Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday's Top Five: Favorite Photos

Looking at photos absorbs a lot of my time at work. I need photos to post on Facebook, on the blog, and on the website. I use photos in printed material, and I hunt down just the right photos to support magazine and newspaper articles.

Over the years of searching through thousands and thousands of digital photos on file, I’ve smiled at a lot of them and outright laughed at many. Some have made me scratch my head and a few have made me shudder and hit the delete key. Smiling around a mouthful of spaghetti is never someone’s best moment.

But there are some that make me stop and stare for longer than I should on a busy work day. I stare and my eyes burn a bit with tears. I stare and the skin on my arms prickles with goose bumps. I stare and give little pieces of my heart away. I stare as the photo tells me stories and I remember…

Those are the best kind of photos, aren’t they?

My favorite photos might speak only to me, I don’t know. But I want to share them with you today and tell you why I let time slip by when I look at them.

Photo taken by staff photographer
1.       This photo of Melissa was taken by staff when the Culinary Arts students were visiting a professional kitchen. I wasn’t there when it was taken, but it was sent to me following the visit. I fell in love with the picture as soon as I opened the file. I don’t know if Melissa was preparing her mise en place, or if she was given the pan of fruit and parsley to garnish dinner plates, or if another student was off to the side with his carefully filleted fish to add to the pan. I just know that the photographer managed to capture Melissa’s sweet personality as well as her sense of pride in her accomplishment in the moment the shutter snapped.

Photo by Ellen Cook Photography
2.       This photo is of a bunch of college guys goofing around and laughing - just like you would see on any other college campus.  And that’s exactly what makes it so cool! I remember walking with the photographer and her assistant on the day this photo was taken. The guys started acting up in front of us and the photographer jumped into the fray. As the assistant and I watched the photographer taking picture after picture of guys being guys, the assistant turned to me and said, “This place isn’t what I expected.”  I knew what she meant by her smile. I too once thought that a school for people with intellectual disabilities must be a sad place, filled with struggle and hopelessness and slow-moving people. That was before I came to work for Shepherds. You can see by this picture that Shepherds College is filled with students that have a good time, ham it up, exude energy, make friends and know how to laugh. This photo challenges the stereotype of people with intellectual disabilities.

Photo by Ellen Cook Photography
3.       I have a love/hate relationship with the guitar. On the hate side, I played guitar from the ages of 10 to 15 years old. My first instructor kept telling me to “Get those chubby fingers moving! Move those chubby little things!” No girl wants to hear that...ever. That relationship didn’t last long. I had a crush on my next instructor so naturally wanted to impress him. Since I didn’t have a clue what I was doing yet, that particular goal was difficult to pull off. I knew all my tinny plink, plink, plunking on the strings wasn’t enough to warrant a return crush. I felt deflated. My mom must have known what was going on because one day I went to lessons and had a female instructor. I admired her tremendously, especially her beautiful, long nails. And that was the end of my guitar-playing years. I wanted long fingernails, I couldn’t figure out how to press down on the strings with them like she did, so I quit. I just didn’t have the passion to stick with it. 

On the love side, my husband is very passionate about the guitar and plays it all the time. The instrument is as much a part of our relationship as our kids are. When I see this picture of Sam, I see the same joy on his face as I see in my husband.

This photo makes me feel blessed because I’m always surrounded by beautiful music. It makes me feel disappointed that I was too vain to continue lessons. When I look at it, I sense a guy just loving life, content to take whatever may come. I see Sam’s personality and skill, not his disability. This picture is like a personal, multi-faceted story told in one stunning picture just for me.

Photo by Leibforth Photography
4.       When Rachel first came to Shepherds, I couldn’t get her to look me in the eye.  When I brought in a professional videographer, she couldn’t look at the camera and, in no uncertain terms, told the videographer to leave her alone. After three years at Shepherds College, Rachel eagerly posed for this picture. During those three years, Rachel blossomed into a beautiful, confident young woman filled with charm and whimsy. This picture speaks to me of growth and transformation.

