It was officially a fundraiser, complete with fancy dresses, smart suits, great food and a silent auction. But to many in attendance, the 2018 University Participant Program Benefit Gala was like a family reunion, with picture taking, memory sharing, handshakes and hugs.
The University Participant Program at Western Carolina University is completing a decade of helping college-age individuals with intellectual disabilities transition into a more engaged and independent way of living, and those involved in the program are organizing an April fundraising event to mark that milestone.
Western Carolina University faculty members Kelly Kelley and David Westling say they have learned a lot about assisting individuals with intellectual disabilities as they transition into the world of work and independent living over the past decade through the University Participant Program that they co-direct on campus.
With plans to start a similar program at their school, representatives from an Austrian teachers college spent a day-and-a-half on the Western Carolina University campus to get a close look at the University Participant Program, WCU’s two-year, on-campus living-and-learning experience for college-age adults with intellectual disabilities.
After having a University Participant Program student in her classroom for the first time last year, Vicki Faircloth, a Western Carolina University associate professor in the College of Education and Allied Professions, told colleague David Westling, “This is fabulous. We need to do more. We need to reach out to schools.” It was her first experience with the inclusion of a special needs student.
It was a year-and-a-half ago that Western Carolina University’s director of athletic bands, David Starnes, was asked by United Sound founder Julie Duty to help put together a board for her nonprofit organization, which provides musical performance experiences for students with special needs.
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.