First adults with disabilities finishing Judson program have found who they could be
College typically is about honing one's skills and homing in on a career pathway.
For Daniel Tiltges, it also was about learning to be a man and taking responsibility for his life.
Tiltges, 23, of St. Charles, is among the first graduating class of Judson University's Road to Independent Living, Spiritual Formation and Employment, or RISE, program for adults with intellectual disabilities.
"This program has taught me a lot of things ... how to live by myself ... how to grow as a man," said Tiltges, who aims to work for the Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team after graduation, having previously worked as a food runner for the organization and managed Judson's basketball team.
Twelve students started classes in August 2017 for the two-year postsecondary certificate program, which provides students 18 to 25 years old an opportunity to experience residential college life and develop independent living and work skills. Of those, eight students will be graduating today with the rest of the Elgin Christian liberal arts university's graduates.
Through RISE, students could study from among six subject areas -- business and entrepreneurship, Christian ministries, creative arts, education, health and wellness, and math and technology. They learned professional skills, person-centered planning, independent living skills, consumer math and money management, about current events, personal fitness and wellness, and daily living with Christian values. They also audited traditional classrooms within their chosen concentration and were placed in on- and off-campus internships based on their strengths and interests.
RISE students became part of the campus community, attending chapel services, basketball games and homecoming, eating in the cafeteria with other students, participating in the theater program and music ensembles, and living in shared dorm rooms. Program participants also were paired with traditional student mentors who helped them in the areas of housing, job, study and volunteer social skills.
"I've become a more confident person," said Emily Rogers, 26, of Elgin. "I found out that I'm a really good leader and able to help people."
Judson's program provided the support she needed, especially after losing her father two years ago, Rogers said.
A higher-functioning student, Rogers plans on becoming a paraprofessional with Elgin Area School District U-46. She interned at Immanuel Lutheran School in West Dundee as an assistant to a paraprofessional and will be getting certified this summer. She currently works providing child care part time at the Centre of Elgin recreational facility.
"I've always been kind of like the shy, quiet person. I just let myself grow ... get outside my shell and comfort zone," said Rogers, who hopes to be living on her own within a year.
It's been an emotional journey not only for the students but also the team of university faculty and 43 traditional students supporting the program, said Kathy Lambert, outgoing RISE program director.
"It's extremely gratifying," said Lambert, choking back tears. "It's tremendously fulfilling to see these students grow socially, academically, spiritually and vocationally. And the fact that they don't wanna leave is sad on the one hand, but it's also a great testament to what their experience has been here. I'm very overwhelmed and proud."