DI teen living a dream at College of Charleston
Shana and Mike Meyer are the parents of Gabby, son, Jake, a freshman at Clemson, and son, Ben, a sophmore at Bishop England.
Studying, enjoying intramural sports, and socializing with friends are just a few of the activities Daniel Island resident Gabby Meyer is looking forward to as she starts her freshman year at The College of Charleston.
â€œAnd tailgating!â€ the Bishop England High School graduate added enthusiastically before heading off to move into her new dorm at COC a few weeks ago. â€œâ€¦I love staying busy!â€
The college milestone is a big one for Gabby, a friendly, engaging young woman with a heartwarming smile. When she was born, her parents, Shana and Mike Meyer, didnâ€™t know what the future would hold for their precious new daughter. Gabby has Down Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes physical and intellectual delays.
The family moved to Daniel Island from St. Louis, Missouri, seven years ago. In Missouri, Gabby may not have had an opportunity to attend college. But at COC, thanks to a special program known as â€œREACHâ€ (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes), she applied and was accepted into the Class of 2018.
â€œIt is an inclusive program,â€ explained Shana, adding that is it very similar to the Options Program Gabby took part in at Bishop England. â€œStudents live on campus. They experience college life like every other, typical childâ€¦South Carolina is pretty unique. If we were still in St. Louis, I do not know one child there with Down Syndrome who is going to college.â€
On the College of Charleston website, REACH is described as â€œa four-year, fully-inclusive postsecondary certificate program for young adults with mild intellectual and/or developmental disabilities - students who would otherwise be unable to attend college with their peers.â€ The ultimate goal of REACH is to teach students to live independently after graduation. This year marks the programâ€™s fifth year in operation.
For the Meyer family, the fact that it is close to home made it even more appealing.
â€œItâ€™s good for her,â€ Gabby said, looking over at Shana, who admittedly was having a more difficult time coping with the pending separation than her independent, confident daughter. â€œâ€¦No tears, Mom!â€
But Shana will have plenty to occupy her time as Gabby adjusts to college life. She is co-chairing the upcoming REACH Gala, a fundraiser for the program that will be held on September 26, at the Daniel Island Club (see information in the sidebar to this article). Shana is hopeful the community will step up to support the effort.
â€œMost people nowadays have someone, whether itâ€™s in their family or in their neighborhood or in their group of friends, that have some type of learning disability. So I think everyone can relate to a certain degree.â€
And the need is critically important. Students enrolled in REACH must pay full tuition with little to no assistance, which could amount to about $30,000 a year. Additionally, the program provides students with a certificate and not a diploma. For this reason, Shana explained, financial aid is not available for students, creating a barrier for those who might otherwise be eligible for help.
â€œAnyone who falls under that category, who will be receiving a certificate and not a degree, does not qualify for any type of financial aid or funding. So this is the only way that we can raise money for the studentsâ€¦because children and families that could benefit from this academically and socially, canâ€™t because of (lack of) finances. Iâ€™ve heard of instances where theyâ€™ve had a kid halfway through the school year (who isnâ€™t able to finish). Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s so important.â€
â€œHaving to say goodbye to even one student due to financial issues is heart-wrenching,â€ wrote REACH Executive Director Edie Cusack, in a letter to the community about the upcoming gala. â€œTo help offset the costs to ensure this program does not become one available only to the elite, the REACH Program has established a scholarship fund through generous donations of our community.â€
Last year, those scholarships helped eight students, including two members of the programâ€™s very first senior class, added Cusack. This year, they have set a goal of raising $150,000.
Knowing Gabby is in good hands at COC has been very comforting for the Meyer family, which also includes son, Jake, a freshman at Clemson, and son, Ben, a sophomore at Bishop England. Shana looks forward to her daughterâ€™s first visit home, most likely this month. Gabby may even have a chance to work a few hours from time to time in her job as a bagger at the Daniel Island Publix. For now, Shana is excited about all that REACH has to offer and its potential impact on her daughter.
â€œFrom my perspective, itâ€™s going to be Gabby continuing to learn academically, Gabby continuing to learn more independence, life skills, relationship skillsâ€¦Our hope is that we see a lot of growth in those areas as well as forming relationships and making those connections in the job force.â€
Gabby seems thrilled with the chance to immerse herself into the college experience. One of the best parts so far has been meeting her new roommate.
â€œSheâ€™s just so sweet. We have the same hair!â€
And when you ask her to identify her favorite team, expect no hesitation.
â€œGo Cougars!â€ she exclaimed, adding a celebratory fist pump to drive the message home.