Group picture of camp attendees at the UK Student Center steps

Summer Leadership Experience 2023

What comes next after you graduate high school?

When students toss their caps in the air, a whole new world opens up and they’re faced with a number of new choices that could have a profound effect on their future. Choices like that are hard to make. How do you further your education? Do you go straight into the workforce? It’s difficult for everyone, with added stresses for students with disabilities.

But the UK Human Development Institute’s Summer Leadership Experience Camp exists to help make those decisions a little less scary and make it easier to adjust to that next step in the educational process which could lead to a career. The camp invites speakers who can help young adults find the right choice for the next stage in their lives and how to take advantage of accessibility resources available – and how to push beyond challenges like getting academic accommodations and dealing with social stigma.  

July 2023 was the seventh time the camp has been held, and according to HDI Disability Program Administrator Teresa Belluscio, who leads the team that makes the camp happen, it went wonderfully this year.

“I thought we had a really good group of campers. We had a total of twelve,” Belluscio said. “We had some really good speakers. Speakers were really compelling and engaging.”

Speakers ranged from perennial favorite Cody Clark, an autistic magician who did a special show one day, followed by a talk on resilience the next, a panel college disability service offices to talk about how to access vital accommodations, support and resources, to Travis Freeman, a Kentucky pastor who, in high school, became the first blind football player in America and was the inspiration for the film 23 Blast.

“We packed this camp with so much,” Belluscio said. “There’s more we could do, but we don’t want to make it so busy to where campers are just sitting and sitting in session after session.”

To that end, this year’s camp departed from previous years – fewer speakers, but more fun activities. Students visited the UK Esports Lounge, held dance parties, relaxed at bookstores, and even more. Belluscio thinks this gave the camp a better balance of useful information and fun and made it more effective.

“We made it a little less busy. We built in a little more time in between sessions,” she said. “Even though we were busy, we didn’t feel as rushed.”

Isaiah Jones, one of the campers who attended this year, said that he enjoyed his experience and got a lot out of it.

“It was great,” he said. “The speakers are really helpful because they get to tell you what career you get to choose, how you can get help from your disability center, and what majors to expect you can take.”

He will be attending UK as a freshman soon and felt like he especially benefitted from learning to navigate the campus. But as useful was a taste of the college experience – living in a dorm and with a roommate.

For some, the camp was a powerful experience, giving them the opportunity to see a potentially great future for themselves.

“One of the campers told me after engaging in Cody Clark’s session on reliable resilience, ‘It was like I was looking at myself from the outside,’” Belluscio said. “They connected so much.”

A group of high school campers sitting in UK Student Center

UK Human Development Institute Welcomes Kentucky High School Upperclassmen with Disabilities to Apply to its Summer Leadership Experience Camp 

The University of Kentucky Human Development Institute will host its Summer Leadership Experience camp for its sixth consecutive summer. The transitional experience camp, which will take place July 6-9, welcomes rising high school juniors and seniors with disabilities in Kentucky to apply. The camp, which is sponsored by Kentucky’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, offers both in-person and virtual options. The in-person camp is available to students who are current clients of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the virtual camp is open to students who are not.  

According to Teresa Belluscio, Human Development Institute disability specialist and Summer Leadership Experience director, the camp is perfect for students who are planning to continue their education after high school, whether through a university, community college, internship, apprenticeship or other special program or training. The camp is designed to introduce the students to new experiences they can’t get at home, such as navigating a college campus and sharing space with a roommate, while also providing practical information sessions.  

The information sessions are available in-person to students, as well as virtually to parents and virtual campers. In previous summers, representatives from UK’s Disability Resource Center have come in for panel discussions, teaching students how to navigate disability resources in university settings and how to set up accommodations. In another information session, a representative from the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority came to talk to students about KEES money–scholarships available to all Kentucky students based on GPA and other metrics.  

“We want them to understand the financial piece, because most high school students really don’t,” Belluscio said. 

In a hands-on activity, campers are given a schedule of active UK courses and taken to the campus bookstore to track down the textbooks needed for each course. Students work together in small groups to locate each textbook and write down the books’ prices. Belluscio then leads a discussion on the various options for college textbooks–such as renting, buying used books and eBooks. Belluscio and camp staff help the students understand why you might choose one type of book over another depending on the course and your own needs. 

Students at the in-person camp stay in residence halls on UK’s campus and eat meals in a UK dining hall. The days are broken up with recreational activities, such as rock climbing at the Johnson Center. Evenings are filled with fun and motivational guest speakers. 

“A favorite is Cody–who is autistic, went to college, has a degree and built a business for himself as a magician,” Belluscio said. “He’s an all-time favorite. He did multiple sessions last year, from a magic show, to talking about living with autism, to how he built his business.” 

Campers are sent evaluations at the end of camp each summer. Cody, the magician, got the highest ratings last year. 

“So we know which sessions [the students] really liked and what they enjoyed,” Belluscio said. 

Applications for the Summer Leadership Experience are due May 15. The in-person experience is limited to 20 campers. For more information and to begin your application, click here

For more information, contact Teresa Belluscio at 859-257-1714 or

Written by: Court Cox

Summer Leadership Camp Experience Group Picture

2021 Summer Leadership Experience Accepting Applications

The University of Kentucky Human Development Institute in partnership with the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation present the Summer Leadership Experience on July 7–10, 2021. All Kentucky high school upperclassmen (entering juniors and seniors) with disabilities are welcome to apply. Students can apply online at and pay the $50 application fee which includes a 3-night stay in a campus dorm, all meals & snacks, interactive sessions about education and career planning, financial assistance, and resources to develop skills needed to take steps after high school with confidence and success.  

The registration deadline is June 11, 2021. For more information, call 859-257-1714 or email Teresa Belluscio at

Woman with long brown hair wearing a blue shirt in front of a classroom of 7 students wearing a black sweatshirt, burgundy sweatshirt and hat, black sweatshirt with multi-colored lettering, tie dye blue and pink shirt, blue flannel shirt, navy sweatshirt. One student, wearing a white sweatshirt with black cartoons on it, has his hand raised.

Participate in the 2020 Virtual Summer Leadership Experience

The 2020 Virtual Summer Leadership Experience for Kentucky high school students with disabilities entering 11th or 12th grade will be held online from July 29 – 31 from 10:00am – 4:00pm daily. Register by July 12 at to reserve your spot. Campers with articulated plans to continue their education upon exiting high school are given priority acceptance.  Camp sessions include financial aid, access to resources to support student success, health and wellness, and leadership skill development.

This camp is sponsored by our partners at the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Contact for more information.


Woman with long brown hair wearing blue tshirt presenting to a class

Summer Leadership Experience

The University of Kentucky (UK) Human Development Institute (HDI) and the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation invites Kentucky high school students with disabilities entering their junior or senior year to apply for the Summer Leadership Experience. This three-day overnight camp on the campus of the University of Kentucky equips young adults to be successful in higher education like college, technical school, or apprenticeship after high school. Students will participate in skill-building activities in a variety of areas including advocacy, health and fitness, accommodations, independent living, technology, financial management, preparation for higher education or training, and much more.

The Summer Leadership Experience is held at the University of Kentucky. Students interested in attending should complete and submit an application, letter of recommendation, and $50 for registration, lodging, meals, and a t-shirt. The Camp Director will begin contacting applicants in April; however, the registration window is open until June 21, 2020.

The application can be accessed at If you need the application in another format, contact

Project Contact
Teresa Belluscio