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Kidsburgh Hero: Pancho Timmons of PA Youth Initiative, champion of kids with disabilities

H. Pancho Timmons was about to drop out of Slippery Rock University when a 5-minute conversation changed his life. His writing teacher recognized his classroom struggles as undiagnosed dyslexia and encouraged him to get the proper help.

He followed that advice, stayed in school and went on to earn a couple of master’s degrees.

His early experience overcoming a disability helped direct his career of helping others. He worked for 14 years with the Office of Rehab Services, but he felt he could do more and moved on.

Today, at age 42, Pancho is the CEO of Pennsylvania Youth Initiative (PYI), an organization that gives career opportunities to transition-aged kids with disabilities and increases workplace diversity and inclusion.

Approximately 275,000 students in Pennsylvania have a disability. The unemployment rate for them is double that of the rest of the population, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.

In the nearly two years since PYI formed, the organization has helped more than 300 job-seekers find happiness and employment.

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Pancho Timmons and a PA Youth Initiative teen and her resume poster in preparation for the Reverse Job Fair.

High school juniors and seniors throughout Allegheny County will attend PYI’s Reverse Job Fair on May 16 at Plum High School. With help from staff and volunteers, students create displays – picture tri-fold, stand-up resumes – that exemplify their skills, interests and goals. The displays allow company representatives walking through the room to see what the kids have to offer employers. The event includes a networking lunch and advice from guest speaker David Loshelder, an author and leadership expert with 3LG Solutions.

Local employers have been receptive to the idea. Corporate donations are PYI’s biggest funding source. Sponsorship opportunities are still available.

“None of our events work without companies talking to our kids about real-world issues,” Pancho says.

PYI also sponsors a Youth Business Leadership Seminar where students work on a small business plan. They practice their networking skills by contacting employers for information about their businesses. Kids are partnered with an email pen pal to practice professional online correspondence.

During State Rep. Dan Miller’s annual Disability & Mental Health Summit in March, high school students learned networking, leadership and advocacy skills so they can voice their ideas and concerns to local politicians.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Pancho says. “We’re in an age of massive growth looking to expand our message and be as much value to the community as we can right now.”