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UP Testimonials

From the Community

“I got to see first hand what these programs are helping them achieve when I visited two of our scholarship recipients, Ali and Zach, for a day in March. To say I was blown away would be an understatement! Not only was this experience helping Ali and Zach gain the confidence and independence they need to gain employment and independent living upon graduation from the UP Program, the benefits for the entire college campus and its students was greatly apparent. Everyone wins with this type of program being visible and available for these individuals!”   Liz Plachta, President/Co-Founder of Ruby’s Rainbow

Denise Coleman“The UP Program provides such a wonderful opportunity for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to fulfill their dreams. It offers an option for individuals to achieve greater independence following high school … that previously was just not available. The Evergreen Foundation is pleased to be a partner with such an innovative program."
Denise Coleman, Executive Director, Evergreen Foundation (pictured left)

(WCU/ UP graduate) Michael's first day as a new employee and every day that has followed has been a great one!! He comes to work, his best foot forward with the same passion and professionalism that took me by storm. Beloved by the large number of teachers we have on staff, he appropriately engages and delights the children, is responsible for setting up and break down of our summer water play areas for multiple age groups, supports lunch duties and even helps the school age camp by attending a few off site field trips. EVERYthing Michael brings to Children's Academy is a contribution we have grown accustomed to and deeply appreciate. Equally remarkable is Michael's ability to resolve conflict with the children as if it were second nature and his interest to develop and implement future lesson plans to support the Preschool teaching staff.  Laura Newman, Employer, former Director of Education & Curriculum at Children's Academy of Northlake

Beverly Gaddis

“I work for Macon Citizens Habilities, Inc in Franklin, NC and we are committed to securing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to choose and realize their goals of where and how they learn, live, work and play. The UP Program at WCU is a phenomenal program that also is committed to securing for ALL people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that opportunity as well. The program has amazing support from peers, staff and students, and a lot is unfunded, which is even more amazing. Everyone has the right to be a student in a college setting, from living in a dorm to having to keep up with an ID/meal card, etc., and the UP Program ensures the right for students with I/DD to have this. I love working with this program. It runs like a ‘well-oiled machine’ in my opinion.” Beverly Gaddis, BSW, Community Services Manager/QP, Macon Citizens Habilities, Inc (pictured left)


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From the WCU Faculty

Heidi Turlington


"I am always excited when I have a UP student on my course list!  The program provides an enriching learning environment for the UP students, but also for their classmates, peer tutors, and professors.  My courses with UP students always feel a sense of camaraderie by the end of the semester.  I have enjoyed getting to know each UP student I have had so far, and I hope I will continue having them in my courses!" Heidi Turlington, Health & Wellness; Physical Education for the Elementary Teacher

 Many WCU faculty have anonymously shared their UP perspectives with program evaluators. The faculty said of the UP program:

"My experience with the UP program has been exceptionally positive.  Not only does it benefit the students (both those in the program and those not), it benefits the instructor.  It's an opportunity to reflect on the kinds of teaching you're doing and the type of environment you're creating."

"I really enjoyed my work with the UP student in my class.  I learned more from having him in my class than I ever expected to, and I believe the other students felt the same way."

"The UP Program has become an integral part of the WCU Campus Community and is having positive impacts on all aspects of our programming and service. UP needs to be shared extensively across our state and nation as a model of extended university service to educational communities that will improve the compassion, cultural awareness and personal lives of multitudes of citizens."

"Working with an UP student in my fall biography class was one of the semester's high points.  I was reminded daily of how generous and kind so many of our students are, and the UP student was a consistent and important contributor to the class."

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From the Families

“The work that you are doing there with these exceptional young people is changing lives in an exponential way. Not simply the lives of these UP students themselves but everyone that touches your work even in a minute way. We have always said that our daughter has transformed many lives by all of the many people that she touches through her personality, acceptance of others and unconditional love. She is but one person that makes a difference in the lives of others. The community that you have built and continue to nurture is to me a pebble in a pond that we will never fully understand the furthest reaches of, yet we all know that this reach is profound.”  Jeffery Hale, father of Ali Hale

“Michael is approaching his one year employment anniversary at Children’s Academy of Northlake in metro Atlanta, where he has been working 40 hours a week since he left WCU. It is our belief that his employment would not have been possible without the outstanding educational and life skills lessons he experienced in the UP program.” Keith and Leslie Kozicki, parents of Michael Kozicki

“The UP Program gave my child the opportunity to live in a dorm and attend college classes that he chose for himself. He was able to join a fraternity, make countless friends, and share a wealth of experiences independently from his family with the support of the incredibly well designed UP Program. The growth he experienced as an individual, his increased confidence, the ability and awareness to accept and understand his own strengths and weaknesses are all ways in which the program benefitted him immensely. His reading comprehension, written and oral expression, self-advocacy skills and social skills all increased tremendously, and as a direct result of the UP Program experience, he is a changed person and has a much brighter future.” Jackie Kelty, mother of Kenneth Kelty

“The UP Program truly changed Casey’s life. Her experiences in the program have been incredible. From learning about ID programs in the United Kingdom, to public speaking, to achieving getting her driving learners permit, I never would have dreamed that Casey would have this kind of experience and success. The foundation and support provided through the UP Program, its staff, and students have given Casey the opportunity to have a bright future of living and working independently in the community.” John Schading, father of Casey Schading

