Marywood University’s SOAR Program educates young adults with autism


Photo credit/ Stephanie Leone

Students enrolled in the SOAR program play an interactive game during their morning class.

Kaitlin Korgeski, Community Staff Writer

The Students On-Campus Achieving Results (SOAR) program gives students with autism a chance to learn job skills and real life skills so they can be employed and live comfortably.

In conjunction with the Northeastern Education Intermediate Unit (NEIU), SOAR inspires young adults to achieve anything they hope to accomplish.

In 2008, Dr. Patricia Arter, founder of SOAR, wanted to give opportunities to special needs students.

“When we started the program, people were a little hesitant with working with individuals with autism,” Arter explains. “And now they’ve become such apart of the Marywood community … it’s just been really cool to see how people who were originally hesitant, are now embracing them.”

From Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., the students learn in the classroom with their teachers. From 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the students head to lunch with each other and other peers who do not have autism.

“I really like my teachers because they teach me things I never knew,” said Felicity Ayers, second-year SOAR student.

The students then go to their on-campus jobs from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The jobs include working in the IT department, library, kitchen, mail room and human resources department as well as other areas of employment on campus.

“The job sites are unlike in high school where they would create them for the students so they could practice the skills,” explains Arter. “These are existing job sites and they’re real jobs.”

Not only does SOAR help the students enrolled in the program, but it also benefits the Marywood community as a whole, according to Graduate Assistant for SOAR Jasmine Davis.

“I think it brings acceptance and diversity to campus,” said Davis. “I also think for students that get involved with the SOAR program, it’s a really great opportunity to work hands-on with a population that you might not ever work with. For the SOAR students, it really brings them a great chance to be around people their same age…”

Once the students complete their two years with SOAR, they are ready to tackle a job interview, have a strong resume in hand and a great list of references. SOAR continues to check in with them from time to time after their completion of the program to ensure they are living happy, healthy lives.

Students who have graduated often visit to reunite with SOAR members.

“One [graduate student] comes and volunteers, and he’s actually going to come teach a lesson in my class on how to use the bus,” said Regina Fidiam, a teacher for SOAR.

For involvement, the SOAR program is currently looking for volunteer job coaches, lunch buddies, help with Friday fun days and undergraduate work studies.

Nick Frisbie, second-year SOAR student, said he’s really happy to be a part of SOAR.

“It’s a great environment for us to learn in. Being at home in comparison to being on campus, we get to experience life outside of four walls,” said Frisbie.

Katie Haczewski contributed to this story.

Contact the writer: [email protected]