When Brian Danser was 18 months old, he had a stroke that left him developmentally disabled. He received therapy, attended a special school, and when his mother died of cancer four years ago, the 24-year-old moved in with his grandmother, Betty Wolek, in Egg Harbor Township.
Wolek worried about Danser’s future, but when they learned of a special program at The College of New Jersey in Trenton that would allow him to attend college for four years, Wolek agreed to let Brian attend.
“It’s just been outstanding,” she said. “He can make the train trip home now by himself. He can speak to people and take care of himself.”
The Career and Community Studies program at TCNJ was started four years ago to give young adults ages 18 to 25 with developmental disabilities the chance to attend college, learn personal and job skills, and gain some independence. Twenty-eight students are currently enrolled and six graduated Friday.
Rebecca Daley, coordinator of the program, said a major draw of the program is that it is held on a college campus so students can interact with age-appropriate peers. Students with disabilities can by law attend school until they are 21, so many of the students get funding through their hometown school systems. At $20,000 a year, the college program is actually less expensive than many special-service schools for the disabled.
“We do extensive interviewing,” Daley said. “They must be disabled, but they also must be able to participate in the program here.”
Students audit classes, get placed in internships, and participate in clubs and activities with the regular students as well as attend special classes designed to improve their own academic and personal living skills.
The college has an extensive student-mentoring program for the disabled students. Many of the mentors are studying to work with the disabled, and the program gives them insight into both their limitations and talents.
“Sometimes the mentors will be surprised at how much the students can do,” Daley said.
Three of the six in the first graduating class have found jobs. Brian has not, but will stay in the Trenton area where he has friends and rents a room in a house.
“Words can’t describe how much I enjoyed it here,” he said in a phone interview. “This has been pretty much the best four years.”
He said some courses were “tricky” but he really liked participating in the Society for Creative Endeavors, a gaming club at the college. He would like to get a job, maybe at Best Buy because he likes playing video games.
Wolek said it was good for Brian to have to make his own decisions, and even his own mistakes, after being cared for by others for so many years. She learned from the experience as well.
“He got used to having a certain level of support, and having others think for him,” she said. “I’ve learned to step back and let him make his mistakes. When he likes something, and puts his mind to it, he learns. The college allowed him that independence.”
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