Like many people, each month I am hopeful that the number of COVID-19 cases will decrease and some of the activities that we have enjoyed will start again.

Throughout the year, there are a variety of events that take place to raise awareness or provide opportunities for inclusion or socialization for our disability community. However, the fact that we aren’t able to get out and interact in the way we are accustomed does not mean that there isn’t a lot taking place on behalf of individuals with disabilities in our local community.

The biggest and most exciting news I heard this week for Utah County was that “Utah Valley University was awarded a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a postsecondary education program for Utahns with intellectual disabilities.”

According to a release on Oct. 6, “the program is intended to be patterned after Utah State University’s successful ‘Aggies Elevated program.’” The release also states that the “UVU program will be housed at the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism and will begin in the 2021 summer semester with an initial cohort of 5-7 students,” according to Director of UVU Autism Center Jane Carlson.

Carlson acknowledges “it is a challenge for those with intellectual disabilities to advance and find employment because there are so few opportunities to achieve a meaningful credential.”

Continuing, she adds: “With this program we can assist individuals in achieving their adult goals in an inclusive environment that will lead to an industry-recognized credential. It will also allow UVU to build on its value of providing exceptional care and education to students and community members.”

On a personal level, what this means to me is hope.

I have worked with many youth that are still in high school resource classes who have talked about going to college after graduation. We always encourage individuals with these goals to pursue them, but often they get lost in the system and end up in an adult high school until they reach the age of 21.

The purpose of the grant that is being offered is to “establish a network of centers across the state called the Utah Higher Education Inclusion Alliance that will provide options for individuals with intellectual disabilities to pursue postsecondary education. The alliance will use a portion of the grant to establish a similar program at USU’s Eastern Campus in Price Utah.”

I look forward to observing the progress and growth of this program in the coming months. I am excited for the individuals who will be able to pilot this program at UVU and the opportunities that they will have in their lives.

I, again, thank everyone at the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism and Utah Valley University for their role in making this a reality.

Finding Best Buddies in High School

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