Disabled student fulfills college dream

Andrea Clark has cerebral palsy and moves into dorms next fall

Transitioning to life after high school can be difficult, but for students with disabilities, it can be even more challenging, but with the help of local agencies, families don’t have to make the transition alone.

Every year, the La Crosse County Transition Advisory Council holds an event called the Next Step.

It’s a one-day event for teens with disabilities and their families to learn about all the resources in the area that can help them transition into adulthood. One member said whether the goal is to find a job or go to college, someone can help.

“There are many options out there and the thing that surprises me the most is how much people don’t know about what the greater La Crosse community can offer to a family with a youth with a disability,” said Liza Collins, a member of the La Crosse County Transition Advisory Council.

The transition advisory committee is made up of many local agencies, including La Crosse Human Services, the job center and local school districts. The Holmen School District offers a program called Project Live. It helps students learn independent living skills for life after high school.

One local student who has a disability said if it wasn’t for this program, she couldn’t be on her own. In the fall, Andrea Clark will be a second-year student at Western Technical College, but it will be her first year living in the dorms.

Because of her disability, last year her mother drove her to college every day from Holmen. Now that Clark has completed Project Live, her dream of living on her own and enjoying college to the fullest, is about to become a reality.

College is a time of many firsts. For example, cooking for yourself.

“Pizza, that’s always a win,” said Clark.

Or planning your entire day.

“It’s only about a 5-10 minute walk from here to my classes,” said Clark.

And of course living on your own.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Clark.

Clark, 20, has been working towards moving out of her childhood home her whole life.

“Our goal for her has always been that she lead as independent and productive life as she can and be a contributing member of society,” said Pam Clark, Andrea’s mother.

Clark has a disability.

“The hallway is very nice and wide for me so I can get my chair in,” said Clark.

“She has cerebral palsy, born with it, so she’s got spastic quadriplegia which means legs and arms affected,” said Andrea’s mother.

“Everything is nice and low, I can get underneath the sink really nice,” said Clark.

But Clark has never let her differences slow her down.

“When she was younger in elementary school, she’d say ‘hi’ to a kid coming at her, it they didn’t say ‘hi’ back, she’d just say it louder until they responded,” said Andrea’s mother.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a disability or not, it matters more your abilities and what you can do,” said Clark.

It hasn’t always been easy.

“I think she has times when she is down and she wishes she could go where ever everyone else is going,” said Andrea’s mom.

But Clark is determined to teach the world a lesson.

“I kind of want to break down those stereotypical thoughts that people may have and tell them that everyone is different,” said Clark.

It may take a little longer to experience some firsts in life but Clark said it’s well worth the wait.

“I always say to myself that I am dealt the cards I am dealt and I have to deal with them so I may have to find a different way to deal with them, but that’s not always bad,” said Clark.

Clark hopes her story helps other students who may find themselves in similar situations take advantage of the resources available to them.

Clark has a couple of general education courses to finish up this fall. In spring she hopes to enter the human services associate program and focus on disability and elderly-related services.