Local students living with disabilities say Ability Center program is life-changing

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TOLEDO (13abc Action News) - The Ability Center of Greater Toledo has all kinds of programs to help people living with disabilities. One of them is called the Next Steps Summer Program. It's designed to help prepare students for college and the workplace, and the program has had a big impact on the students who are part of it.

The students are living on campus at The University of Toledo as part of the program. They are also working at several organizations and companies around the community. The students say this has been a life-changing experience.

Mallory Tarr is the Marketing Coordinator at The Ability Center,"The goal is to prepare them for the next step after high school whether that be post-secondary training or going to college. Whatever it is they want to do, we want to give them the tools and the steps to get there."

17-year-old Donny Stewart is one of nine students who are part of the five-week program. He's been working in the Family Center of the Toledo Museum of Art. Donny is going to be a senior at Central Catholic, "Four years ago I never thought I'd be able to do something like this. I would not have even been able to think about it. You're doing very well. Yep! And having fun? Definitely!"

Donny is living with autism, and says he's been focusing on social skills, "What have you taken away from this program, how has it helped you? It's definitely become easier for me to talk to people."
And Donny points out there have been plenty of important life lessons as well, "Learning how to live with other people, which is interesting. Learning to be responsible. I also have to make sure I have clean clothes, Mom's not here to do it for me."

21-year-old Elijah Shaffer is a college student majoring in criminal justice, "Programs like this give you self-esteem, self-reliance. This makes you feel better about yourself.I have always been a people person, so I have truly enjoyed interacting with everyone in the program. It's been a heck of a ride, and I've really enjoyed it"

Elijah is living with Cerebral Palsy, "I am definitely a different and better person than I was coming in to the program. I was unsure of what kind of a person I was and now I know who I am and I am ready to take on the world."

Mallory says that's exactly what this program is all about, "It's awesome to see the kids in the beginning and then at the end of the program to see their growth and the change in their confidence levels."

Donny has a few words to sum up how he feels about his experience, "Awesome, really good! It's changed your world? Absolutely, it's been a paradigm shift."