A new collegiate program for USC Aiken students, specifically for those with intellectual disabilities, will launch in fall 2023.
Four North Augusta graduates, as well as 15 other students from South Carolina and Georgia were accepted into the inaugural PacerLIFE class with an anticipated completion and graduation date in 2025. This will be the sixth program of its kind in South Carolina.
“The whole point of PacerLIFE is to focus on academics, independent living and job skills,” said Dr. Melissa Martin, the program director of PacerLIFE.
PacerLIFE students will work towards fulfilling part-time job status and live on campus with roommates and a Life Resident to master independent living skills.
“We have all different kinds of students on campus and are really pleased to add this special cohort to the mix and to help them live independently and to help them take classes and just engage in the needs of our community members,” said Daren Timmons, chief academic officer. “There are several (similar programs) across the state but there are none in this region, so we think that it is really important for us to contribute to the development of all of those students in the state of South Carolina.”
Chera Richardson, program specialist for Aiken County Public Schools, said programs like this are important for inclusion within the community.
“It just warms my heart to see these kids get what they have, and ... I think so many people just mark them out or don’t see that they have these opportunities,” Richardson said. “They have so much to offer and seeing that happen, I think it’s huge. I think it is a way to educate all of the community, employers included, to actually be inclusive of all students.”
“I was happy that I am going to campus. ROTC, and even graphic design and being independent,” said Evan Allgood, a PacerLIFE student.
Kathleen Allgood, Evan's mother, is excited for the opportunities her son will experience while at college.
“One of the reasons that this is important to me is that when kids are young with autism or special needs, there are a lot of programs, a lot of things going on and when they hit high school and get out, it is kind of like it goes away and this is nice to have that next step, that extra thing that we can have him in and he can learn and he can do it at his pace,” Allgood said. “Plus getting out into the community helps people understand that children that have special needs are not really special, they are just normal, but they happen to need a little extra support here and there to navigate life.”
“Just the smiles on the students this morning, knowing that they are going to college, probably something that they hadn’t considered as a possibility, is really exciting,” Timmons said.
To learn more about the inaugural program at USCA, visit usca.edu/pacer-life.