Russ Kinkade holds up a pen. If it were broken, he says, he would toss it. "So if you objectify people and see they are broken, then it makes logical sense that you would discard them," concludes Kinkade, executive vice president of Shepherds Ministries.
Located south of Milwaukee, the nonprofit Christian organization has 53 years of experience in overcoming the perception that people with disabilities have little to contribute to society and thus can be discarded.
In 2008, the ministry launched Shepherds College, the nation's first faith-based residential college exclusively for students with intellectual disabilities. At the end of the current academic year, Shepherds, a three-year program, will graduate its first class.
Intellectual disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, brain injury, or other developmental complications. Students at Shepherds have mild to moderate disabilities and are typically at a third-grade or higher academic level. In the U.S., about seven million people have an intellectual disability, affecting about one in ten families.
A few miles from campus, third-year student Gloria Pavuk is baking her way toward a bright future in culinary arts. In the Country Rose Bakery kitchen, Pavuk works as an intern with customers as well as kitchen staff. On the day Christianity Today visited, a hefty batch of banana bread was headed for the oven.
Country Rose owner Rose Laketa describes Pavuk as a quick learner. "She can pretty much do whatever she wants to do," Laketa says. "She could very possibly run her own business because of how she picks up so quickly." Twenty-six students ages 18 to 34 are currently enrolled at Shepherds, and Pavuk is one of five students in their final year.
Pavuk was drawn to the college ...