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Maine VolunteerFare

For Your Consideration

Published January 19, 2006


Contributed By: Kim Goding

Recently, I was sent a letter from the Portland Pirates inviting me to "Strive U Night". This heartfelt letter explained that a participant of Strive U, Jeff Goranites, had recently been added to their ticket sales team and was putting forth his best effort to sell over 2,000 tickets to this event to support the Strive program.

What is Strive U you ask? It's the first education based program of its kind in the country that provides students with developmental disabilities with the opportunity to obtain a post-secondary education while learning home management and job training.

What a wonderful program I thought and then I realized how amazing Jeff must be to want to give back to the very program that gave him the opportunity to be with the Pirates.

So I did a little digging and found this profile of Jeff posted on the Alpha One web-site. Take a little time and read about this outstanding young gentleman and the innovative program Strive U. It'll make you reflect on the tremendous impact Jeff and the students of Strive U can make if just given the opportunity.

Oh and show your support for Jeff and Strive U by contacting Jeff and purchasing tickets to "Strive U Night" today!

February 26

4:05pm

$6.00 per ticket

Order by phone: 828-4665 ext. 350

Order online: www.portlandpirates.com/striveU


Growing up at STRIVE U: Training and education build independence

By Nancy McCallum

It is just after noon and his morning class has ended, so college student Jeff Goranites, 22, is cleaning up some dishes in his Portland apartment. Elvis thunders from the boom box in the living room. Goranites' roommate Noel Thompson just left to work out at the University of Southern Maine (USM) gym.

A year ago at this time, Goranites, who has developmental disabilities, lived at home in Cumberland with his parents. With the recent opening of STRIVE U in Portland, he and five other young adults with developmental disabilities now have an opportunity to broaden their educational and life experiences, learn to live more independently, and receive a college certificate upon successful completion of the two-year program. The students take courses at USM and live in apartments owned by Project for Supported Living (PSL) STRIVE, a South Portland-based non-profit organization. STRIVE assists young adults, with intellectual and emotional disabilities, access resources in order to participate actively in their communities. The STRIVE U program is Maine's first post-secondary education and training program for young adults with developmental disabilities.

STRIVE U opened its doors in 2004, with students moving into their apartments last August. Peter Brown, STRIVE's program manager, says the idea for the university came from STRIVE participants and their families.

"We had been approached by many of the people we work with on a regular basis, detailing the need for post-secondary education, improved employment training, and the need for independent living skills," said Brown. "We formed a committee approximately two and a half years ago, made up of community members, parents, educators, self advocates and our staff - and the end result was STRIVE U."

Live and work in community

STRIVE U offers training in employment and residential and community skills. Its stated goal is to enable graduates "to live and work as full community members with maximum independence, productivity and dignity."

Residential living and community skills are learned through sharing an apartment with a roommate on the STRIVE U campus - a set of three apartment buildings owned by STRIVE, on Nye Street in Portland. (One building also houses a classroom, STRIVE U offices and a lounge, in addition to apartments, while two others are solely apartments.)

STRIVE U views the apartments as classrooms, where students can learn many of the skills needed to live independently. Residential advisors (RAs), who live in apartments in each building, assist the students. "Their job is to implement the residential curriculum," Brown said. "They do a tremendous amount of role modeling."

Household management

Students learn about managing a household, including managing money and time. Self-care is a central theme, and they receive education about health and wellness issues. They are encouraged to travel independently - Goranites says he takes the Metro often.

Living in his own apartment has made Goranites happy. "I just love living here," he said. He and his roommate keep a neat place; their spacious household is airy and comfortable, with lots of sunlight streaming into their kitchen and living room. Two STRIVE RAs live in the apartment below.

STRIVE U student Nate Doucette is also enjoying his apartment, just across the street from Goranites. "It's a lot of fun," he said. "It helps me to be independent." Since living on his own, his cooking skills have increased. "I learned how to sample foods I didn't cook before," Doucette said.

Both young men admit to some trepidation before moving in. "I was a little bit afraid at first," Goranites said. Doucette, of Westbrook, said, "It was hard to say good-bye to my family." But, he added, "I'm glad I moved out to go to this program."

