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UP Testimonials

From the Community

“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 Arc of Haywood is very pleased to be a partner with such an innovative program. The Arc advocates for independence and opportunity, and we are so fortunate to have the UP Program and a wonderful university such as WCU in our area that believes as we do."
Denise Coleman, Executive Director, the Arc of Haywood County

“I work for the Arc of North Carolina, 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, QP, The Arc of NC--Support Broker

(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, Director of Education & Curriculum, Children's Academy of Northlake


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From the WCU Faculty

Heidi Turlington


"I am always excited when I have a University Participant on my course list!  The program provides an enriching learning environment for the Participants themselves, 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 Participant 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


“Our UP participant’s questions, alertness in class and participation in class were as good (better than some) as the regular class attendees. He frequently had questions and wanted clarification as to what he needed to do to finish an assignment.”
Mardy Ashe, Career Majors and Explorations

“The UP Participant did a great job of making friends and participating with the class. She was always on time and attentive during class time and always was a willing participant when needed. I believe that she is a perfect candidate for this program and she will do well in her classes in the future. It was a pleasure getting to work with her this semester, and I believe that she added a lot to our class.”
Jessica Luke, Study Techniques for College

“I am so very impressed with the UP Program. I hope this is an inspiration for other colleges to follow suit. I would be more than willing to host another UP participant.”
Tara O’Loughlin, Art for Children

"(The UP Participant) has a talent for art and her natural interest was an asset in the class. She worked really hard on the projects and interacted well with her helper so she was able to work as independently as the rest of the class. I hope she continues to do her own art projects."Phyllis Jarvinen, Introductory Drawing


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From the Families


"Anna always had drive, determination, and a healthy self-esteem...But there was room for enormous improvement. This program has changed her! She has grown in maturity in ways I didn't think were possible. She has been equipped with knowledge that can only come from natural peer support and educated guidance. She is employed and looking to move out on her own in the very near future. I'm terrified for her, but she is not. She is ready to leave the nest, so to speak. She leaves the program with all this, and friendships that have forever changed her."

Kody Joyner, parent of UP graduate Anna Joyner

"UP was the culmination of a long held dream and many answered prayers. I was always convinced that David could achieve much more than was ever expected of him by the system. I refused to allow a label or a diagnosis to define him as a person. I always wanted him to reach his fullest potential and I knew that high expectations would yield great results. David has always been goal oriented and UP has helped him build the skills and the confidence to reach his goals. I truly believe that he will continue to grow toward greater independence. I truly believe that he now can have a truly meaningful life filled with purpose and positive adult relationships. For my part, there is no joy greater than hearing David tell me that he is ok to be left alone to do his own thing because he feels confident in himself. Thank you UP for helping us to see that dreams do come true."

Becky Garland, parent of UP graduate David Maennle

"There was a time when we thought that our son Michael would never have the opportunity to attend college of any kind. WCU's UP program has given him the chance to experience all of the benefits and challenges of a college environment, improve his independent living and working skills, all while making great friends at the same time. We can't thank all of the wonderful staff and volunteers, and particularly Kelly Kelley, enough for all that they have done to help Michael realize his dream of going to college."

Keith & Leslie Kozicki, parents of UP Participant Michael Kozicki

"The University Participant Program at Western Carolina University is the perfect panacea for Maleek T. Gilliam. Due to his family dynamic and since birth, he has participated in numerous University events and often asked if he would be able to attend a University. The UP program affords him this great experience encompassing the dormitory, campus, classrooms, gymnasium, culturally diverse students and highly skilled and dedicated staff all of which have broadened his perspective of being self-sufficient and the expectation for being a productive individual."

Lawrence Gilliam, Grandfather of UP Participant Maleek Gilliam

“Let me share with you, and others, a few of the areas that Michael has benefited from as a result of his two years in the UP Program. He is now able to better manage his own finances. He has a debit card (that he started using while at WCU) and a gas card. Michael schedules appointments for visits to the doctor, dentist and dermatologist. He has taken responsibility for maintaining his van. He obtains quotes for any repairs. He purchases tires, gas, oil changes, takes care of insurance/registration, etc. His experience at WCU has helped him meet his goal of making a contribution to his community by volunteering at various facilities, and he has a part-time job at WCU.”
Mike Beasley, parent of the first UP participant, Michael Beasley

