Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tess' College Experience

Thank you to Tess Spahr, a Shepherds College alumna, for writing today's blog.

College was very interesting for me.

I was very shy my first year, and by the middle of my first year I was more outgoing.

Second year was a blast.

And third year was a breeze.

After graduation, I was offered a job doing maintenance and grounds crew and domestics.

And I am living on my own now with my friend Annie in a trailer.

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teacher Tuesday: Dinner On A Budget

Thank you to Sarah Kolkman, Instructor at Shepherds College, for writing today's blog.
Dinner on a Budget project was created as a way to challenge students who finish work early in the first-year class, Math and Money Skills.   There is a diverse range of abilities in math, in which every student in one subject excels or struggles.   In order to allow individual attention on those who struggle with the math concepts and allow those who have completed the assignment additional REAL training, a blue folder appeared in the back of the classroom. 
Students were instructed that if their work was completed and turned in, they could work on additional math practice or grab the blue folder in the back of the room.  Inside the folder contained steps to planning a dorm dinner on a budget.  Working as a team, the math students were to plan the meal, budget the expenses, shop, prepare, and serve the meal for all the first-year class. 
Cooking for over 24 students plus staff on a $50.00 budget turned out to be more difficult than they thought.
Soon students were eagerly finishing their assignments as quickly as they could so they can work on the blue folder.  Students quickly had a menu mapped out which included a potato bar dinner, fruit salad and broccoli for the side, and Orange Julius to drink.  (Reaching across the curriculum, students used their Daily Living Skills knowledge when planning the meal, making sure every food group was accurately represented based on
The tricky part was getting the price down.  A week before the dinner, some math students made a trip to the grocery store to research the ingredients and their prices. 
Not only were they challenged with finding the cheapest price per unit, but estimating how much of that ingredient would feed 24 hungry college students.  Adding up our total, it came to over $100!  Yikes!  Not discouraged, students went back and combed through their recipes and ingredient list.   They found areas they could cut out and trim back on, and finally turned in a budget proposal that was under $50.00.
The following week, another group of math students went back to the grocery store to shop for their items. 
As students will learn in their 2nd year, food is a flexed expense, meaning it changes.  Some of the prices had changed from our original trip.  With quick thinking and a couple of returns, students were able to purchase everything, bring it back to the dorms, dice, steam, and bake the food into a wonderfully prepared potato bar meal. 

I am so proud of my math students.  Each and every one of them had a role in this project, and they demonstrated great team work, problem solving, and overall budgeting skills.

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Office: The Queen's Housekeeper

Thank you to Cathy Harvey, Administrative Assistant to Shepherds College, for writing today’s blog.

What would I, a Chicago gal from birth, and a transport to South Carolina, Iowa, and then back to Illinois, know about the Queen’s housekeeper?  That would be Queen Elizabeth, the only queen I have known to be on the throne of England.  And what does she have to do with my work at Shepherds College?  Well, I will tell you, but first, the back story.

Last summer I wrote about how God led me to Shepherds College via a lay-off and the kind encouragement of a respected co-worker (The Office: As He Leads, July 18, 2012). I did not have any academic training in special education.  I had not volunteered in any particular special ed ministries.  It had not really dawned on me until almost the end of my interview here that I had, however, grown up with two very close relatives who had disabilities.  I was certainly aware of their conditions, but did not think about their handicaps as someone else may have viewed them because I had grown up with them, and their lives were part of the normal rhythms of our household and holidays.

I really wondered what I was getting myself into when I ventured here for an interview.  Of course, I wanted a job—our house payment depended on me.  I was laid off in a time when my husband had been out of work for 14 months, so I felt a little anxious about how we would make ends meet while hoping and trusting that God would take care of us like He had so many times in the past. However, I decided it needed to be a win-win situation.  I was not going to desperately try to sell myself and say what I thought they wanted to hear in order to be hired, but chose blunt reality instead.  I was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing me, and I was not sure I was equipped to work here.

I was frank about my strengths and weaknesses.  I remember encouraging them to get “the good, the bad, and the ugly” from my references.  We might as well have the truth out in the open and up front because we would have to work together and coordinate our personalities if I was hired, right?  Better to know if we would have a good working dynamic before putting HR through all the paces it takes to start a new employee.  Not being desperate helped me relax, which helped me think more clearly, which in turn helped me answer the interview questions more thoughtfully than if I had been in a nervous sweat over the whole process.

The interview felt long.  I wondered why they were taking so much time with me.  I think it was about two hours by the time we finished and they gave me a tour.  After departing, I left it all in God’s hands.  

