Community Program Helps Local High School Students with Disabilities Find Fulfillment after Graduation

Note to Editors: Poudre students who participate in the Passport Project will be participating in a geo caching activity from 1 – 2:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23. This activity will increase their listening and communication skills, teamwork skills, social skills and decision making skills in addition to being fun. To attend, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at (970) 491-6009 or

Colorado State University’s Center for Community Partnerships, in collaboration with the City of Fort Collins Adaptive Recreation Opportunities Program and the Poudre School District, has launched a new program to help soon-to-graduate Poudre School District students with disabilities better integrate into their communities following high school graduation.

High school and post-high school is an especially critical and complicated time for young adults with disabilities, research shows. After leaving high school, they often lose connections with friends and structured opportunities to be part of a community or groups. Research confirms that adults with disabilities are significantly less likely to find employment, participate in their community or complete post-secondary education than adults without disabilities.

The project, called the Passport Project, will engage students with disabilities in recreational activities with community members and CSU students, providing an avenue for friendships and activities during high school and after graduation. The project also will provide students with classes that give them an opportunity to talk and learn about topics such as employment and career interests, relationships and communication, which will help them build social and work skills. Participating students will complete professional portfolios and develop critical employment and socialization skills.

"Challenges such as limited experience in getting around the community, underdeveloped social and communication skills, limited recreational experience and a lack of critical employment skills or experience mean that many young adults with disabilities don’t achieve their employment aspirations or participate in community life after they graduate from high school," said Cathy Schelly, director of the Center for Community Partnerships in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences. "As a result, they often feel isolated. Many spend their free time inside their homes rather than participating in community recreation activities or working in the community."

The project goal is to empower individuals within this age group to have a better life experience as they become an important part of adult communities. As a part of the city’s adaptive recreation program’s ongoing partnership with the community at large, the program will also recruit community volunteers to provide guidance and participate in recreational activities with the students, helping them form relationships in the community.

"This project embraces the similarities that all people have – the desire to have fun, be a part of the community and participate in leisure activities," Schelly said.

The project will also involve Colorado State University occupational therapy students who will mentor participants through a variety of skill-building recreational activities to better prepare them for employment and community participation. CSU students will be trained and guided by the Center for Community Partnerships and the city’s Adaptive Recreation Opportunities program.

Poudre School District participants with disabilities will set goals, with the help of parents and teachers, which will guide their participation in Passport Project. The goals will relate to their life after high school, such as employment, community participation, independent living and continuing education. They’ll receive a "passport" of optional activities to participate in which include "Let’s Talk About Me" classes; art class; a dining out club; team and group sports such as golf, softball and basketball; hiking, biking, camping and rafting trips; swimming and aqua classes, cooking and craft classes; monthly community dances; a workout partner program; winter skiing with adaptations in place as needed; summer water skiing, also with adaptations as needed; and other programs offered through Fort Collins’ recreational department.

While participating in these projects, youth with disabilities also will be guided through skill acquisitions such as punctuality, community mobility, appropriate communication and socialization, teamwork, following directions and task completion.

A passport will be completed after each task or skill is accomplished with pictures that depict the path their journey has taken. A professional portfolio will also be developed including information about career interests, skills, abilities, goals and support needs.

Participants also will be connected to community resources for employment services and receive assistance in finding and keeping a job in the community. The program also will encourage and provide a framework for their continued involvement in recreation, artistic and community participation programs over the long term.

A $315,000 three-year grant to support the program was recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.