at U Centre on College
Kendall Montgomery, a 28-year-old senior at Clemson University, has the ultimate work-from-home gig: she’s both a resident and an intern at U Centre on College. Her position makes it easy to switch from studying to spending the day greeting residents, helping retrieve packages and supporting the community’s staff wherever needed. For Kendall, a student with Down Syndrome, this job and living arrangement has helped her fully explore her passion for connecting with others and building community.
“I love living here and having my independence, and I love coming to work and spending time with the staff,” says Kendall. “I like going to games, tailgating with my friends, taking cooking classes, and cooking on my own. I also started learning how to bake, and now I love baking!”
An Immersive Live-Learn-Work Experience
Kendall is part of the Clemson LIFE (Learning is for Everyone) program, which was founded in 2009 to give students with intellectual disabilities access to all the developmental advantages of an immersive higher education experience. Clemson LIFE participants live at U Centre on College through an exclusive partnership with ACC, which developed and operates the community. This enables 14-25 Clemson LIFE students and alumni to live together on campus.
Kendall has become an essential part of the U Centre community, which has made her parents enormously proud.
“Kendall has learned what it means to be responsible and accountable, not only by living independently but also in terms of being a considerate and respectful part of her community,” said Lisa Montgomery, Kendall’s mother. “She has a view of being a young adult that is much broader than anything we could have ever provided in our home.”
Clemson LIFE prepares young adults with intellectual disabilities for competitive employment and independent living through two program options. While one focuses on training and certifications for specific professions, both programs expose students to a combination of classroom and employment experiences. What makes Clemson LIFE unique is its students have the opportunity to participate in a traditional collegiate experience. That means they live among other students on campus, join student organizations, and enroll in at least one traditional class each semester along with a variety of university leisure skills courses from yoga to CPR. They also take on jobs and internships.
The U Centre community provides Clemson LIFE students and faculty/ volunteers with a central location for on-premise classes and life lessons. This creates a sense of ease and consistency for students to receive an education specialized for their needs. Meetings, social functions, workshops, and leisurely activities such as Friendsgiving frequently take place within the U Centre breakroom.
In addition to discounted housing, the program offers an internship at U Centre that gives Clemson LIFE students like Kendall the chance to work in a professional office environment, engage directly with customers, and partner with Community Assistants and other staff. Most jobs available to Clemson LIFE students are in food service, recycling sorting centers, and grocery stores, so this provides the opportunity to build additional communication and career skills.
“I’ve never met anyone who could make the people around them smile more than our students in the Clemson LIFE program,” said Stephen Angel, U Centre’s general manager. “It has been a joy to work next to and with the students in the program, and the amazing accomplishments and growth they have achieved, as well as the impact on the Clemson student body.”
Fostering Growth, Connection and Self-Sufficiency
Clemson LIFE students have developed strong communication skills and are encouraged to represent themselves. This helps the U Centre team maintain a space where students can feel safe coming to the staff with any concerns or questions they might have. This residential experience for Clemson LIFE students nourishes their growth and prepares them for self-sufficiency.
“You can really see the joy in their faces and witness how much this program means to them,” Angel said. “It creates a sense of enrichment within the entire community.”
The U Centre Team maintains constant communication with students’ parents, who also have positive feedback about the program.
“My number one priority sending my son to college in the Clemson LIFE program was his safety and security,” said Debbie Antonelli, a parent of a Clemson LIFE resident. “Who would keep a watchful eye on him away from his classmates and teachers? Would someone assist and protect him from challenges he may not be ready to tackle? Would he find a home away from home? The answer to each question has been the U Centre. Our son is thriving in the Clemson community thanks to the residential partnership with the U Centre.”