Outreach to disabled sees growth toward independence

By November 11, 2010

USA (MNN) — The dilemma facing
all parents is how to help their children transition from childhood into

Teaching kids how to find appropriate
independence is a challenge made even more taxing when intellectual
disabilities are thrown into the mix.
In the early days, support for these families can be mixed.

As the intellectually disabled
child grows older, the support system for the families grows more skeletal,
until the child gets through high school and the parents find themselves
wondering "What now?"

While figuring out the answer to
that question, the student's progress may atrophy for lack of interaction with
peers. Post-secondary education programs,
like the one offered by Shepherds Ministries, provide a solution.

Shepherds Ministries Vice
President of Development, Dan DiDonato, says, "There are very few programs that
offer them specific, formal, advanced
education training, and no program that provides the combination of
educational, vocational, spiritual, residential and social programming that
we've developed with the program at Shepherd's College."

The college was launched two
years ago to help provide tools for the transition. Because it answers a need, the program has
seen explosive growth. DiDonato says
their first class had 6 or 7 students, five of whom graduate next June. In 2009, the school saw enrollment jump to 9
students, and all indications are projecting on a similar growth track. The school's third class yielded 14 new students.

If the pattern continues, the
college will be bursting its seams within a decade. In response, Shepherds already made significant
changes in dorms and renovated other areas of the campus to accommodate additional
classroom space.  

Shepherds College also built 2 new
apartment-styled buildings for second-year students, which were dedicated on
November 9. DiDonato
explains, "The new facilities that we built were designed specifically to
provide training for independent living for these students."

It's fantastic news for parents
who have high school special education students who graduate this year.   As with all private college searches, the
tuition can be a sticking point. However, DiDonato notes that in the near future, potential students can
apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid
(FAFSA) program. "We have just completed
accreditation review for accreditation candidacy. We expect that that's going to be received in
the beginning of February, so those students coming into our next class in July
2011 will be able to apply for grants and loans." 

The idea is to enable the
students. "When they leave here, they
can go back and live in an apartment with a roommate or be more independent
living in an area group home, and also be able to be vocationally trained so
that they would be capable of fulltime employment." 

Most importantly, the school
provides the framework for the students to continue their spiritual walk.  Evangelism is a natural part of the
discussion as spiritual disciplines are taught. "They have Old Testament class, they have New Testament class, and we
encourage them to get involved in local church ministries here while they're
with us at Shepherds. So again, when they leave us, they'll not only be able to be productive members of the society in their community, but also active
members, participating in ministries in their local churches."

Pray for both wisdom and
resources as the Shepherds team answers demanding challenges of growth and mission. There are more details on Shepherds College here.

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