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Arc Consumers Participate Fully On SUNY Geneseo Campus
In a room enveloped by the resources of the Fraser Study Center, five first-year students, now in their second semester, openly discuss the balancing act that is “college life” on the SUNY Geneseo campus.
“We've had our moments,” says Kaleb King, 21, smiling to the group that has bonded tightly over the past months. “There have been a few bumps in the road, but then we got right back on the road. The key has been figuring out how to get out of our comfort zones, and try to face challenges that we were afraid to face.”
It’s difficult to classify Kaleb as a “non-traditional” student while he and his classmates – Hannah Brown (20), Justine DeLuca (22), Katy Schoenfelder-Schwarz (19), and Tom Ruf (51) – reflect about typical college fare, including social clubs, volunteer work, and participation in sports. But the road to SUNY Geneseo has been less-than-traditional for this quintet of students gathered in Fraser 208, home-base of the LIVES Program.
The LIVES Program is an initiative that provides students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with opportunities to fully participate in college life. Currently in its first year at SUNY Geneseo, it offers an educational and vocational curriculum funded through a partnership of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, Finger Lakes DDSO, and the college. The program is designed to provide transition and post-secondary programs for students with challenges such as nervous system or sensory-related disabilities, metabolic, and degenerative disorders.
“Getting up every morning is like a routine for me,” Hannah explains. “We are so lucky; some kids don't get much chance to go to college. I feel and think that this could help me get the job I always wanted. You get to learn something different almost every day.”
“LIVES” is an acronym for Learn Independence, Vocational, and Educational Skills. True to its moniker, the LIVES Program will provide graduates with the broad sets of skills needed to flourish throughout the community, professors say.
“The goal is to create independent, lifelong learners who are connected to their community in a variety of ways,” says Dr. Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, who initiated the program with fellow professor Dr. Elizabeth Hall. “This includes increased independence within the community throughout the four-year cycle of the LIVES Program, as well as career exploration opportunities that can lead to long-term competitive full-time employment upon graduation.”
“Each moment is seized as a learning opportunity,” Hall adds. “Key components of the program include a hands-on approach, small class size, and connecting the classroom curriculum to each student’s personal goals and needs. This includes use of various on-campus resources, such as computer labs, fitness and career centers, and libraries.”
Active five days a week throughout all of campus, LIVES Program students are as likely to be spotted on the college green as inside a classroom. Their diverse schedules enable enhanced levels of interaction with all types of SUNY Geneseo students, according to those involved with the program.
“One day, we did yoga on the green,” LIVES Teacher Danielle VanNostrand says. “There were people that ran up and joined us. There was one student who joined in because he wanted to set an example for Justine, who was still very much in her shell. The students are just fantastic.”
For SUNY Geneseo’s “traditional” students, volunteering as part of the LIVES Program has its own benefits. “They receive the opportunity to engage in transformational learning experiences, interact with people with developmental disabilities, and see that they make considerable contributions to the SUNY Geneseo campus and community,” Hall says. “All the while, they have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”
“My experience with the LIVES Program has definitely made me feel much more comfortable around people with disabilities,” one SUNY Geneseo undergrad volunteer comments. “The most important point in learning about working with students with disabilities is that they are just students who have different needs than the student next to them. Any person with a disability is just a person first, and all people need to realize this.”
The LIVES Program seeks to enroll 8-12 new students each year, typically age 21 and older from those who are OMRDD eligible. Potential applicants must meet eligibility requirements, among them the ability to read at a third grade level, communicate orally with others, travel independently to-and-from campus, and make a four-year commitment. Full requirements and applications are available online at lives.geneseo.edu or by calling Cathy Sullivan, Coordinator of Day, Community and Intake Services for The Arc, at (585) 658-2395.
With the better part of a year of higher education under their belts, Hannah, Justine, Kaleb Katy, and Tom conclude that while college certainly is a balancing act, it’s also The Time of Their LIVES. “Our classroom doesn’t have restrictions – only opportunities,” Kaleb says.