“I had been very nervous before Aaron started the program, not knowing how he would be treated as a person with special needs. Some people can be so cruel. But he’s made so many friends. It goes beyond school. Even during the breaks, they were calling, texting and Facebooking each other. Don’t hold your child back because of fears. Let them go. If they don’t learn to walk, they’ll never learn to run.”
Connie Hoefs, parent of UP participant Aaron Hoefs

“Our resources were limited, if nonexistent, for any training for Corey to advance into the work force, independent living and community involvement. This program has opened up a whole new world for Corey. The opportunity to be able to offer him community participation skills, vocational preparation skills, social participation and learning in this environment is just overwhelming. We definitely see the need for this program and the impact it could have on so many of our society with disabilities. Corey wants a job and to be more independent, and we feel this program is his first step toward accomplishing this.”
Angie Norman, parent of UP participant Corey Hambrick

“My daughter, Elizabeth, began participating in this program in August 2010. We had been looking for some sort of transition program for Elizabeth. She needed a way to develop independent living and social skills before it becomes a necessity for her. Our concern has been that she will have to abruptly transition to a new living situation at our death without a chance to try out skills first. She has grown up with us helping her, nurturing her and ‘saving’ her. Our whole family is very excited about new possibilities for Elizabeth.”
Charlotte Pritchett, parent of UP participant Elizabeth Pritchett
“Gary was enrolled as a college student in the fall of 2008. During this time he was able to take college level classes of interest to him. He learned independence through living in his own dorm room, riding the CatTran and managing his CAT card. Gary was able to interact with his peers on a daily basis by attending classes, sporting events, participating in campus clubs, going to concerts on campus as well as just ‘hangin’’ out with friends. He gained valuable employment experience and knowledge though several on-campus jobs. With the help of student volunteers, he was able to create a hardbound portfolio as well as a digital portfolio to use in securing future employment. None of these opportunities would have been available to Gary without the love and support of the entire team that works so hard to make the UP Program a success at WCU.”
Gary and DeeDee Small, parents of former UP participant Gary Small

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From the UP Students


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 participant 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 love making new friends and I like going to classes.”
Anna Grace Davis, UP student 2010-12








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







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






Elizabeth Pritchett“I love being here at college, and all my immediate family went to college too.”
Elizabeth Pritchett, UP studentt 2010-12

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From the WCU Volunteers


"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 has given 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, 2014

"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, 2014

"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, 2013

"The University Participants help me grow as an individual far more than I could ever help them. They are smart, funny, and all around nice people. This has by far been the best experience of my college career." Zac Wallace, 2013

Kara Costner


"Participating in this program is beneficial to everyone who takes part. I have been challenged, educated, inspired, and humbled by the people I have worked with and the activities I have taken part in. It is 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


"It is amazing how quickly the UP Program changed my life. Not only is it beneficial to the participants, it is beneficial to everyone involved because you build such great relationships with so many different people. It is a very rewarding experience and it's one of my favorite ways to spend my time. To see these students succeed is one of the best rewards you could ever hope to receive." Brynne Murphy, 2013

"My involvement with the UP program has been one of the most rewarding and life changing experiences I have had during my college career.  I am probably joining many other volunteers in saying that the participants have taught me much more that I ever will teach them. I have gained valuable experience working with individuals with disabilities that directly relates to my future career as a speech therapist.  Trust me, you don't have to be a special education major to learn valuable skills and contribute to the UP program as a volunteer!  Most of all, I treasure the lasting friendships and great memories made through time spent with the participants and other volunteers as we learn to be contributing members of our communities together." Rebekah Norris, 2013

“The program has taught me to have patience. Also, that everyone is different, meaning they all have different abilities. I see how much the participants are changing, and it’s amazing to see what we can do.” Brittany Cain, 2010

“The program means the world to me. Without the program, I would have never met the four best people I have ever met. I would do anything for all of them. They are better friends than a lot of my friends I’ve known all my life. Since I am a sports management major, I am most grateful for being a part of the program even though I am not a special education major."
Shawn Flowers, 2010

“The program has taught me how much a person can do when given the opportunities to grow. The program has helped me look past a person’s disabilities and to understand that even with disabilities a person can have a productive lifestyle. The program is not only a wonderful learning opportunity for the participants, but also the volunteers. Through the program the volunteers are able to receive insight into their prospective field dealing with disabilities.”
Haley Gower, 2010

“The program has taught me how much I really enjoy majoring in special education and the importance of friends. It means a lot to me, and I have met some really good friends through the program.”
Matt Hastings, 2010

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