“There is not one instance that has come out of RISE where someone has said they had a bad experience,” said graduate assistant at the RISE program, Grace Cioffi. It really is perfect for SHU students who are looking to make new friends, expand their horizons a little bit and are willing to try something new.”
The RISE program is giving young adults with disabilities an opportunity to engage in normal life practices. The mentors of the program help the members further their social, vocational and daily living skills with their goal being that they can enter the real world confidently and independently.
The program takes place on Sacred Heart University’s campus five days a week Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m.- 2:15 p.m. The program utilizes classrooms in the main academic building where they gather to plan out their day before students go off to do their daily tasks.
The students of the program work at the cafeterias on SHU’s campus and gain part time work experience.
RISE coordinator, Jodi Lovegrove said, “Although they are disabled, they don’t need to be treated differently. We want them to hold the standard you and I do, because they can.”
SHU students can be fitness or lunch buddies with the students of the program, where they can sit and connect one on one and engage in conversation, whereas a fitness buddy offers the opportunity to exercise with a friend while following a predetermined fitness program.
The RISE program has been active since 2004, growing on SHU campus until the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020. The participation in the program has lowered since then, and the program is trying to regain the amount of activity it had before the pandemic.
“I really hope that the RISE program continues to grow into what it was and more. I remember when I was in undergrad it was huge, and I would love to see more student involvement,” said Cioffi.
RISE coordinators said that there is a drastic change in confidence within the students in the program. They discussed that there are times where they get emotional seeing the progress and growth of the students and the development of their skills.
Students in the program help and support each other with their own difficulties and seeing the real college campus life makes them feel part of the community.
“I think when I have students come together to support each other or make a connection emotionally, it just is the most beautiful thing,” said the social worker at the RISE program, Maura Satti.
The parents of the students have mentioned to the coordinators that they have seen a change in the maturity and responsibility levels since the program. The self-report and reflection from the students show all the progress they have made so far.
SHU students get the experience of learning to treat people with respect and understanding inclusion and diversity, while being able to switch gears and adapt to new things in the program.
The RISE program is open to any volunteer at SHU interested in becoming friends and being a mentor for these young adults.