Concordia-Bethesda friendships thrive beyond graduation
For Mike and Cindy Purnell, the cost of a house is a small
price to pay for peace of mind. And that’s exactly what the Oconomowoc couple
received when they purchased and renovated a four-bedroom home in Cedarburg for
their recently graduated daughter, Dakota, and her two friends.
The move to independent living is a big milestone for
Dakota, 21, who was born with a rare cognitive disability. Two years ago, Dakota
took a giant step forward with her independence and self-advocacy when she
enrolled in Bethesda College of Applied Learning, a unique program collaboration
between Concordia University Wisconsin and Bethesda Lutheran Communities
designed to meet the higher education goals of individuals with intellectual
and developmental disabilities.
At the end of the two-year post-secondary program, Bethesda
graduates receive their Certificate of Applied Learning and are able to cross
the commencement stage alongside Concordia’s thousand-plus baccalaureate through
While in the program, Bethesda students live on Concordia’s
campus in integrated residence halls with Concordia undergraduates. This unique
living arrangement laid the foundation for Dakota’s lasting friendship with her
two new housemates: Kalindi Drewry, a fellow Bethesda classmate, and Megan
Wirtz, from Concordia. Wirtz served as the RA on Drewry’s and Dakota’s hall last
spring and said the laughs among the three were non-stop.
“I can talk about anything with Dakota and Kalindi and at
the end of the day, we just have a lot of fun together,” noted Wirtz.
On Saturday, May 18, the three celebrated their graduation
on Concordia’s campus. The fact that the newly minted graduates now get to live
together was icing on the cake for an otherwise momentous occasion, said Wirtz.
Their decision to live together off-campus is a testament to
the success of the collaboration between Bethesda College and Concordia, said
Samantha Bear, adult living skills professor for Bethesda.
“I think it really demonstrates the level of inclusion we’re
able to achieve with having Bethesda students on campus and integrated into
campus life,” said Bear. “Our Bethesda students come to form close bonds with
the Concordia students we employ to work with them on campus, and the Concordia
students I think have so enjoyed working with us as well that they yearn to
maintain those relationships.”
Case in point: Dakota, Wirtz and Drewry aren’t the only
Bethesda-Concordia grads to take up residence in Cedarburg.
In keeping with the trend, CUW graduate Alex Seefeld and Bethesda College graduate Liam Grady have decided to bunk up together starting this summer, as have Karenna Lillo from Concordia and Alec Shafer, who graduated from Bethesda a couple of years ago. Adam Licht and Luke Schoch, both recent Bethesda grads, will soon move to Cedarburg as well.
The four households of Bethesda/Concordia graduates already
have their summer plans etched out, and there are plenty of outings with one
another on the docket. There will be a regular rotation of cook-outs at each of
the homes, for example, and the group plans to take full advantage of
Cedarburg’s vibrant summer festival scene.
“I couldn’t be more excited that we all get to live near
each other,” Seefeld said. “I’m excited to be living with my buddy Liam, and
then it just makes it that much better that we have the whole group near us.
It’s kind of this perfect transition from college life to becoming an adult.”
While some of the Cedarburg residents are in pursuit of jobs, most will be continuing their education at Concordia or Bethesda College. Wirtz, Seefeld, and Lillo will each begin master’s programs at Concordia in the fall. Wirtz and Lillo are working towards their degrees in occupational therapy, and Seefeld will graduate in two years with his Doctorate in physical therapy. Dakota, Drewry, Grady, Licht , and Schoch, meanwhile, are enrolled in Bethesda’s new STEPS program.
This is the inaugural year for STEPS, which stands for Successful
Transition Exiting Post-Secondary. The program is for recent graduates of the
two-year certificate program and offers a unique blend of services designed to
promote success of Bethesda graduates as employed citizens living an
integrated, purposeful life while contributing to their community. The
program—which is comprised of six main areas such as employment and life
skills—takes a person-centered approach to assist graduates in one or more
areas where they need additional support to transition fully to independence.
Dakota’s parents say they are thrilled to have their
daughter participate in the new program.
“Bethesda helped Dakota grow so much, but now, she needs
that next step towards independence,” said Cindy. “We recognized that the STEPS
program would require her to really move out into the world on her own because
she’d no longer be living in a residence hall on campus, but she’d still have
that support system she’d come to know and find comfort in at Bethesda.”
Plus, Dakota has the added bonus of her built-in Cedarburg
community of supporters and friends.
“We’re so glad to have three great tenants in Megan, Kalindi and Dakota, but more importantly, we’re so happy to have two true friends for our daughter and a community of support in the people from Bethesda and Concordia,” said Cindy. “As parents, that means the world to me and my husband. You can’t put a price tag on your child having good friends.” Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Tuesday, June 4, in the Ozaukee Lifestyles section of the Cedarburg News Graphic.
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on
Tuesday, June 4, in the Ozaukee Lifestyles section of the Cedarburg News