5.       I’m cheating a bit on this one (see the blog on integrity). I couldn’t decide which one I loved more, and since both pictures were taken on the same day, I thought I would just call it a tie.

Photo by Ellen Cook Photography
These girls are Nikki and Gloria, two of our first graduates. They were friends throughout their time here – they loved and laughed and fought and made up. They struggled and learned and encouraged and cried. They went through a lot together. When I see Nikki looking up at Gloria, I imagine what she’s silently saying to her - “We did it!” “I love you.” “Thank you for being my friend.” “It’s over now.” “Will I see you again?” I hear more of her heart conversation every time I look at this picture.

Photo by Ellen Cook Photography
And this is Brian, another of our first graduates. I walked all over campus with the photographer on the day of our commencement. I saw Brian’s excitement as he put on his cap and gown. I heard him encourage his classmates in their fears and listened to him pray with them as well. I saw his nervousness as he rehearsed his speech. He told me about his excitement and uncertainty, but his determination to face the future with confidence. I then saw the elation as he accepted his certificate, and his sadness at saying goodbye to all the people he had grown close to in his years at Shepherds College.  This photo is a beautiful collage of everything Brian was feeling that day - mixed up, naked emotion. 

I hope you saw something meaningful when you looked at these pictures.  Maybe they stirred memories or sparked feelings or taught you something you didn’t yet know – about people with intellectual disabilities, or even about yourself.

These pictures tell the stories of growth and achievement and success. They are the story of Shepherds College.

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Sneak Peek...

There are many special days at Shepherds College – Opening weekend, the first day of classes, Special Olympic tournaments, baccalaureate, the graduation celebration, commencement - but I have a personal favorite. I absolutely love Preview Days.

Most Preview Days, I have a designated spot I wouldn’t trade for the world – the front desk in the lobby. 

From the desk, I have a perfect view of our prospective students and their parents as they’re opening the doors to Shepherds College, many for the first time.  I see faces filled with excitement and uncertainty, caution and exuberance, fear and curiosity, and always - at least a little bit of hope.

Then years later, I watch these scared, tentative, hopeful young people walk across the stage to get their certificate of completion. Only they’re not scared and tentative anymore. They’re confident, poised, hopeful people who can’t wait to take their first step into the world as appropriately independent adults.

And it all started with Preview Day.

Since we have the next Preview Day coming up soon on October 12th, I want to tell you about the experience, and hopefully convince you to join us!

You’ll start the day in the Findley Center, the big building at the front of the campus. As soon as you enter, you’ll be greeted, given a name tag, some documents to reference throughout the day, and a bunch of free stuff like a bag, a pen and a Shepherds College t-shirt. Since registration begins at 8:00 AM and the preview starts at 9:00 AM, there is plenty of time to linger in the lobby, watch the video of our current students, and eat kringle – a Racine favorite and the star of our continental breakfast. The earlier you arrive, the more kringle you’re guaranteed to get and the more time you’ll have to chat with the other parents and prospective students.

At 9:00 AM, the preview begins with Welcome to Shepherds College. At this time, you’ll see our promotional video and hear Chris Wright, our Director of Admissions, and Tracy Terrill, the Executive Director of Shepherds College, give an overview of our unique program.

At 10:00 AM, you’ll be introduced to Angela Houk, the Dean of Shepherds College and Leslie Leith, the Horticulture Instructor. Leslie brings several of her students with her to give a presentation of what they’ve learned and what they’ve done throughout the year.  This is when you’ll get a real glimpse of just how powerfully our post-secondary program can change a life. These students stand in front of your group and speak with such assurance and knowledge that you would have no qualms about hiring them to do your landscaping right at that moment. It’s quite the difference from when they walked in the doors for their Preview Day…

Then it’s time to get some exercise! At 11:00 AM, Chris will take you on a tour of campus. You’ll visit the classrooms, the lunchroom, the gym and the different housing arrangements for the students. You’ll meet teachers and other staff along the way.

