Organization helps students with intellectual and developmental disabilities get post-secondary education
Allie Arax, a Wayfinders student, gathered during her lunch hour to eat
lunch, socialize and to get help with her school work in the Wayfinders
offices in the University Center.
Ezra Romero / The Collegian
Without Wayfinders, students like Elizabeth Allan, who has Down syndrome, can’t typically pursue a post-secondary education.
Wayfinders is an educational and residential program that gives students with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to pursue a higher education.
Allan, a graduate of Bullard High School, was accepted into the Wayfinders program this semester.
“I’m excited to be here,” Allan said. “I love school.”
The program’s goal is to broaden students’ educational and social experiences by involving them in every aspect of campus life.
“Our philosophy is to be strictly inclusive within the university,” executive director of the program Alice Witt said. “We don’t want our students to be segregated.”
Students in the program are enrolled in Fresno State classes, work on campus and live on their own.
Students are required to attend a different Wayfinders class from Monday through Friday.
Class credit goes toward a Continuing Global Education certificate, which offers the opportunity to get higher education through workshops, weekend courses, certificate programs and childrens programs.
Each student does eight hours of paid vocational work per week. Their jobs vary and include working at the farm store, the bookstore and various offices around campus.
Karenjeet Hayer, 25, is a Wayfinders student and says that she has always wished to be treated like every other human being.
“After high school, there was no hope for me because my teachers only gave me an A to get rid of me,” Hayer wrote in an essay for her Wayfinders class. “I heard about Wayfinders and thought this would be a good program for me because they said they would teach me everything that I needed to know for everyday life.”
Hayer said she is happy to be in the program and her goal is to be treated like everyone else on campus.
“Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean that they can’t contribute to society just as someone without a disability would,” Witt said.
The program operates under the Fresno State Foundation with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
In California there are only three other programs like Wayfinders.
Michelle Smith and Carolyn Tellalian, both mothers of daughters with Down syndrome, founded the program this year.
Wayfinders is a “person-centered” planning program so everyone has a different schedule.
Students live in the Palazzo apartments just northeast of campus.
A peer mentor or volunteer is available at the apartments to help with cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping.
“This experience is definitely helping them because they are learning how to survive in the world,” said Michelle Lucy, a student mentor at Wayfinders.
Lucy added that not only are Wayfinders students learning how to cook and clean, but they’re also getting to know other students at Fresno State.