Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Office: How It All Began

“Where are the 20-somethings?”

As I talked with Dr. Bill Amstutz, president of Shepherds Ministries, he repeated this question that he had voiced just a few years ago. The very inception of Shepherds College can be traced back to that simple question.

“Where are the 20-somethings?”

For the majority of Shepherds Ministries’ existence, the organization has been known as a residential home for adults with intellectual disabilities. But as Shepherds reached its 50th anniversary, they realized they were not seeing growth within their program. Their residents did not appropriately represent the younger generations of people in their 20s and 30s. Shepherds wanted to find those people, but they realized they would have to create a new program to reach this age group.

Dr. Amstutz’s soft eyes seemed to twinkle as he told me how it all began.

As the administrators and board of directors met at a visioning summit, Dr. Amstutz asked that important question. Ideas were bounced around, and eventually, the group focused on instituting a program that would connect Shepherds back to their educational roots. Shepherds had begun as a boarding school for children with intellectual disabilities, and now the administrators designed plans to start a post-secondary school for students with intellectual disabilities.

This was new territory for everyone involved, and there wasn’t any other program like this that Shepherds could use as a model example. As the research was performed, Shepherds quickly recognized a nationwide lack of post-secondary options for students with intellectual disabilities. Shepherds College planned to combine education, vocational training, daily living skills, residential life, spiritual training, and lessons in appropriate independence to create their college, a combination that had never been instituted in an intellectual disability program before. This school would truly be the first of its kind.

As Shepherds College continued the development of their program, they realized that many young adults with intellectual disabilities struggle with transitions. These young people need help transitioning from school to work and from home to independence.  Shepherds understood that their school would have to successfully support the students throughout these transitions. It would be an essential element to their program.

Not only was Shepherds College designed to influence their students academically and socially, but also spiritually. You see, Shepherds does not want their ministry to simply offer a service. They want to equip their students to live a successful life by providing high quality education with a spiritual foundation. Shepherds College trains their students to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.

Nikki and Dr. Amstutz at the 2011 Commencement
Unlike Shepherds Ministries, Shepherds College does not anticipate making a long-term commitment with their students. Instead, Shepherds College looks to make a brief, but permanent imprint on their students’ hearts during their three years here. Dr. Amstutz refers to it as “a wonderful touch on their lives.” Shepherds College expects their students to take the next step in independence and go out in the world to wherever it is that God has called them, but to always keep Shepherds College in their hearts and minds.

Shepherds has finally found their “20-somethings,” and they’ve created a program that will help those 20-somethings succeed on multiple levels. Now, Shepherds Ministries is able to offer programs that attract adults of all ages.

And to think, it all started with just one question.

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