Last month, we learned that Spencer Neill, the special needs son of Clay and Donna Neill, was accepted into the University Participant (UP) program at Western Carolina. Taken from the WCU website, "The WCU UP Program provides an inclusive, two-year, on-campus living and learning experience for college-aged persons with intellectual disability. The goal of the program is to facilitate UP students' transition from secondary school to adult life with education, employment, and independent living."This program was started at Western and has recently become the first program like this that has been accredited. We asked Donna to tell us more from her point of view.
The Program is amazingly inclusive. He will be able to attend courses with other university students. He will live on-campus in the residence hall and has full access to all university programs, activities, and services. A day in the life of Spencer in the Up program is the same as any other college student as far as working, taking classes, joining clubs and events, meals, making friends, and so forth, but he will have a little more support and structure as needed. The support that he has will be amazing.
During the next two years, we will have homework too. We will go to meetings once a month that Spencer leads, where we talk about his goals, progress, and things he needs to work on. We will be working on finding housing and a job that is geared to his interests. We are looking to find something close to the YMCA or Lenoir Rhyne University. Spencer might like to continue with sports management, but he also loves music, and his DREAM job would to be a music producer. He wakes up and goes to bed singing and loves making beats on his computer. Maybe one day he can have his own DJ business because I do not know anyone who can pump up a crowd better than Spencer Neill.
We knew at birth Spencer was going to achieve great things in lieu of the many challenges he faced. He ALWAYS had a smile on his face and truly cared more about how we felt. He never wants anyone to be sad. He is strong, brave, resilient, kind, happy, caring, generous, a little stubborn, innocent, accepting of ALL people, does not judge, and most of all, loves Jesus. We all should be a little more like Spencer Neill. We are so thankful to everyone who has supported him, near and far, too many to count. Remember that a number is just a number (IQ), and a label is just a label (Down Syndrome). We raised Spencer to be Spencer and not to be defined by his number or label. He worked hard, and many others worked hard to get him where he is today. Never give up and reach for the stars because Dreams Can Come True.
These programs do so much good, but they need help. If you have the chance, reach out to the schools and see how you can support kids like Spencer. These programs are underfunded and could use some help there too. You can also volunteer to help with the Special Olympics.
The UP program could use your help too. They rely on your donations to keep making a difference. Check the QR code provided here and see how you can help. You would have a ton of fun, and your heart would be filled with love.
We have been through a lot and learned a lot. I had to learn a lot on my own. If you have any questions or know anyone that I might be able to help, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help!
Spencer always says, "Dreams Come True!" He tells me this all of the time. You can help make someone's Dreams Come True too!