Everything starts with a need.

Trey graduation

That is exactly where the story of the Northwestern NEXT program began – with a need. A mother, Louri Poppema, came up to me on the NW campus grounds one day and simply asked me if I would consider making a way for her son Trey to experience college.

Trey had been out of high school for a year and all his friends had gone off to college, many to either Dordt or Northwestern. Trey has Down Syndrome and did not qualify to attend college. But that’s where I came in. At the time, I was the Disability Service Provider for students with documented learning and physical disabilities at NWC. I thought about Louri’s request for a few seconds and responded, “Why not”!

I had heard of other programs doing such things and thought it’s just the right thing to do something like this at NWC. There are actually close to 300 colleges and universities across the country with similar programs, but I thought we need one here. So I asked. And I was told to start small. So having one student—Trey—was a good place to start!

I learned a lot in those first two years working with Trey. In addition, I had the support and assistance of Tonya Moore-Huss, a fellow professor who shared the same passion I did for students with disabilities. Tonya, an excellent special education professor, really loved Trey and provided the help and expertise necessary for Trey’s experience here to be a success.

Trey is still a part of the Northwestern community and because of him, along with a substantial donation for the program’s continuation, we currently have seven students in the program with several more wanting to come next fall. Each one of them have a story to tell about how they have arrived here. It has been so affirming to see how God has worked out so many details to have such a program. It is also humbling simply to be a part of something God is doing and to witness His faithfulness in so many ways.

We are extremely excited about our new brochure, which will be available in the next few weeks, thanks to the work and creativity of the NEXT Program’s Assistant Director, Samantha Martin, along with the designing expertise of Duane Beeson and the Public Relations Department. It will be great to have this available to give to all those interested as I continue to receive calls and emails on a weekly basis from parents, teachers, vocational rehabilitation counselors and strategists wanting to know more about us. I continue to have meetings set up with other school districts interested in what we have to offer. And once we have a student come to our program from a school district, additional students from the same school have either come or shown interest in coming in the future.

So, now the program is up and running and already growing! It’s a challenging and enabling program, and also a fun one! We just finished having a fun weekend event, going to Camp High Hopes near Sioux City. There we experienced a 35 foot swing out in the trees with lots of screams and fun, along with a tree climbing course and archery. Everyone faced their fears and aimed for targets and seemed to enjoy themselves. We topped it all off with a trip to Wells Blue Bunny for ice cream and lots of pictures. The peers that went along—mentors in the program—were terrific and seemed to have as much fun as anyone. And it’s committed mentors and fellow students at NWC who really make the NEXT program distinctive. We are a community that cares for EVERYONE!

By: John Menning.

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