UP Program honorees celebrate accomplishments

University Participant Program graduates, from left, Corey Hambrick from Jackson County, Anna Grace Davis from Clay County, Elizabeth Pritchett from Buncombe County and Aaron Hoefs from Haywood County celebrate completion of their certificates of accomplishment.

University Participant Program graduates, from left, Corey Hambrick from Jackson County, Anna Grace Davis from Clay County, Elizabeth Pritchett from Buncombe County and Aaron Hoefs from Haywood County celebrate completion of their certificates of accomplishment.

The first cohort of four University Participant Program students at Western Carolina University celebrated successfully completing requirements to earn an UP Certificate of Accomplishment from Educational Outreach on Friday, April 27, with a graduation ceremony and cookout in which they learned about disc golf.

Western Carolina University’s UP program provides an inclusive, two-year, on-campus living and learning experience for college-aged persons with intellectual disabilities. Graduating participants completed 1,800 hours of activities in areas of personal development, vocational preparation, community participation, social participation and learning and academic access.

More than 100 WCU students attended the ceremony held in Niggli Theatre for UP graduates Corey Hambrick from Jackson County, Anna Grace Davis from Clay County, Elizabeth Pritchett from Buncombe County and Aaron Hoefs from Haywood County.

The ceremony took place after a disc golf and cookout celebration at the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Pavilion in which attendees learned basic skills, rules and etiquette of disc golf.

UP Program participants Anna Grace Davis and David Maennle enjoy disc golf.

UP Program participants Anna Grace Davis and David Maennle enjoy disc golf.

Health and physical education faculty members in the School of Teaching and Learning Justin Menickelli, associate professor, and Chris Tuten, instructor, presented the participants with free discs and equipment made possible with a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association and support from David Shope from INNOVA/EDGE so participants could experience something that combined fun and exercise that they could enjoy for a lifetime, Menickelli said.

We were not prepared for the excitement and sheer joy we would both elicit and experience,” said Menickelli, comparing their experience to Owen Wilson’s and Vince Vaughn’s characters in the movie “Wedding Crashers.”

“We had a simple plan,” said Menickelli. “Crash the party. Bring gifts. Try to fit in. And much like the central theme of the film, we discovered that under the surface of it all, things run much deeper.”

After a demonstration, UP students and about 50 program volunteers and parents began tossing discs and before long were making 20-foot putts.

“Each time we heard rattling chains, the celebration that followed was as if the putt was for a major tournament win,” said Menickelli. “Bear hugs and beaming smiles abounded.”

Research shows obesity rates for people with disabilities in the United States are about 36 percent – 13 percent higher than those without disabilities, said Menickelli. Playing 18 holes of disc golf, which typically involves walking roughly three miles, could help fight obesity.

For more information about the University Participant Program, visit up.wcu.edu.