“Our son has loved the UP Program. And he has loved being at WCU. He is so proud of his successes (and we are too!). His decision to sign up for, train, and run a half marathon this spring was indicative of the self-determination he has gained from being a part of the UP program. The UP program benefits more than just our son. It is one of the best programs of its kind in the country.” Archie Benton and Nancy Richter, parents of Zach Benton

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From the UP Students

“It was my first time I ever sang karaoke in front of a crowd. This was very exciting and different for me. The first time I ever did rock climbing was with the UP Program. This helped me a lot because I was afraid of heights. Rock climbing helped me overcome my fear. Once I reached the top I was so happy and proud of myself.”     Cody Thompson, UP Student Class of 2017

“Until February of 2012, while my mom was doing research on the Think College website and found out about the UP Program, there was never talk about any college opportunities for me. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the UP program. I made lifelong friends and was able to teach many of my peers about me, a person with an intellectual and developmental disability who was not supposed to talk or do much, but who is a happy and productive member of society!” Kenneth Kelty, UP Graduate 2014


David Maennle

"UP makes me more independent. I have a job I like. I will live in my log house, have my truck and my dog and live all by myself!"

David Maennle, UP student 2011-13





Michael Beasley

“The UP Program came about after I got my job working on the Severe Disabilities Grant. It felt odd to be the first UP student at WCU. My first semester I didn’t know what I was doing, but by the end, I felt comfortable at WCU, and I knew where to go. I am glad I completed the program because it gave me freedom away from home. It was a great experience.”
Michael Beasley, UP student 2007-09




Anna Grace Davis

“I loved making new friends and I liked going to classes.”
Anna Grace Davis, UP student 2010-12






Corey Hambrick

“I liked going to class and being independent. The program meant a lot to me.”
Corey Hambrick, UP student 2010-12






Aaron Hoefs

“Not only did I get to live out on my own, I got to live on a campus just like the other guys did. If I needed someone, all I had to do was contact the person nearest to me. I liked getting to go to classes and doing stuff that normal students got to do.”
Aaron Hoefs, UP student 2010-12





Elizabeth Pritchett

“I loved being here at college. All my immediate family went to college too.”
Elizabeth Pritchett, UP student 2010-12





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From the WCU Volunteers

Kristan BuchananLisa Shope's MUST READ UP testimony

“Being involved with the UP Program has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. Entering college, I knew that I wanted to major in elementary education. Once I learned about the UP Program and started to get involved, I immediately had a change in my future career to becoming a special education teacher. As most people would, you have an impact on their life. Yet, the UP students have taught me much more than I could ever dream of teaching them. I hope to have half the impact on their lives as they do on mine. The UP students create friendships that you will carry with you throughout your future career and your life. I cherish the memories made with the UP Program, and the students, and look upon them as the most important part of my college career.” Kristan Buchanan, 2015 (pictured left, center)

"On my first visit to campus I heard of the UP Program and knew I wanted to volunteer. When I began at WCU that fall, I asked one of my professors and someone came to speak to our class about volunteering. UP gave me real work experience in the field of special education as well as reinforced that I had chosen the right career field, while helping me create great memories and lasting friendships." Katie Stamey, 2015

"The UP program is such a blessing to so many. It shows that no matter who you are or what your life challenges may be, you are welcome here. It creates a helping community where everyone helps everyone and friendships are made. When I am volunteering, it doesn't feel like I am volunteering, it feels like I am hanging out with a friend and that's exactly what it is. I have learned patience, compassion, and understanding through becoming a part of the UP program and I look forward to learning and growing alongside them as we tackle college together!" Morgan Hartley, 2015

"My older sister has Down's Syndrome.  I didn't know what that meant when I was about 6 years old and when I asked my mom she said it just means she learns things a little slower than most--I then asked my mom if we could go get crayons and coloring books so we could help her.  When I was older I asked what the story was when she was born and my mom told me she was told by doctors it was better to institutionalize her.  She received a lot of literature about what was wrong with those that had Down's Syndrome and different disabilities.  She threw all of it out and said she was taking her daughter home.  I was brought up in a family of "she can do"  in a world of "she cannot" and it has always been that way until I came to Western Carolina University.  The overwhelming joy I felt when I heard about the UP program and what the students were experiencing and accomplishing while being included in a complete college environment was amazing.  Finally I was surrounded by people that said yes, they have a disability, yes, they can accomplish what you can despite that.  While something like the UP program might not be in the cards for my sister right now, I am overjoyed at what the program has done and will do for it's students, no matter what disability they may have.  I'm thankful for the friends I've made, the lessons I've learned, and the ability to be a part of something so genuinely good in a world full of not the nicest things.  I'm excited to see how to program will grow, even after I graduate, and hope it doesn't go anywhere but up!" Mary Vieregge, 2015

"The program reassures me that I chose the right major, Special Ed., every single day.  I would not trade the awesome times I have spent with my UP Program friends for anything." Kim Cannon, 2015

Kara Costner


"Participating in this program is beneficial to everyone who takes part. I was challenged, educated, inspired, and humbled by the people I worked with and the activities I took part in. It was a great way to meet people, as all involved in UP are like family. You will make life-long friendships and memories that will last forever. I encourage everyone to take part in this life changing experience. You may just be one person, but you have the opportunity to help these individuals reach successes above and beyond what they had thought possible; which will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!" Kara Costner, 2013


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