LifeLink PSU students sacrifice vacation to help with Haitian recovery

A group of State College Area School District (SCASD) special education students between the ages of 18 and 21 who are part of the LifeLink PSU program have decided to donate class trip funds that they have been saving since last year to earthquake relief and rebuilding in Haiti.

LifeLink PSU is a unique program in which Penn State student mentors and members of SCASD’s Department of Special Education provide college-aged SCASD students with disabilities with a transition from high school to adult life through interactions with more commonly-aged peers and the opportunity to attend college-level courses of their choosing, such as criminal justice, ballroom dancing and Web-design.

While any Penn State student is welcome to volunteer at LifeLink as a mentor, students in the Rehabilitation and Human Services and Special Education programs in the College of Education are strongly encouraged to participate.

“Working with LifeLink personalizes the experience for our students," said James Herbert, the professor-in-charge of the program. "By engaging with LifeLink students, they challenge their own beliefs and gain better insight into the lived experience of persons with disabilities.”

The benefits to both Penn State students and LifeLink PSU students are vast; and now, the scope of helping has spread overseas. After saving $12,000 for a trip to the Bahamas, the students of LifeLink PSU have decided to donate this and more to earthquake relief in Haiti, thus forgoing their much-anticipated vacation. After watching a video about the devastation, student Joey Nelson got teary-eyed and thought to himself, “Whoa, we should do something about this!” For student Kiki Malik, seeing Haitians without food or water helped her make her decision.

The group has a fund-raising goal of $30,000 that they hope to reach through their additional fund-raising this semester: The Soup-er Bowl, which raised an additional $12,000, and Dance Battle Royale, which will be held on Friday, April 30. Besides giving up their own vacation, the group seeks to send a message to others. As Teri Lindner, Learning Support Teacher at LifeLink PSU said, “These students sacrificed something very valuable to themselves, and want to challenge others to do the same.”

LifeLink PSU meets daily in a classroom in the HUB-Robeson Center on Penn State's University Park campus. Penn State student mentors involved in LifeLink attend classes with the students, help them with their classwork and socialize with them. LifeLink student Sarah Pelchar described her mentor, David Hillier, who attends sign language classes with her, as her best friend. “We have a lot in common,” she said.

Being located on Penn State’s University Park campus and having the ability to attend classes with other Penn State students allows LifeLink students to experience life as an independent college student. LifeLink student Dani LaMar was proud to say that she, too, was given the opportunity to act as a mentor to a fellow student by accompanying her to a Yoga class. For student Fallecia Ehrmann, who has been admitted to South Hills School of Business and Technology for fall 2010, LifeLink was the transition she needed to feel comfortable going into a college program.

LifeLink intern Sarah Licata, a human development and family studies major, said working with LifeLink has helped her realize that she wants to devote her career to working with people who have disabilities.

“You learn how to interact with different people who have different disabilities," Licata said. "I have decided that my focus will be on autism. I definitely want to do this. This is the road I want to follow.”

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Last Updated March 09, 2010