For 17-year-old Shane Bonetti, autism isn't something that's holding him back from being a leader in his community.
He recently was one of 60 student delegates from across the state selected to attend a Youth Leadership Forum for students with disabilitties.
They gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to show lawmakers they have what it takes to become the leaders of tomorrow.
"I was excited when I found out," Shane said. "I want to go back next year as a staff member."
His mother, Debbie Bonetti, couldn't be more proud of her son, but at the same time was shocked.
"He's never really left us," she said. "But this was something he wanted and did completely on his own. Just because he has a disability doesn't mean he can't achieve his goals."
A Forum Fit for the Leaders of Tomorrow
For the past 20 years, the annual five-day forum has continued to help California students with disabilities reach their full personal and professional potential. A number of state agencies partner up each year to coordinate the forum.
The YLF delegates were selected to attend based on their individual achievements and leadership qualities they’ve displayed in their local communities.
The students also participated in leadership development programs, attended demonstrations of the latest technology and assistive devices, interactively learned about each other’s disabilities, watched presentations and gained advice from motivational speakers and mentors with disabilities.
Among his group of 60, Shane was one of five delegates chosen to meet with State Senator Ellen Corbett's associate for personal discussions about issues facing the disability community.
"My issue was that they shouldn't make cuts on special education," Bonetti said.
His other concern stemmed from an issue he personally struggled with: "Why should people with speech problems take a foreign language?"
The associate then told the delegates that he would relay their messages to the Sen. Corbett.
What Comes Next for Shane?
This soon-to-be senior at continues to be an advocate of Hayward's Community Resources for Independent Living program, an active volunteer at the concession stand and participant in track and field, bowling and basketball for the Special Olympics.
Most recently, he had saddled up to be part of .
"He always has a great attitude," said Denise Rodriguez, who manages the concession stand for Ashland Little League and who also wrote one of Shane's letters of recommendation to be part of YLF. "Whatever he's going to do [in the future], it'll be something that helps others."
Shane hopes to be a special education teacher because he is compassionate and gets along with children who have disabilities.
"You have to have a lot of patience and one thing this kid has is a lot of patience," Debbie said. "He's dedicated and he won't give up on you. He's just such a loving kid and has such a big heart."
Within months as a teacher's aide for a special education PE class at Arroyo High School, Shane had helped a girl with cerebral palsy hit a ball during class—a task the teacher had been trying to help her achieve all year.
"You should never stop fighting for disability rights," Shane said. "You should always feel proud of who you are no matter what your disability is."