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LifeLink PSU Provides Life Skills to Special-Needs Students

by and on March 28, 2014 1:36 PM

The third floor of the HUB is amysterious place. Only the brave venture there, far away from the comfort of mile-long lines at Starbucks and Panda Express. If you do ever explore the upper bowels of the HUB, you might find yourself outside of the office of LifeLink.

LifeLink PSU is not the same thing as the EMT service in State College. It is, however, a program operated by the State College Area School District that provides special-needs students between the ages of 18-21 with an opportunity to attend classes at Penn State and interact with peers their own age.

While going to class every day might seem like a drag to most of us, to LifeLink students it is an incredible opportunity to learn about independence and life skills and, of course, gain knowledge. With more than 265 Penn State student volunteers who worked for more than 4,800 hours last semester, Life Link PSU is far from a small operation. Students from every major take time out of their day to walk LifeLink students to class, help them take notes, or even help them work out at the gym.

Austin, a 19-year-old from State College, is in his first year of the LifeLink program. Since becoming a part of LifeLink, Austin has truly embraced what it means to be a Penn Stater. He attends football games, played in the pep band for basketball games, and competes in the Special Olympics. He has completed various classes in his short time at Penn State, but his favorites have been basketball, hip hop, and intro to sports.

One of the requirements for admission into the LifeLink program is that students maintain a job within the Penn State community, even if it is volunteering. Austin volunteers at Discovery Space, a children's museum in State College. Another feature of the LifeLink program is that students get to spend time at "the apartment," an off-campus apartment where they can learn to cook, clean, and do regular chores that would be required if they lived on their own.

"It's having fun, but sometimes you have to be serious, you have to clean and cook, but you get to hang out sometimes," said Austin. "I get to learn about taking care of myself."

Universities all over the country have similar programs. For instance, this video went viral recently -- it shows 20-year-old Rion Holcombe receiving his acceptance letter to Clemson University.

Most volunteers and workers involved with the LifeLink PSU program will tell you that they probably learn much more from the LifeLink students than the students learn from them. It is easy to take the simple things in life for granted, but when you see someone who is so happy to be able to simply count change, LifeLink PSU reminds us how lucky we all are.

Upon graduating from the LifeLink program, the students receive their high school diploma, and most of them have learned whether they have the skills to attend college or a tech school after their involvement with LifeLink.

"The unexpected thing I learned is how much I would be teaching the Penn State students that are mentors with us about responsibility and commitment, and about what their presence means to our students," said Marla Yukelson, the program coordinator. "I never anticipated that and that has been a really unexpected pleasure."

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This post was originally published by the staff at Onward State. Follow Onward State on Twitter @OnwardState.

Mara Kern is a Penn State junior who's majoring in Public Relations. She also serves as THON Editor for Onward State.
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