Students cross graduation bridge

Developmentally disabled grads move forward

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Julie Wilson’s mind traveled back over the course of her daughter’s life as she watched Amanda Wilson graduate May 13. But her memories were different from those of most mothers.

The memories started with the moment she learned her 3-day-old baby had both Down syndrome and a heart defect a doctor said likely would kill her, and continued to include the now 21-year-old Amanda accepting a certificate of graduation from the Douglas County School District’s Bridge program.

“I was back here crying,” said Julie Wilson, of Parker. “Twenty-one years just flashed through my mind all at once.”

Amanda, meanwhile, was near tears for a very different reason.

“It feels exciting,” she said. “I just don’t want to leave because I’ll miss my friends and my boyfriend.”

Amanda was among 20 developmentally disabled adults who graduated during the ceremony at Rocky Heights Middle School. The evening marked the end of a three-year program aimed at transitioning them from high school to adult life. The federally mandated program is designed for students who have graduated from high school, but require additional support to transition to adulthood.

DCSD’s Bridge program includes three sites in Parker, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock, but most of the training takes place outside those locations. Students go into their communities to learn life and work skills, including laundry, cooking and budgeting, and work a volunteer job.

Some of the students, like Amanda, may live independently someday; others will not.

“Our goal is whether they’re living independently or not, that they’re having a very, very full life,” said teacher Andee Ahrens.

The program has helped Sarah Yourtz do just that, said parents Kay and Michael Yourtz of Highlands Ranch.

“It moves kids along and keeps them focused on learning a skill and other just wonderful things,” Kay Yourtz said. “The social aspect of the program is great.”

Sarah Yourtz has worked at the Littleton Goodwill Industries for two years. Though she likely never will live alone, Michael Yourtz said the Bridge program has made a remarkable difference in the quality of her life.

“Her growth has been unbelievable,” he said.

Sad as she is to leave the Bridge program, Amanda is looking forward to the next phase of her life.

“I like my future a lot,” she said. “I wish to get married with my boyfriend. Maybe he’ll become my husband.”

As she ponders her daughter’s future, Julie Wilson feels a mix of emotions.

“She’s going to leave that bubble (of the program),” she said. “She would love to get married. She knows she can’t have children but she wants what everybody else wants. How do you allow that and not allow someone to take advantage of her?

“I want her to succeed in everything, but I can’t guarantee that. My hope and goal for Amanda is to provide her the support she will need to accomplish everything she can to the best of her ability.”