I have worked at Judson University for 15 years and am also an alum of the college. I am currently the Vice President for Enrollment and Strategic Planning. Building my career at Judson has been one of the most rewarding callings I could ever imagine. I am so proud of my college and the work that is done on our campus. Lives are shaped, the person as a whole is cared for and students are transformed and thoroughly prepared for their adult life in today’s world. I am amazed by the success stories I witness and the opportunities that our students experience while at Judson.
I crave for more people to know about this wonderful school.
During my entire time working at Judson, but especially as of late, I have passionately prayed that more people would hear about Judson and that more of the world would know about this brilliant little school so beautifully located on the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois. Every Christian college has similar programs, many have small-class sizes and a great caring faculty, but how can we show Judson is different? The longing to find the way to express this distinctive challenged me and roused my soul.
And although I love working at Judson and am proud to be a part of the university’s staff, I was struggling with the feeling that there is something more out there for me. I desired to make a bigger impact in my community and beyond. I wanted a cause to fight for, a platform, I wanted to stretch myself. Something was stirring in me and I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do. I even ventured to explore options outside of Judson. But I was constantly drawn back to being content at Judson and I couldn’t exactly understand why.
Then, slightly over a year ago, I was 22 weeks pregnant with my third child and I received a shocking diagnosis that my son Cody was going to have Down syndrome. This was really hard news for me to hear. I did not want to be a mom of a child with special needs and I definitely did not feel prepared to handle this role. I thought my life was over as I knew it and I didn’t know what to do. I was so grateful that I was introduced to fellow alum and mom of two children with Down syndrome Gayle Gianopulos. She was such an encouragement to me as I navigated through the early days of grief and confusion after finding out about Cody’s diagnosis. With her help I was able to come to the realization that I was ready to be Cody’s brave mama.
Cody was born last October and he is a joy in our life. We quickly learned that he is not defined by Down syndrome and that he is more of a typical child than not. We are excited to watch him grow and achieve just like our other two children.
Shortly after Cody’s birth, as my friendship with Gayle continued to grow, she shared her idea of Judson starting an inclusive college program for students with intellectual disabilities. I first thought this was just a random idea she had, but as she continued to pull out all kinds of research and documents and website links to look at, I knew this was more than just a random idea. I went home that night and read all the documents and searched out the websites and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
This was it. THIS WAS IT!!!!!!
This is the program that I believe will introduce Judson to a wider scope of people. It’s the program that will show the world that Judson University is a very special place, willing to stretch itself and give opportunities to anybody determined to shape the world.
I knew without a doubt that Judson needed to start this program and it’s been full-speed ahead ever since. After months collaborating and planning with Gayle, I am now so excited to scream from the rooftops that Judson University has announced that it will begin the RISE program (Road to Independent Living, Spiritual Formation and Employment Opportunities), a post-secondary certificate of completion program for students with intellectual disabilities, with students beginning in the Fall of 2017. The two-year program will provide students ages 18-25 with a unique opportunity to experience residential college life in a Christian community and develop independent living and work skills through various on and off-campus internship opportunities.
And when I think about these students fully integrated into our campus community starting next fall, living in our dorms, eating in our cafeteria, cheering at basketball games and worshipping at chapel I am overwhelmed. And when the day comes that these students walk across the stage at graduation, well, it’s going to be a big puddle of happy tears and lots of joy.
A year ago I thought Cody was going to ruin my life, and now I know it is quite the opposite. Cody coming into my life has giving me new energy and new purpose and the platform and cause I had been longing for. Not only have I embraced being a mom of a child with special needs, I am ready to help others. Creating this program will bring so much hope to so many families and students with intellectual disabilities. Because of Cody, people just like him, are going to go to college next fall that might not have thought it was even possible.
God’s timing of this whole process has been perfect and I can promise you that if Gayle had gone to our president with her idea without me having Cody I can definitely tell you that I would have been very skeptical when it got communicated to me and I would not have used my influence to push it forward. I would not have seen the importance or understood the value of what a program like this would have and what it will do for these students and the entire Judson community. But instead, I am humbled to be a part of this process and I cannot wait to see the impact that this program will have.