Making our mark at Mason

By Veronica T. Brown, Fourth Estate Intern and Mason LIFE Member

Do you know what the Mason LIFE Program is? The Mason LIFE Program is a post secondary program for students with intellectual and physical disabilities who are seeking a true college experience, according to their website.

The Mason LIFE Program has tons to offer its students. First, Mason LIFE has specialized academic classes for personal finance, writing reports, and independent living. Second, the students have various internship opportunities like Capitol Hill and the Office Of Disability Service. Third, students have the opportunity to live on campus in Liberty Square and Potomac Heights. Fourth, Mason LIFE students get to enroll and participate in university courses such as SPAN 110, COMM 101, and ASTR 113. Lastly, students get to integrate into the Mason community by doing activities like the George Mason Best Buddies Program and the George Mason Special Olympics among many other things.

The Best Buddies Program is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities” according to the GMU Best Buddies program Facebook page. Some of the Special Olympic sports that students participate in are: basketball, track & field, swimming and soccer. These games are scheduled for different parts of the year depending on the sport.

In interviews, Mason LIFE Staff use words like “invigorating,” “fulfilling” and “inspiring” to describe how they feel about working for the Mason LIFE Program. Below are direct quotes from the director, Dr. Graff, and the employment coordinator, Andrew Hahn, respectively:

“My work day is always invigorating because of the energy my Mason LIFE students bring to each day and their enthusiasm for learning.  I’m proud to direct the Mason LIFE Program and lead all of the components to create an integrated community grounded by inclusive practices,” said Dr. Graff.

“Working at the Mason LIFE office is very fulfilling. Assisting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to reach their full potential in vocational settings is rewarding work,” said Hahn.

Overall Mason LIFE is a fantastic and rewarding place to work and helps students.

The staff aren’t the only people who find this program inspiring, the students do too! Below are direct quotes from various students:

Freshman Sydney Uitz says “I’m a little shy, but I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I love meeting new teachers.”

Sophomore Madison Essig says “It’s great! It’s helped me break a lot of barriers like being the first LIFE student to join a sorority, get a bill passed and named after them, and join Student Government.”

Junior Leon Townsend adds, “Just being a great leader, helping out people, being myself, and trying new things is awesome.”

Senior Alex Totah said “It’s a really good experience being in the Mason LIFE Program because you get the real college experience in your four years at Mason.”

Even with such amazing opportunities, there are still barriers that these students must face. Although difficult to do at times, Mason LIFE students are continuously working to break these barriers. Totah is a brother for Phi Kappa Sigma. Freshman, Annie Catherine Heigl is currently a cheerleader for Mason. Juniors,  Anne Ross Eplee and Meredith Cripe are First Aid and CPR certified through Mason. Essig is currently a member of Student Senate. And this is just the beginning.

         As for me, I am a rising junior in the Mason LIFE Program. I participate in Special Olympics basketball, soccer and swimming. I am also a part of GMU’s Best Buddies Program, and a member of the Patriot Platoon, a fan club for Mason students that supports Men’s and Women’s Basketball at Eaglebank Arena. Some of my favorite things about being a student in the LIFE program include living in Liberty Square with my awesome roommate, Madison Essig, taking university courses like Theatrical Medium and Modern Dance, and interning at Fourth Estate and the Office of Disability Services. My time so far in the Mason LIFE program has been the best experience of my life. I love this program so much that I wish there were programs like Mason LIFE in every state in the U.S. I can’t wait for my next two years at Mason!

As for what’s in store in the future for the program, Mason LIFE looks forward to integrating more unique and talented students into the Mason community.

Photo by Fareeha Rehman