This month we’re catching up with the first graduates of STRIVE U, a first-of-its-kind college education and training program for young adults with developmental disabilities, based in South Portland.
Just over 10 years ago, the first five students completed the two-year program and began living and working on their own. Since then, they’ve shown families that overcoming challenges and reaching your full potential is possible no matter who you are.
STRIVE students begin their careers with on-the-job training. Back in 2004, Julie Jermann was placed in a human resources job at TD Bank in Portland, where her attention to detail at the copy machine was legendary.
Some of her co-workers were initially skeptical about having her take on tasks in the office. But, at the time, Jay Milligan said her sheer will to do a good job changed their minds.
“You’ll go by the photocopy room and she’ll say, ‘OK, now that one’s done. I’ll put this one over here and this one’s next,’ and she sort of talks herself through the process,” he said. “And then she’ll say, ‘Good, I’m done!’ and she’ll giggle and squeal. It’s so much fun to have her here.”
Since then, Jermann has switched jobs, doing kitchen prep work at a restaurant in Scarborough. And she’s proud to report that she recently got a raise.
“$9 — it’s going up,” she says. “They haven’t decided about giving me a promotion yet. That might happen later.”
Jermann lives in her own apartment in Scarborough, but her landlord is also support staff who lives next door. She gets rides to work. And once a week she goes to a therapeutic horseback riding program in Windham.
Jermann loves to ride a horse named Bam.
Crystal Stover, the owner and instructor at It Takes Two Farm, says most people think therapeutic riding is for those with physical disabilities. But she saw a value in using horses to connect with people who have emotional and social needs as well.
She says it’s been personally rewarding.
“Oh, it’s so beneficial. The giggles, you know? The happiness. The smiles,” she says. “Some folks are nonverbal, but boy you can tell with their faces how much they’re enjoying it. And a lot of students like Julie have been coming for years.”
In addition to riding, Jermann has other hobbies that keep her busy. She says she likes reading, knitting and making art. She’s a big fan of the soap opera “General Hospital” — she can tell you exactly what time it comes on. And she likes to cook, especially pepperoni pizza on Saturday night.
She keeps track of appointments on her iPhone, and for Jermann, planning and sticking to that schedule is a must. She already has her 36th birthday party planned in August.
“Aug. 26 — it’s gonna be a Saturday,” she says, with a giggle. “I got something planned for that: pizza.”
“I love having her in Scarborough because she’s close to me but she’s on her own,” says Sheri Hartwell, Julie Jermann’s mom.
Hartwell says she would like to see her daughter be a bit more social with her old friends from STRIVE U.
“I’d like to see her get out more. We haven’t been in touch with anybody because she won’t, she doesn’t go,” she says.
“I’m gonna try calling Brittany,” Jermann says. “She has a car.”
Building social skills and teaching students how to use public transportation is a big focus at STRIVE. Not everyone can ride the bus alone, but raising expectations for students and their families is the goal.
The more they get out into the world, the more they interact, says Pete Brown of STRIVE, the better for everyone, especially employers.
“It’s certainly a side benefit for companies that hire one of our students that their employees that’s had to overcome a little bit more than some of their other employees might have to,” he says. “Sometimes it’s easy for supervisors to be able to point and say, ‘Hey, they’re working hard. There’s no reason the rest of us can’t.’“
Now in its 13th year, STRIVE U has accepted another seven students for its two-year program. They’ll start at the end of June.
This story was made possible by a grant from the Doree Taylor Charitable Foundation.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.