On the job

Students enrolled in STRIVE U also learn employment skills at paid jobs. STRIVE U works with a Portland employment agency to help find jobs for students. The goal is to create and develop jobs that match students' areas of interest. Also, the intent is to widen employment possibilities for people with developmental disabilities. "We are definitely working to raise the bar on job experiences for our students," Brown said. "We have had students work at the Portland Pirates, MEMIC, Emery Waterhouse, Banknorth, The Boy Scouts, Pine Tree Council, Dirigo Management, and Atlantic Title Company." Brown says students average between eight and 12 hours of work per week during their first year and earn an average of $8 an hour.

STRIVE U coordinators and teachers assist students in learning about the job search process-resume preparation, interviewing skills, etc.-and about what to expect in the workplace culture.

Doucette works in the mailroom at MEMIC, while Goranites does purchasing, mailing, and filing at Emery Waterhouse. (Goranites is now working for the Portland Pirates) Both enjoy their jobs. "I love Emery," Goranites said.

A third component of STRIVE U is the certificate program offered in partnership with USM. Here, students have the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses. Brown says that includes "...everything from foreign languages, to business courses, to personal development classes and more. Some students are focused on careers, while others want to explore different classes and opportunities that may have been previously unavailable to them."

University classes

Goranites is excited about his class "Solving Crimes With Science," as CSI is one of his favorite television shows. He also loves his course "Singing Just For the Fun of It." Doucette's classes include a human development class; he enjoys attending USM and does not find the classes difficult.

Students take some courses that are designed especially for them through STRIVE. Brown says these include a class introducing them to USM and its services, as well as a class about learning styles. By the second semester, they are eligible to take courses from the USM catalog.

STRIVE U also has an education and training coordinator who teaches many of the classes about residential living. Educators and experts from other fields also come to STRIVE U to teach classes. For example, an educator from Planned Parenthood recently spoke about healthy relationships and a Portland police officer taught a safety skills class.

While at USM, students have full access to all campus resources. Goranites joined the fencing club. Doucette's extra-curricular activities include participating in the Circle K organization, a community-oriented group that is similar to the Key Clubs found in high schools. He recently attended a conference in Massachusetts.

Graduation means transition to independence

The fourth piece of the STRIVE U program is its transition program, which helps new STRIVE U graduates find housing and employment.

Brown says the program is continually reviewed and evaluated. One change being made is having students move into their apartments in July instead of August. "We want to take an even more pro-active approach to the residential curriculum, giving students necessary skills and time for transition before starting their classes at USM and their new jobs," Brown said.

So far, the program has been successful, Brown says. "I think the results have been tremendous," he said. "The students have responded greatly-they are traveling independently all over Greater Portland by bus, taking increased responsibility, grocery shopping independently, increasing their skills and independence every day."

National attention

The program even caught the eye of Time magazine; Brown was interviewed in February for an upcoming article about education.

One major indication that STRIVE U is offering a much-needed program is the number of people expressing interest. "The response has been overwhelming," Brown said. Sixty-five application requests were made for the first class, with about one-third of those completed. For the class of 2007, more than 100 applications were sought, with about one-third of those returned completed. Admissions for the class of 2008 will begin October 3, 2005. For now, the class size remains six.

The annual tuition at STRIVE U is $11,700; that covers the student's apartments and living expenses, USM courses and resources, and other materials and resources such as cell phones and laptops. Brown says some of the tuition payment options include using the student's monthly social security checks, using money earned at jobs held while at STRIVE U, and seeking a loan through a program with STRIVE U's banking partner, Norway Savings Bank. Brown says a scholarship fund will be available for students in the fall.

Learn how to juggle life's tasks

At STRIVE U, students are enjoying balanced lives, as they learn about juggling educational goals, taking care of their homes, working, exercising and, like all college students, socializing. Brown says there have been some "marathon" basketball games at the hoop outside his office.

"I love it," says Doucette. "My favorite part of STRIVE U is my friends."

Reprinted by kind permission from www.alphaone.org and One in Five.

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