Quicker than I would have imagined, Shepherds called and offered me the position, and I started the following week. I jumped right in helping to prepare for Opening Weekend just two weeks away.  I wondered what I had gotten myself in to when the Dean told me to check on students in the apartments the first day of school to make sure they were up and not fighting.  Thankfully no one was fighting!

Was this really where I was supposed to be?  Why did God open this door?  I was certainly grateful that the Lord provided a job so quickly, but. . . what was I doing here?  How could I possibly help these students?  I did not know anything about the multitude of disabilities represented, how their minds processed information, or how to connect with them.  And now, four years later, I am still here.  What motivated me to stay?  Would you believe it was Queen Elizabeth’s Housekeeping Director?

Here is what happened.  Two or three weeks into the school year, I was watching a recorded episode of Oprah in which she explored how other people and cultures lived, a topic that always fascinated her.  One of the homes she explored was Windsor Castle.  The segment followed a reporter, approved by the Queen Mother, who was allowed to film the workings inside her home.  He documented for the viewers what it was like to be a guest of the Queen.  I was completely fascinated with the housekeeping staff, and the Director of the staff in particular, who reminded me a bit of “Nanny McPhee,” if you have seen that delightful film, with her crooked front teeth and distinctive facial features.

It took four housekeeping staff members, that I could see within the camera view and under the watchful eye of the Director, to help settle a visitor's belongings in the guest room.  Absolute care was taken to unpack suitcases by three people!  One was unpacking and dictating the contents to another who had a clipboard and was taking note of every item.  A third person was taking each article and either hanging it up or placing it carefully in the suite while a fourth person otherwise readied the room.  Clothes were hung on silky padded hangers.  The bed was turned down in perfect and pristine order.  Teddy bears were nestled lovingly between the bed pillows from children’s suitcases.

Preparing for a guest’s departure was equally impressive.  Clothing was washed and pressed and, ever-so-carefully, packed between layers of tissue to ensure a clean and neat suitcase.  It was jaw-dropping to me to see the care and detail!  From off-camera the reporter asked the Director of Housekeeping why they didn’t let the guests pack their own suitcases.  Two staff members in the background gasped at the very thought, in a very polite British way, of course.  But I’ll never forget what the Director said (only because I grabbed a pen and wrote her profound words down!  I rewound the tape numerous times to capture her words exactly.)

She looked straight into the camera, and with her British accent and clear diction spoke quietly and with calm conviction,

“Everything is done to make them feel as comfortable as possible…so when they leave the Queen’s home they say, ‘What a wonderful, wonderful place, and how well we were looked after.’”

In that moment, sitting in my basement apartment, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, and assured me, “Cathy, that is all I am asking of you at Shepherds.  Take care of the students while they are there, so when graduation comes and it’s time for them to leave, they can say to their parents, “What a wonderful, wonderful place, and how well we were looked after.”

I almost cried. I can do that. I can care. I can be a part of making Shepherds College a “wonderful, wonderful place”.

So, I was inspired to stay, even though I had no (academic) background in a special needs population.  In the day-to-day routines, I do what I can: help the students get their lockers open, replace a broken lanyard, call maintenance because something spilled on the carpet, pass meds, hold lost and found items, help tutor a student struggling with math concepts, exercise with them, make copies for class, make sure they have a travel escort for Christmas break, pass along stickers for the scrapbook club, plan their graduations and make it as grand as possible, and so many little and big tasks to look after them… and offer a wonderful, wonderful stay.

I Peter 4:10, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…”

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Teacher Tuesday: On Food & Gratitude

As a child, I was always surprised when I heard people say that Thanksgiving was their favorite holiday. “But there aren’t any presents!” I would say with bemusement to my siblings, and we would wonder at the oddness of adults.

Now I get it. 

I love the anticipation leading up to Thanksgiving. My kids start texting their travel plans early in the month. I begin my list making – Family Favorite Recipes to Make, New Recipes to Try, Grocery Shopping for the 1st Week of November, Grocery Shopping for the 2nd Week, Grocery Shopping for the 3rd Week, Cooking Plans for the three days leading up to Thanksgiving, and Chores that Need to Get Done Before the Family Arrives. 

Every picture of a golden brown and glistening turkey makes my stomach rumble.  The aisles of the grocery stores are filled with amazing food items I want to try and incorporate into my Thanksgiving recipes.  Memories of the savory smells of sage, thyme, melted butter, and caramelized onions tantalize my mind as I try to stay focused on my daily responsibilities.

 My husband and I spend our evenings leading up to the family’s homecoming freshening up bedrooms and bathrooms, and shopping for new movies to watch late into the night with the kids. Prayers fill our quiet times – “God, please let all our loved ones stay healthy. Keep their cars running smoothly, and keep them safe as they’re driving home. Bless our time together with love and laughter and fun new memories. Teach us to be mindful of all Your blessings and let gratitude fill our home and hearts. Amen. And please don’t let the oven break down. Amen… again.”

