Beginning in the fall of 2017, Yeshiva University, in partnership with the Makor Disability Services (formerly Women’s League Community Residences), has launched its first year of the Makor College Experience Program. A truly unprecedented and specifically designed program, the Makor College Experience is a three-year, non-degree program for young men with intellectual disabilities. The program is the first college dual curriculum for this type of students. Participants will not only enjoy the specialized education of the program itself, but a new and exciting opportunity to become a part of the YU community.
The program is geared towards young men with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 18-25 who are looking to further their education after finishing high school. While other young men tend to go to Israel and then college, this community of individuals is inhibited from such opportunities due to various complications that come along with their often less independent lifestyles. This program is combatting the roadblocks that people with intellectual disabilities face by offering a specifically designed program tailored to their needs.
In order to be eligible for the program, applicants must be diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability. They must also have some kind of history of receiving special education, or have been granted some kind of state-funded services for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the past. Finally, applicants are required to have attended a high school program for students with such disabilities.
Each of the three years of the program has a specific focus. The first year will offer pre-vocational and job readiness skills, interview training, workplace etiquette and budgeting. The second year is focused on “career exploration and experiences.” There will be opportunities to experience and try out various jobs, as well as chances to be employed around the YU campus and at local vendors and organizations. At the end of the second year, students will declare a major. They may choose from majors such as office and business skills, retail and food services, communal work or human services. The third year will focus on “supported employment.” The program offers mentors to help the students with their specific job plans, as well as helping them to create and build resumes. Finally, program faculty will reach out to YU alumni to help find job placements for the graduates.
The Makor Program helps its students to take their education beyond high school, and into the next stage of life, in a variety of areas. Thus, the curriculum offers a significant focus on job training and building general life skills. This includes exploring specific job fields in the classroom, real-life experience through job placements on campus, and academic advisors. The advisors will work with the students to determine an individual career path and to further develop career-building skills to help them get there. In terms of life skills, the students will learn important skills such as cooking, traveling and budgeting.
In addition to the secular education and various life skills incorporated into the program, Makor will offer a strong and meaningful Torah element as well. Participants will be assigned a chavrusa and will spend their mornings in the various batei midrash on the Wilf Campus. “At Makor, we believe that when the students have a natural enjoyment in their Torah learning, this inspiration will carry over to be their success in our program,” says Rabbi Feintuch, Rebbe and Educational Coordinator of the program. The chavrusas, minyanim and other Judaic events in which these students will participate are also incredible and substantial opportunities to connect with the rest of the YU community.
The social aspect of the program is anticipated to be profoundly meaningful both to the Makor students and the other YU students. Beginning with the relationships formed in learning and davening, and extending to the many other events and interactions on campus, the students will have many opportunities to interact and bond with each other. This will allow the Makor students to truly feel part of the YU community and the college lifestyle, and will give the other YU students an important opportunity to get to know and be inspired by the Makor students.
The multi-faceted program aims to assist these motivated and excited students to develop more independent lifestyles by working closely with a range of specialized faculty. They may also have the chance to take advantage of various employment opportunities on campus during their time in the program. Ultimately, the students will leave the program with a certificate of completion, a resume, a reference letter to help them with future job applications, life skills, mentors and the tools and education to make them significantly more independent and prepared for the future.
For Yeshiva University, this program is indicative of the institution’s commitment to inclusivity, growth and community. These young men have many friends, family members and peers who are part of the YU community, and this new program offers an unprecedented opportunity for them to be a part of the community as well. Despite the availability of various programs for people with intellectual disabilities, there is no other place for these motivated individuals to receive the Torah education and community aspect of the program. The students’ access to the myriad resources and opportunities offered at Yeshiva University is something that cannot be paralleled by any other program thus far. On top of being a college and yeshiva experience, Makor will offer its students a religious and social environment, and life-skills education, to ensure they will thrive wherever they go next.