Campus Friends (CF), an initiative that offers post-secondary experiences on the University of Guelph campus to adults with developmental disabilities, will continue in virtual form in the 2020-21 academic year.
A partnership between Community Living Guelph Wellington and U of G’s Experiential Learning Hub, this program has run on campus since 2016. It connects U of G student mentors with adults with a developmental disability. Twelve participants take part each year, along with more than 20 mentors.
Typically, students attend Campus Friends one day per week during the year for up to three years. They take part in activities including academic and learning opportunities, volunteering, athletics and special events.
Two students, Aiden Topping and Brandi-Lee Phipps, graduated this fall. Graduation celebrations took place this week on Zoom, with family members, mentors and invited guests from the University and Community Living Guelph Wellington taking part and viewing a slide show.
“I enjoyed my time at the university,” Phipps said. “It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed math classes and learned how to do math the hard way.” Her favourite places on campus were the field house, library and athletic centre.
“The best part was it made me feel included. It made me feel very happy because I met a lot of new friends. I will come back for a visit after this virus is gone next year.”
Phipps hopes to take her GED (General Educational Development) test, and wants to volunteer at The Elliott Community, a seniors’ residence.
Topping said particularly enjoyed his volunteer job at the bookstore, where he gained experience needed for a paying job. His best places to be on campus were the CFRU radio station and the food court, he said.
“Hopefully, I will find a job that I can get paid for. I am going to miss everyone I worked with at U of G.”
Campus Friends promotes successful, individualized campus experiences and fosters community inclusion and opportunity, said Karen Calzonetti, CF’s coordinator, adding that U of G’s shared purpose to “Improve Life” meshes with the goals of Campus Friends.
“During the 2019-2020 year, students were encouraged to participate and move beyond their own comfort zone and explore something different, in much the same way as all university students do. The overall theme for 2020 was, do what is difficult and go outside your comfort zone.”
Janet Doner, manager of Campus and Community Integrated Learning in the Experiential Learning Hub, said Campus Friends is a unique learning opportunity for all participants.
“Campus Friends is an exceptional example of an ongoing and ever-improving, mutually defined and mutually beneficial community-engaged learning opportunity,” she said. “It has been developed and nurtured with deep respect for the learning opportunities for both University of Guelph and Campus Friends students.”
The initiative provides “amazing access and learning opportunities” for Campus Friends students in a post-secondary environment, and helps U of G students develop valuable leadership, mentorship and communication skills while developing empathy for another person’s experiences, she added.
“Hopefully, this builds a stronger commitment to working towards a more inclusive, barrier-free society.”
Calzonetti said people with disabilities formerly had few options following high school graduation.
“Today, more than ever, the myths and stereotypes are being shattered as never before,” she said.
Trent Claessen, a U of G business student who was a Campus Friends mentor last year, said his communication skills improved and he had a fuller experience of campus life because of his involvement.
“I became more involved on campus in what was happening, because the students I mentored often wanted to see everything,” he said. “I was also able to get to know the school a lot better, as it was my first year.”
Prof. Kimberly Levere, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, had two Campus Friends in her first-year calculus class.
“While I didn’t have full manuals for them, I did take the time to print out what we were learning on those days they were with us, so that they could fill in the notes, too,” she said. “They were very attentive. Each of them wrote me thank-you notes at the end of their time with me, which I kept in my office to remind me of this positive experience.”
The 2020-21 class of Campus Friends will take place virtually. During the 12-week program, students and mentors will connect online each week for a total of six hours.
“I think we are all experiencing challenges but also incredible opportunities for connecting online. Campus Friends is an example of this,” Doner said. “In some cases, it is providing a more intentional and intimate opportunity for students and mentors to connect, learn from one another and be more resourceful.”
Calzonetti said the best part of her job is when a Campus Friend student says, “It’s ok, I’ve got this – I can do it on my own,” or, “Thank you for treating me like an adult and respecting my voice.”
She hopes the program expands and becomes an integral part of the U of G community.