Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just Super!

Please read the next sentence with all the love and affection a mother’s heart can hold. 

All my kids are nerds - all four of them, from the fourteen year old right on up to the twenty-six year old.

I can comfortably make this statement because it’s based on fact – 99% of their conversations are weird by anyone’s standards, except other nerds.

The last conversation Nic had in my kitchen involved figuring out how many men could fit on the surface of Jupiter. His answer included “Unlike Earth, Jupiter is not separated ground from sky, land from water, it is simply a gaseous collection of muck. There is no reaching the surface of Jupiter because there isn't one. Once an object enters the gasses of Jupiter, it simply falls, or is pulled rather…” I stopped listening.

Lani tells math jokes about sines, cosecants and rhombuses. Nic and Mike laugh hysterically while I smile and hope no one sees the panicked “HUH???” in my eyes.

Taylor reads Edgar Allan Poe before bed then sing-songs under her breath as she walks through the house, “To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells from the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells…”  I’m left praying that no one beats her up and stuffs her in a locker at school.

Before Mike went back to college after Christmas break, he and Taylor had an argument commonly heard amongst nerds – if all Super Heroes got into the ultimate cosmic battle, which one would win?”

At this point I thought, “Wow. I’m considering selling a major organ on Craigslist to pay for his senior year and he’s arguing about super heroes?? Seriously?!”  I was hoping for a discussion on interest rates, insurance premiums, the stock market, the odds of the Packers playing in the Super Bowl, anything to make use of his education, but super heroes??
They had narrowed the field to a war between Batman and Ironman, when I yelled, “Are you nuts?! Both of these guys depend on a stable economy for their superpowers. If the economy collapses and their businesses go under, Ironman couldn’t repair his suit and Batman can kiss his gadgets goodbye! Try again!” We decided the winner of this mighty mêlée would be a Jedi with a Kryptonite lightsaber.

Oh goodness. The nuts didn’t fall so far from the tree after all. 

When the college students came back from Christmas break, the teachers had lots of interesting activities planned for Orientation. They played games and prepared school supplies and wrote poems and talked about… super powers


Imagine my relief! Talking about super heroes is normal! All college students do it! And even some of the teachers.  Mrs. Anderson said that she would like super strength above all other super powers.

The students put a lot of thought into their super selves. Most students decided that they wanted to fly, but Sharon added, “I would want to be able to fly to Heaven to see God.”

Wade and Megan want x-ray vision.

Brandon got creative and said, “Super speech.” 

One student didn’t want to age and another wanted to heal herself quickly, like Wolverine.

Alex wishes he could manipulate time and space, and David wants to be a jumper.

David is #3. Check out that jump!
Like Mrs. Anderson, several students want super strength, Israel wants super speed and Nichole wants super hearing.

Matt wants to be able to climb walls.

Maika is the only one who already has her super power. She simply said she wants “to freeze.” That’s what happens when you go to school in Wisconsin, Maika.

So it seems it doesn’t matter who you are – nerd or not, male or female, 20-something or 40-something – there’s just something appealing about being given the gift of super abilities, ones that allow you to do something extraordinary, something heroic, something others said couldn’t be done…

I guess looking at it that way, all the students of Shepherds College are super heroes. Every student at Shepherds College has found the super courage to fly above and beyond society’s expectations of someone with an intellectual disability. They are learning new things every day, and they’re daring to realize their dreams. Each future is brighter because our students are refusing to be limited by their disabilities. 

Forget the comic books. Come meet some real heroes at Shepherds College.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Office: Staffing the College

What makes Shepherds College so successful as a post-secondary school for people with intellectual disabilities? Why are we heading into our fifth year of operations when so many new ventures fail shortly after the first year?

I can think of two big reasons right off the top of my head.  The first is a given:

GOD!! He gave us the vision for this school, His hand is placed protectively over ours as we go about the daily tasks He calls us to, and He will complete the good work He started on our campus.