A lot of the staff and students at Shepherds College share my love for this holiday, for all the delicious food shared with family & friends, and for a time set aside for purposeful gratitude.  

“Although I love the traditional turkey, stuffing, etc., the food I most look forward to is my wife Emilie’s sweet potato casserole. Her recipe isn’t topped with marshmallows, but is instead made with mashed sweet potatoes and a crunchy pecan and brown sugar topping. Yum!”  ~  Mr. Gaschke


“I’m so thankful for all the people at Shepherds College, the staff and students.”  ~ Kati, student

“I love a good stuffing. My father-in-law makes stuffing with Italian sausage and it is phenomenal. I also love gravy over everything!”  ~ Mr. DeCiccio

"My favorite food at Thanksgiving is green bean casserole. The thing I am thankful about at Shepherds College is that I am able to have the opportunity to grow in maturity and social skills. This school has made a huge positive impact on my life."  ~ Suzanne, student

“My FAVORITE food for Thanksgiving is my Grandma’s green bean casserole!! It’s a secret family recipe so I can’t share it… all I can tell you is that it is amazing!
I am thankful for the growth I have seen in the students this semester. They have worked very hard!”  ~ Mrs. Kolkman


“I love the devil’s food cake and apple cider. I’m thankful for all the friends and staff members who love me at Shepherds College.”  ~ Anthony, student

“My favorite Thanksgiving food is turkey, crock-pot stuffing and my aunt’s sweet potato casserole.
I have so much to be thankful for – my hard-working and creative staff, the opportunity to teach On and For a Purpose, and the students’ growth toward Appropriate Independence.”  ~ Miss Houk


“I love French Silk Pie! I’m thankful for the Academic Advisors.”  ~ Megan, student

 “The foods I look forward to the most on Thanksgiving – turkey, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and pumpkin pie! I am so thankful that my students make me laugh!”  ~ Mrs. Luchterhand


“My favorite Thanksgiving food is homemade rolls. I am thankful for my friends.”  ~ Katherine, student


“I love mashed potatoes! I think they’re delicious!
I’m thankful for the great conversations I’ve had with the students while driving this semester. I love when they open up and feel comfortable sharing what is going on in their lives with me!”  ~ Mrs. Patton


“My favorite food is sweet potatoes. I’m thankful for friends who love me so much.”  ~ Andrew, student

 “I’m thankful for the students’ enthusiasm. It’s a great feeling to be greeted with so much joy and energy!”  ~ Mrs. Konopasek

“My favorite food is green bean casserole and I’m thankful for all the fun outings we go on at Shepherds College.”  ~ Krista, student

 “I’m looking forward to Elegant Farmer’s brown bag, caramel apple pie.
“I’m thankful that I work with such a high caliber, creative, passionate and caring group of people, and I’m thankful for the impact the students have made in my life.”  ~ Mr. Canright

"My favorite food is Pumpkin Cheesecake. I'm thankful for my Academic Advisor, Miss Pollard. She has helped steer me in the right direction of how I'm supposed to be acting and following the rules."  ~ Jonathan, student

“I am thankful for all my students and the joy, diversity, and energy they bring into my life!! They are all wonderful, and I’m thankful to have a small part in their lives.”  ~ Miss Pollard


“Turkey and pumpkin pie! I’m thankful I can be at Shepherds College.”  ~ Alex, student

“I love plain sweet potatoes without brown sugar or marshmallows on top. I think they are so delicious just the way they are. I like to savor the flavor, with maybe just a little butter, but it’s not required to enjoy!
I’m thankful coming in on Sunday evenings to be with the first-year ladies as the overnight person. It is so refreshing to see them outside of the academic arena and have time to just talk to them.”  ~ Mrs. Harvey

“My parents are coming for Thanksgiving so I’m hosting for the first time! I’m most looking forward to potatoes – mashed and sweet! My husband Matt is looking forward to the HUGE turkey my parents are lugging all the way from New York, and pumpkin cheesecake!
I am thankful for two things – the support of my supervisors and the way that God continually uses Shepherds College to sanctify me, to make me more like Him. I think I often forget that God has me here to accomplish His own will within me, not just so I can serve.”  ~ Mrs. Cyr

Mr. Wright's favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

From the Shepherds College family to yours –
We pray that you find love reflected in each face seated around your table, that you find joy in the memory of each precious face that is no longer there, and that each morsel of delicious food, each beloved family tradition, and each moment of shared happiness ultimately serves to bring you closer to the One who provided it all.

Have a Blessed & Happy Thanksgiving!

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