Transition program helps students with disabilities adapt to campus life

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Anna Renfroe’s day begins at 6:30 a.m. Living with three girls with disabilities, everyday she helps them wake up for school, fix breakfast and walk them to the bus stop. Afterward, Renfroe has a full load of classes and helps the girls plan dinner when the day is done. On other days, she takes the girls grocery shopping, bowling and out to dinner.

This is Renfroe’s life as an On Campus Transition Program mentor and housing assistant.

“I figured [working with the On Campus Transition program] would be a good opportunity to really learn about people with disabilities and get hands-on experience,” said Renfroe, a senior elementary education major.

In August 2007, The Arc Jacksonville and UNF partnered to begin the On Campus Transition program at UNF. It is run by volunteers of UNF peers.

The program was established to assist students with disabilities 18-22 years old in making the transition from high school to college. Through peer mentoring and tutoring, this program gives transitioning students a chance to have an on-campus experience and feel like true college students. The mentors become the students’ role models, teachers, coaches and friends.

“The goal of this program is to have our students who have developmental disabilities have the rare and unique opportunity to experience college life,” said Crystal Makowski, program director.

The students participate in all aspects of college life including campus organizations, clubs and recreational activities enjoyed by other UNF students, Makowski said.

Lianne Bronzo, a junior psychology major, just became a social mentor in October. For one hour a week, Bronzo meets with her mentee to hang out and do campus activities such as going to the game room, spending time with friends and playing basketball.

“I have learned a lot from her,”  Bronzo said in reference to her mentee.

Bronzo said she enjoys working with the program and helping her mentee have a fun social life.

The program began with 16 transition students and has grown to 21 transition students, Makowski said. As of now, there are two housing assistants and a total of six girls in the housing program. However, two more housing assistants are being hired, and two more girls will be entering the program.

Kelsey Adams is one of the girls from the program who lives with Renfroe. Adams is currently taking two classes at UNF, Life Management and Drawing I. Laundry, money management and cleaning skills are just some of the things Adams is learning through the transition housing program.  Adams hopes to one day be able to get a good job, she said.

“I am just having a wonderful time overall,” Adams said.

Junior communication major Kim Nelson has volunteered with the On Campus Transition Program.

She became a mentor for a student who shared a class with her. She helped the student through tutoring, reviewing notes and proctoring tests, she said.

Nelson has always had a desire to volunteer. Through middle school and high school she mentored students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and hopes to join the Peace Corps after college, she said.

“[My mentoring experience] was really rewarding,” Nelson said.

As for Renfroe, she hopes the girls get more interaction with people, whether it just be coming over to visit, playing basketball or taking them out to do something fun, she said.

“We do a lot out in the community, but not with the community,” she said.

“Being with this program, I really like this whole transition part of it and dealing with those kinds of skills like career skills, job coaching and life skills,” Renfroe said.   “Wherever I get placed is where I’m supposed to be.”

E-mail Kathy Acosta at [email protected]