Gala to celebrate WCU program inclusive of students with intellectual disabilities
JACKSON COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) —
This weekend, a Western Carolina University program that helps students with intellectual disabilities live more independently will celebrate its 10-year anniversary.
It’s called the University Participant or U.P. program. It’s a two-year living and learning program with the goal of transitioning students into jobs and independent living once they graduate.
Program graduate Cody Thompson works at BH Graning Landscapers in Sylva.
“The U.P. program has helped me with, like, setting new goals. I go after them of, like, what I really want to work on, and, so far, I’ve succeeded. I've done it,” he said.
BH Graning vice president Roger Murajda has nothing but praise.
“It benefits the student, and our experience with Cody has been nothing but a positive for us,” Murajda said.
Independent living for Thompson includes getting his own apartment with program support help.
“It's been really cool to see Cody go from us reminding him to him self-monitoring,” U.P. support worker Gretchen Reece said.
The program, which has an employment rate of more than 90 percent, falls under WCU’S College of Education and Allied Professions.
The dean said it's rewarding not just to the handful of participants each year, but to faculty, staff and, especially, to fellow students.
“They're the ones who get recruited to be involved, to help with the living in the residence halls, going to activities,”Dr. Kim Winter said.
“They're my favorite part of being here at school, hanging out with them and working with them,” U.P. support student Katie Rhoney said.
U.P. student Kincade Fuller is excited about his future.
“I graduate in May 2019 and plan on working at a skate shop,” he said.
Program co-director Kelly Kelley said a celebration of U.P.’s decade of success promoting inclusion is planned for Saturday night at Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville.
“We want to be able to put some funding into scholarships for students that maybe didn’t have the opportunity to save for college because they've been told, 'no,' they could never go to college,”Kelley said. “We feel like we've been a beacon of hope for a lot of programs, and we continue to try to be a good model."
Kelley said WCU is helping UNC Chapel Hill develop a similar program called Hills Up.