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Jodi Lovegrove had just told the audience at the second annual graduation of the RISE Transition Program that they would not see a repeat performance of last year’s tearful ceremony because she had steeled herself through “rehearsal, self-visualization and waterproof mascara.”
Only several sentences later Lovegrove, a 1999 graduate of Sacred Heart University’s MAT program and the head teacher for RISE—Reaching Independence through Supported Education—was dabbing her eyes with a white handkerchief. She wasn’t alone in the display of emotion at University Commons at the June 18th graduation. In the audience of about 75 people, some parents, educators and friends also let tears of pride flow for the accomplishments of Rebecca Hurley and James Santone, both of Stratford, and Brandon Rottblatt, from the Region 9 school district.
The three graduates successfully completed the two-year RISE program for college-age students with developmental disabilities. Patricia W. Walker, Ed.D., dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, said the program provides students with an opportunity to develop social and vocational skills that will assist them in independent living and to interact with each other and with the 58 SHU students who volunteered as mentors, exercise companions and lunch buddies during the 2006-2007 school year.
One of those students, Lisa Gennari, president of the SHU chapter of Best Buddies, said she watched the three graduates transition from timid, new RISE students to confident young adults who can handle themselves in social situations, manage money, cook for themselves, purchase groceries, hold a job and take public transportation on their own.
“It’s a great program. It made them very independent. They’ve done things we didn’t know they could even accomplish. It’s emotional because of what he’s accomplished and he’s made such great friends,” said Joann Santone, James’ mother.
Donna Bowers, clinical assistant professor of Physical Therapy and SHU’s liaison to RISE, which just completed its third year, told Hurley, Santone and Rottblatt that graduation represented the end of a journey, a destination reached, and she challenged them to find another journey.
“My life is telling me I have to follow my dreams to the next level,” Hurley said after receiving her diploma. The graduates then distributed single roses to the people who inspired them.
Bowers said the RISE students are not the only ones who learn. She said they had taught SHU students important life lessons about patience, how valuable their time is to another person and how to value friendship on a different level. Many SHU student volunteers indicated that their education was enhanced by participating in the program.
“You have done a wonderful job and touched the lives of many people,” Gennari told the graduates and five other RISE students.
The ceremony also included the awarding of certificates of completion to the first year RISE students – Michael Condon, of Oxford; Ben Dworken and Bessie Yeh, both of Region 9; and Joshua Moores and Thomas Zmijewski, both of Monroe. Yeh, Moores, Zmijewski, Santone and Rottblatt also were honored for volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and Yeh received a perfect attendance award.