The second reason is obvious to me, but may not be for someone who hasn’t worked closely with the school, so I’ll give you a little hint – it’s not because we have a ton of money to provide whatever we need to keep moving forward. 

We don’t.

What we have is even more valuable. 

We have people who creatively use the resources we do possess to further the education of the students. We have people with a strong educational background whose gifts are well-suited to their positions. We have people who know how to care and cope and laugh together to get over the humps. We have people who know the definitions of diligence, discernment, initiative, integrity, respect and responsibility and put them into practice on campus and off. We have people who place God above themselves and who work knowing that pleasing Him is the most important task they could accomplish in any day.

We have the most dedicated, loyal, talented, loving, amazing staff around. 

Can you imagine the kind of pressure Human Resources is under to find and train this caliber of person time and time again?

Meet Nancy Amstutz, the woman who places ads, screens applicants, arranges interviews, performs reference checks, processes all the paperwork, walks with each new hire through orientation and schedules regular training to make sure every staff member is equipped to be employed at Shepherds.

She works closely with Executive Director, Tracy Terrill and Dean, Angela Houk to find, not just a good person, but the right person for each open position.

Nancy understands that putting the right person in the right position is key to building a powerful culture of achievement at Shepherds College and that the opposite can be both demoralizing and damaging to the organization. She performs her job with excellence so the latter just doesn’t happen.

It’s a comfort to the staff to know that the unique Shepherds College work environment will be protected.

It’s a comfort to the students to know that the people who are teaching them and leading them in their daily living skills really know what they’re talking about and truly care that each student is learning exactly what they need to in order to live appropriately independent.

It’s a comfort to the parents to know that their children are in the hands of people who are dependable, safe and trustworthy.

It’s a comfort to know that Nancy is seated behind her desk in the Human Resources office – the right person in the right position to help provide continuous growth to the staff of Shepherds College.

If you’re looking for a career that really impacts lives, if you love God and all His people, if you want to work for an organization that supports disability while celebrating ability, then keep an eye on the open positions on our website, pray about each opportunity, and call Nancy at 262-878-5620 ext. 2317.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Teacher Tuesday: A Lesson in Leadership

Thank you to Miss Pollard for writing today’s blog.
In our Communications classes, we’ve been talking about leadership - what it looks like, the qualities a leader should possess and the characteristics of a bad leader.  In both classes, an overwhelming number of students ranked honesty and trustworthiness at the top of the list of “Good Leader Qualities”.  This was perfect because I planned an activity that made students realize how important it is to be an honest leader and to use discernment when they are in a group. 

Students were placed in groups of 2-3, and we took a short field trip to the Shepherds Table to play games.  

Before the groups started playing, I pulled a student from each team and asked them to be the group leader.  I also asked them to cheat while they were playing!  

These students took extra game pieces, moved more spaces than they were supposed to, and gave the other players different directions about how to play the game.  

When other students in the groups complained about their leader, I told them that it was important to do what the leader said.  After a bit more grumbling, I let the students in on the activity - they were quite surprised!  

This led to an excellent discussion in both of my classes about why it is so important to be honest as a leader and how very important it is to use discernment.  If someone who is a leader (in an internship or job situation) asks you to do something that you KNOW is not right, it is very important to use discernment---which is also a Shepherds College character trait---in the situation.  The classes responded that a good leader will gain the trust of the people, build their character, do the right things and ultimately bring honor to God.

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

A First-Time Traveler

I love it when parents send me blogs! I know even before I open up my email that the story is going to be positive and inspirational and will warm my frozen Wisconsin heart.

Jenny contacted me last week with a story about her son Ryan, a first-year college student, who traveled home and back to school during Christmas break all on his own. As you read her story, you can feel her joy and pride at the growth she’s witnessing as Ryan continues his education at Shepherds College.

