Kari Lott has a dream to one day save up enough money to open and run her own restaurant, a dream she is determined to make come true through her hard work and inspiring attitude.
She is one of 12 students who celebrated their graduation from the Academics, Community, Career Development and Employment (ACCE) Program May 21 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The joint program between UA Little Rock and Easterseals Arkansas gives students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience and prepare them for competitive employment.
“When I first got into the ACCE program, I was a little scared not knowing if I could do the work,” said Lott, who now has a full-time job at the Movie Tavern and was selected to speak at the graduation ceremony. “The program was built to help us all. All of our teachers helped out a lot. I worked hard at my internships to do what I needed to learn on the job.”
Given her desire to open a restaurant, it should come as no surprise that Lott’s favorite internship was building her culinary skills at Sodexo.
“My favorite internship was Sodexo, because I got to work in the kitchen,” Lott said. “I got to chop. I got to prepare the food and make sure it got on the line. Boy, let me tell you, it wasn’t always easy. With the help and love of our teachers, family, and parents, I made it through it, and I am proud to say I really enjoyed it.”
The program was established in 2017 with the knowledge that only 32 percent of working-age people with disabilities were employed from 2010 to 2012, according to the Department of Labor. Studies show that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who participate in post-secondary education have better jobs and receive higher earnings.
“We are excited to continue our partnership with UA Little Rock to offer this important program and proud of our 2018 graduates,” said Easterseals Arkansas President and CEO Elaine Eubank.
The 12 members of the second cohort of the ACCE program were surrounded by teary eyed family members, friends, teachers, mentors, and co-workers who loudly cheered as each member crossed the stage to receive a certificate for the post-secondary education program during a special ceremony in the Engineering and Information Technology Building auditorium.
The graduates include Nicholas Austin of Alexander; Joshua Fletcher of North Little Rock; Davion Green, Breah Hampton, and Curtina Jackson, all of Little Rock; Kari Lott and Chasity Mathis, both of Sherwood; Ford McGahee, John Rockefeller, Juan Rodriquez Jr., and Aaron Sullivan, all of Little Rock; and Jonmichal Walker of North Little Rock.
While addressing the graduates, UA Little Rock Chancellor Andrew Rogerson emphasized the importance of higher education, employment, and living independently for success.
“No matter what the situation, higher education levels the playing field and must be available and accessible for all,” Rogerson said. “If so, it will change your life for the better. This is a proud moment Class of 2018. You have worked hard and have earned a certificate of completion, an important qualification that shows you have completed a specialized training program and pathway to your future employment.”
Fletcher, a 2017 graduate of North Little Rock Premier High School, was recognized as the 2018 Associate of the Year for his exemplary work during his time in the ACCE program. He has interned with UA Little Rock Ground Services and The Showroom to build custom frames and will be joining the workforce working full-time with Dillard’s Fulfillment Center as well as intermediate work continuing at The Showroom.
This year’s class has completed on-the-job training at various departments and organizations on and off campus, including Ottenheimer Library, Sodexo, Fitness Center, Grounds Services, Custodial Services, Athletic Department, Department of Nursing, Sequoyah National Research Center, Jodie Mahoney Center for Gifted Education, UAMS/UA Little Rock Speech and Hearing Clinic, Information Technology Program, MidSOUTH, School of Social Work, Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church Children’s Learning Center, The Showroom, and Easterseals Developmental Preschool.
ACCE students also enjoyed student activities by attending Trojan games, Homecoming activities, and being active participants in the college experience. The students increased UA Little Rock’s initiative to engage in more community outreach, enhance learning opportunities outside the classroom and diversity and as part of their outlined strategic plan.
ACCE also has a collaborative partnership with the College of Education and Health Professionals, where ACCE class instruction is held, for students to volunteer within the ACCE classroom. Additionally, ACCE students lead discussions in classrooms to share their experiences in the secondary special education system.
All of the graduates were awarded a free membership to the UA Little Rock Alumni Association and a gift bag. The program is continuing to grow as the third cohort of Academics, Community, Career Development and Employment Program participants will begin taking classes at UA Little Rock this fall with 16 students.
The ceremony’s commencement speaker, Alan McClain, commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, thanked the graduates for being an inspiration to those around them and strong addition to Arkansas’s workforce.
“In addition to my congratulations, my message to you is also to say thank you,” McClain said. “Thank you for inspiring us with your dedication and perseverance for coming out here everyday and completing the requirements for ACCE. Please know that your involvement with ACCE has made a huge impact on the world around you.”
In the upper right photo, the 2018 graduates of the ACCE program include (L to R): Back row: John Steele, ACCE instructor, and graduates John Rockefeller and Breah Hampton. Middle row: Graduates Ford McGahee, Jonmichal Walker, Joshua Fletcher, Davion Green, Juan Rodriguez, and ACCE Instructor Leslie Harms. Front row: Kari Lott, Curtina Jackson, Chasity Mathis, Nicholas Austin, and Aaron Sullivan.