping people who want to create a group and self-advocate.”
In addition to enhancing the lives of his peers, Brendan is an inspiration to those who work with him. “Every time that I talk to Brendan, I am reminded of my purpose in the lives of each of the members that I support,” said his LIFEPlan Care Manager Stephanie Ryan. “Brendan reminds me of what it means to be an advocate and that advocacy is not about one meeting or one form, it is about commitment to people and their goals. It is not about showing up one day. It is about showing up every day and putting in the work to make things happen. Brendan leads by example and inspires me to find ways to do more each day to move each of my members toward their respective goals.”
The pandemic has brought new challenges to Brendan’s mission, as many activities have been limited due to precautions aimed at halting the virus. “There is so much anxiety and it is challenging for many of the people I work with,” says Brendan, noting that for many this has meant a retreat to isolation in their homes. “That’s why I am here I guess – to help my friends and guide them out of the darkness.”
He notes that while many businesses and activities have been closed, including fitness centers, that he is currently “bringing the gym to them” by leading his groups on socially distanced walks around the Kensico Dam in Valhalla, NY.
Last year Brendan was honored with three distinguished awards for his work in the Westchester community. He was named by the United Way’s Emerging Leaders Alliance as one of the winners of its United We Rock Awards, honoring community-minded and philanthropic young professionals and college students. Brendan was also recognized by Westfair Communications with a Millennial Award. For his outstanding work using social media to provide social opportunities for young people with disabilities, Brendan was also presented with the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State’s Media Innovator Award.
“Brendan is an outstanding young man who has worked tirelessly to connect young people with disabilities to social opportunities. This is so important for young people who often feel isolated,’’ said Susan Fox, President and CEO of the Westchester Institute of Human Development. “Outside his job, Brendan spends many hours volunteering for community organizations like the Pleasantville Community Garden and using his skills with social media to promote worthy causes. We are all very proud of Brendan, and so happy that all his achievements are being recognized.”
Brendan was already into social media and working in a warehouse when he says he was “discovered” by Naomi Brickel, Director of the Community Support network at WIHD. He was hired with a grant from the Taft Foundation. His mission is to engage his peers in integrated community service projects and expand inclusive social opportunities for young adults with disabilities in Westchester County. Brendan uses his social media, tech and video skills and personal outreach to help connect young people with disabilities to each other and integrate them into meaningful social activities in a way that is innovative and unique to the special needs community.
In addition to his work at WIHD and LIFEPlan, Brendan is also a passionate self-advocate at both the local and state level, participating as a WIHD Community Advisory Committee member, as a peer facilitator at Youth Power and as a member of Self Advocacy-New York State, or SANYS. Brendan will be presenting to his first national audience in November at the AUCD Conference in Washington, DC.
Brendan is very actively engaged in the community, both personally and with his social network. He volunteers at both the Pleasantville Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Pleasantville Community Garden, where he received the volunteer of the year award in 2017. Brendan was so inspired by the garden work and its mission that he decided tobring its therapeutic benefits to WIHD, spearheading a campaign to revive the garden with the WIHD Child Welfare program.
Brendan cites his Mom, family and friends as his biggest influences, and offered special thanks to his assistant, partner and cheerleader MinhChau Nguyen. Brendan is the youngest of four brothers and a lifelong Pleasantville resident as well as a cancer survivor. He is a proud graduate of the PUFSD/Pace University Lab School program and was the recipient of the 2013 Overcoming the Odds award from Student Advocacy in Elmsford, NY.