Now, unless you ate an entire kringle by yourself – which could very well happen since they’re so good – you’ll probably be getting hungry by this time. At noon, Chef McCarthy and his Culinary Arts students serve lunch in the Wood Center. In the past, they’ve made chicken salad, pumpkin bisque, pasta dishes, chef’s salad and a variety of desserts. 

While you’re eating, take a look at the centerpieces. They were made by the Horticulture students just for your visit.  

After the meal, the Culinary Arts students will give you a presentation of what they’ve learned and accomplished throughout the year.

The next part of the visit sometimes causes a little bit of anxiety in the prospective students, but they always return excited and ready to start school. At 1:10 PM, we ask the students to separate from their parents to hang out with the first year students. The students participate in group activities, goof around in the gym, play games and spend time getting to know each other. If the prospective student is interested in attending college the following fall, we may invite them to sit down with an Academic Advisor for a few minutes to start building their relationship.

At this time, the parents go back to the Findley Center for a Q&A session with Chris Wright about the admissions process. The nurses join him to discuss medical issues, and we finish the Q&A after a session on financial aid. Some of the questions covered in the past have included:

How are medical needs addressed?
What do we need to submit from the doctor?
How is student housing staffed?
How do families pay for school?
What documentation do we need to submit to apply?
How do we schedule an overnight visit for our son/daughter?
Does it matter if the student enrolls after their senior year or after their transition program?

At this point, it’s time to say goodbye for the day. We hope we gave you a lot to talk about on your trip home!

Whether you’re a student, a parent, a teacher or just a friend who is curious about our school, we invite you to call Chris at 262-878-6351 and sign up for the next Preview Day.

The Shepherds College program changes lives. Come take a peek at what it’s all about!

For a list of Preview Days, please visit our website.

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Office: Redeeming the Time

Today’s blog is written from the heart of Cathy Harvey, Administrative Assistant

I sent an email to the college staff and faculty yesterday that simple said, Don’t look now, but it’s only 3 months until CHRISTMAS!!  Just thought you would like a little forewarning.”  One faculty replied back that they had Christmas music on at the time they received the email-ha!  I had to chuckle.  The early bird personalities will tell me they already started their list and shopping, and the last minute procrastinators tell me joyously they will be making gifts early Christmas morning to finish in time.

However, the truth is, regardless of personality type, the nature of the Administrative Assistant’s role necessitates keeping an eye on the calendar and planning ahead, especially as our student body grows. 

For example, I am always in the process of gathering travel plans as soon as parents will send them to me for the next holiday or major break: Labor Day (Sept), Thanksgiving (Nov), Christmas (Dec), Spring/Easter (Mar/Apr), Memorial Day (May), and Summer (June). It’s a year round vigil.  In fact, I’ll be sending the Fall Holiday Travel notice to parents any day now.

If the college plans to send Christmas cards, the process begins in September, gathering ideas between our office and the marketing department, and passing around the Christmas card list in October-checking it twice, who’s been naughty or nice? (Just kidding-we love you all!)

Graduation rattles around in the back of my head almost all year, although my bosses are not ready to talk about it until spring.  By the first meeting in January or February, there has already been plenty of planning in the works.  To date, third year parents have already confirmed their students’ names for graduation certificates with me, as well as their height and weight for caps and gowns. I already have the student cap and gown order ready to go as soon as they come back for the spring semester.   
Planning for their big day in June!
A rough draft of the commencement program is already crafted, state flags are being ordered to represent the graduates home states and countries, and on and on the behind-the-scenes preparations go.

The next holiday, Thanksgiving, as you know, takes lots of planning.  For many families, the meal alone seems to be the center of attention with days of menu planning, shopping, baking, freezing, and hours standing in the kitchen.  What appalls me is the enormous number of hours this one meal takes to prepare compared to the speed with which it disappears--usually about 20 minutes in our house.  Days of planning gone in minutes!