Thank you to Jenny Wiehe for writing today’s blog:

I talked to Ryan on the Thursday evening before Christmas break. He said he and the other students were packing up on Friday to be ready to leave early Saturday morning. He told me he was a little scared and excited at the same time - excited to be coming home for four weeks of Christmas Break.

Ryan was up at 5:00am on Saturday, got a bite to eat, made himself a lunch, loaded his things in Ms. Pechous’ car and then left for the Greyhound Bus Station in Milwaukee. Talking with Ms. Pechous after he left, she told me that Ryan went down to the buses, found his correct bus and talked to the Bus Driver for a bit. They all decided that Ryan should put his bags under the bus to keep them safe and to sit up front. Ryan showed the bus driver his ticket and ID, then told Ms. Pechous goodbye and boarded the bus. Ryan was very independent, and we are so proud of him.

Excited to be coming home, Ryan called me three different times to make sure I would be there to pick him up. I told him I would be there.

He asked if we could go to Caribou Coffee on the way home, and I said, “Yes, we can.”

He told me he took a nap and ate his lunch, and I said, “Awesome! See you soon!”

I waited at the McDonalds in Eau Claire, WI.  I kept seeing buses come and go.

Finally the moment arrived! I looked up, and there he was getting off the bus, getting his bags and walking toward the building. I came out, saw a big smile on Ryan’s face and said, “Hi!” I gave him a warm hug - so proud!!

We put his bags in the car and left for home. He told me he had a nice ride, but a little bumpy at times. We talked about what was going on in school and what he wanted to do while he was home for the break.

We pulled into Caribou and picked up coffee for all of us. We stopped at the hardware store we own in Barron, WI to drop off the coffee for his Dad and sister, said hi to them and went home. Ryan took his bags inside and put them into his room after Sam, our puppy, greeted us at the door, jumping all around, excited to see Ryan.

We had a nice holiday.  Ryan kept up with his basic chores, hung out with some friends, did some sledding in our backyard.

He played with his young nephews who stayed with us for four days. We had fun.

Ryan went to to the Twin Cities with Kyle, his friend, and family to celebrate Kyle's birthday at a nice restaurant.

We had family movie night and game night. It got pretty cold in our area towards the end of the break.

Ryan did some basic cooking and helped with the holiday meals, as well as cleaning up. We also did some shopping after Christmas.

We see a difference in Ryan.  He is growing up and becoming more independent. His communication skills are improving. We’re so proud!

Toward the last week of the break, I noticed a change in Ryan and thought that he was missing his friends and ready to go back to school. He didn't admit it, but mother's intuition.

The time came for him to leave. I was sad - we had a fun time together.

He packed up his things Saturday evening so he could have a little extra time on Sunday. We left about 11:30 am and headed to Caribou again, this time just for us.

Then back to the McDonalds in Eau Claire. It was a quiet ride. We talked a little about things to do for Spring Break, and the fun we had on this break. When we arrived at our bus stop, we played some tic tac toe to make the time go faster. Of course Ryan won most of the games.

We had said our good byes and shared hugs earlier while waiting. The bus arrived and Ryan got his bags from the car. After making sure it was the correct bus, the driver put Ryan’s bags underneath the bus, Ryan showed him his ticket and ID, I gave him another quick hug and said I love you. Then... he boarded the bus. He was on his way back to Shepherds!

I got back to my car and sat for a moment, dealing with my emotions... then I called Miss Pollard and told her that Ryan was heading her way. We chatted for a little while, and this wonderful young lady made me feel better.

It was a quiet drive home with only Ryan's favorite music filling the car with sound. Then came the wait!

Dave and Shayden, Ryan's dad and sister, made dinner and we watched a movie that evening. Finally at 7:30pm I got a call from Ryan saying that he arrived, picked up his bags and was looking for Miss Pollard and another student that rode with them. I heard someone call Ryan's name, then Ryan told me, “I see them!”

Miss Pollard sent me a text to let me know they were on the way back to school.

Our first-time traveler made it back to school safe and sound. Proud Parents.

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