By Jennifer Tonnaer
Pensacola State College is home to the Arc Gateway Program for Adult Learning and Support (PALS), a unique program that offers customized training for adults 18 and over who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. PALS allows these students to attend college in order to achieve various skills, as well as prepare them for employment opportunity.
The program’s current director, Dondie Roper, gave us some more information on what the program provides to students.
“PALS is a special program that gives students the tools and training they need to become more independent, gain and maintain competitive employment and reach their goals. It is my goal to help guide students along their chosen path.”
The PALS program includes four semesters and summer meetings. Some of the courses that PALS students may take include career exploration, vocational training, independent living skills, workplaces readiness academics and one “regular” college course per semester. The specific areas of study and academics, independent living skills and customized career exploration and technical training.
PALS is currently accepting applications for students who wish to become a part of the 2-year program in January 2016. Presently, there are nearly 30 students enrolled in the program, with hopes of the number doubling by next year.
PALS also offers an opportunity for PSC students to get involved and help out by becoming a Mentor Assisting Through Exploration and Support (M.A.T.E.S), whose jobs are to be peer mentors that support PALS students through campus club participation, exercise, study session, being lunch time buddies and helping attend special events.
A current mentor, Mohamad Amer, has a passion for helping others, and being a mentor for PALS is one of the only jobs that truly called out to him.
“I know that this program is important because it gives the students a chance to turn what would have been impossible without the program into something possible. If it was not for this program, many of these students would have remained as only high school graduates. By being part of the PALS program, the students are put into classes that fit the fields that they want to have careers in. The best thing about this program is that the classroom is not the boundary. Instead, the students go out on field trips to workshops, become interns and even find jobs that they get paid for! The PALS program doesn’t look at the disabilities, it looks at the abilities.”
When it comes to what M.A.T.E.S do, he said that they try their best to be role models for the PALS students.
“It is not about what the activity is as much as it is about being a role model in that activity. Whether it is something as simple as using the crosswalk when crossing the street or as complex as learning how to make friends out of strangers, my job is to help them do it the right way.”
Any student at PSC can help out, even without actually being a part of the PALS program. Mohamad believes that it’s as simple as starting a conversation and being courteous and respectful.
“Despite seeming like it is not a big deal, actions as simple as starting a conversation with a PALS student will go a long way in his or her life. If I can request one thing from the PSC students, it is that they never bully, make fun of, or laugh at any person with mental or developmental disabilities, because it will scar that person for the rest of his or her life.”
PALS is a learning experience for him as well, and when asked what he has learned through his role with PALS, Mohamad said he has learned that a disability does not and should not define a person’s worth.
“The main thing I have learned is that people with developmental disabilities should not be viewed as anything other than a normal human being that is capable of the same things that you and I do, if not more. An extra chromosome or a severe brain injury from a car accident should never be a reason for a person to have the right of equal opportunity be taken away. If given a chance, all these students will blow you away with their passion, dreams, and most importantly, capabilities.”
Jeff Shell is currently a student enrolled in the PALS program and he says that he has learned a variety of things from PALS, one such thing being how to cook an entire Italian meal and dessert.
“PALS, to me, is a great opportunity to experience college like my brother and sister, and to meet new people and learn new skills. It helped me make new friends and get out of the house.”
If a person is interested in becoming a part of the PALS program as a student, Jeff advises that they act fast.
“Get your name in there quick and be prepared to get up early.”
When asked what the student body should know about PALS, Jeff said that everyone should know that PALS students want to be treated with respect.
“We are students just like everybody else. We want the same things and to be respected.”
For more information on PALS and how to get involved, visit their website at: www.arc-gateway.org/PALS or go to Building 1, Room 3, on the Pensacola PSC campus.