I have contemplated all this and concluded life is a series of long preparations, highlighted here and there with a grand event. Olympians train for 4 years or more to participate in some races that last 10 seconds.  4 years for 10 seconds!  Months are spent planning weddings, and I’ve seen some ceremonies that last all of 15 minutes.  It takes years of college and/or grad school to land a job.  I’ve decided I must try to enjoy the preparation as much as the finale, because the grand finale is merely the cherry on top of the icing on the cake.  The preparation is the meat of the journey. 

I think of our students.  Graduation is the crowning glory, a ceremony as grand and God-glorifying as we can put on for all the students and families, but what we are really celebrating is not the one hour ceremony, but their 3-year journey.  They came as frightened, shy, closed-off, first year students and day-by-day, they opened up, walked, stumbled, cried, learned, tried again, worked, prayed, rehearsed, interned, and plodded their way through what we hope was the most challenging and rewarding experience of their life up to this point.  It’s the JOURNEY of preparation that is so exciting!  That’s why we Tweet and Facebook and Blog daily and weekly.  We share with parents, friends, donors, and prayer warriors, how God is preparing our students for the most appropriate independence they can handle, beginning Day One after graduation. 

“Time to Fly” is about the journey.  Have we prepared them well?  We’re trying!  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  Semester by semester.  Year 1, Year 2, Year 3. . .we are, to the best of our abilities, from the office to the classroom to after-school life, redeeming the time.  We are intentional in making the best of every hour of every day, for their sakes and for God’s glory.

We’ve got to get ready, be prepared every day, redeeming the time, because the future is just around the corner!

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teacher Tuesday: The Right Stuff

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, our Residential Life staff are so much more than the RAs you might find at a typical college.  They become surrogate parents, friends, counselors, managers and teachers to our students.

It’s a big role with a lot of responsibility, and the leadership of Shepherds College is careful to fill this role with just the right person.

Kim Pechous is definitely the right person.

God brought her to Shepherds knowing that she needed to be at a place where she could grow in her faith, continue to learn and serve others all at the same time.

Shepherds College is definitely the right place.

Put the right person into the right place and you have the opportunity to witness excellence in action.

Kim worked in Special Education for three years before coming to Shepherds College. She views this experience as “the greatest blessing” thus far – constantly learning from each new situation and constantly growing in every aspect of her life.

Now Kim runs the female dorm and co-teaches Daily Living Skills with Daniel Gaschke. She oversees meal planning and grocery shopping for the first-year students. 

She incorporates the R.E.A.L. instruction the students receive during class time into the Daily Living training, such as cooking and cleaning lessons.

She manages the kitchen and oversees the rotating chore charts.

And she takes advantage of the countless opportunities to teach cooperation, collaboration, communication and many more life lessons while supervising the young women in the dorms.

Some people might feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for twelve people every afternoon and evening, but Kim’s personality is particularly well-suited for the task. Her co-workers describe her with sincere admiration:

“She has a gentle and quiet spirit, and a heart of compassion.”

“She is so patient with the students, but has a good balance of control as well. The students really respect her.”

“Kim does a wonderful job of giving students space, but also helping them so the students know she is available to assist them with their problems.”

“Kim’s humility, gentleness and kindness towards both staff and students is very evident. While learning her role, she would humbly ask for help or clarification when needed and willingly accept suggestions, while at the same time, stepping right in and working hard to fulfill her responsibilities. It is a joy and privilege to serve at Shepherds College with Kim!”

Her students added:

“Miss Pechous is a good listener.”

“She is sooooo sweet!”

“I love her.”

Although Kim is very successful at gaining the respect of everyone she works with, this is not her ultimate goal, “I’d like to see the students gain confidence in themselves and in God. I’d like them to see that they can do all things through Christ. (Phil 4:13)”

Put the right person in the right place with the right attitude and what do you get? 

Students on the right path to Appropriate Independence.

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at