Jonah’s eyes got big when he saw the ball curving as it came toward him. Swinging the bat in his hands as hard as he could, his instincts were perfect. He hit the Wiffle ball, thrown by John Godfrey, and the ball went over the wall to signal a home run. Jonah’s feat put a huge playful smile on his face. The moment was special. Jonah knew it. Everyone present at the Torero Deck playing area within Fowler Park knew it.
Godfrey, especially, was smiling because he knew it would be one of the many visibly confident moments that Jonah, along with 12 other high school-age young men with varying degrees of autism and other developmental disabilities, would experience during last week’s Project College program on the University of San Diego campus.
“I get more than I give,” said Godfrey, assistant director of administration for USD Residential Life, about how much he cherishes his opportunity to work with people in society who, he believes, “are too often forgotten or written off.” It’s why, for the last 15 summers, he’s always had a trip to Kansas City, Mo., on his calendar to work at a camp to spend time with and mentor youth with low to high functioning developmental disabilities.
Through Project College, now in its third summer, Godfrey is happy to have an additional week to work with participants ages 17 and up, while staying on the USD campus where he’s also a graduate student in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ Nonprofit Leadership and Management program.
“This is a great opportunity to work with these students, to help them with their social interaction skills and to prepare them for the transition to college in a program that makes sure they get the attention and recognition they need,” Godfrey said. “Some will go on to a two-year school, some to a vocational school, but a transition will happen. Whatever we can do to help with that transition, that’s what we’re going to do.”
David Drazenovich, director of San Diego’s United Cerebral Palsy, said he and other organizations sought “to fill a real gap in services for kids with disabilities, specifically those who were coming out of high school and want to go to college, but have a few barriers.”
Project College, sponsored by The Foundation for Developmental Disabilities, gives San Diego County students at least one opportunity. Point Loma Nazarene University hosted it in 2011, but a recommendation that USD might be as a potential host site led Drazenovich to Moises Baron, USD’s assistant vice president of Student Affairs for Student Wellness.
Baron immediately formulated a team of USD staff, students and faculty to help with the first one in 2012. In this second year, Godfrey, Alejandro Cervantes, Lauren Woolley Marybeth Rigali-Oiler, Theology and Religious Studies Associate Professor Evelyn Kirkley and departments such as USD Athletics, Campus Recreation and Outdoor Adventures made Project College a fun-filled and memorable week for the students.
“They’ve put together a great team of people at USD who’ve participated in the program. It might be our program, but there’s no way it would be successful without the support we’re getting at USD,” Drazenovich said. “I feel we have found a home here.”
The students stayed in the residential halls for the week, ate meals on campus and had some social time to unwind. During the week, though, they learned more about topics such as identity development, stress management, counseling and support services, fitness, how to resolve an issue with a dorm roommate, good nutrition and ways to improve communication and relationships with others. The Wiffle ball game, a trip to the beach and a social night were also highlights.
One of the best moments for Drazenovich, he said, was the day when Dr. Kirkley gave a class lecture about Islam. Students learned about Ramadan and also met USD senior student and resident assistant Huda Kohin, who is leader for the Muslim Student Association at USD.
“Just the way Dr. Kirkley presented it all, she’s a remarkable woman. She was able to draw stuff out of the students I wasn’t even sure they had. Their ability to think abstractly, I was there listening to their responses and seeing how engaged they were in it. I got a little misty-eyed,” Drazenovich said. “You think the goal is to inspire the students to attend college, but when you’re there listening and watching them, it also gets you really inspired. It makes you feel great because the students are walking away with something really valuable for them.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Learn more about Project College via its website or contact email@example.com