Posted May 3, 2012

Grad gives the gift of college and gets even more in return

Joseph V. Labolito

As a mentor to 26-year-old Charles Eldridge II, 2012 graduate Pamela Keats gave the gift of the college experience. But she believes she received an even greater gift in return: a friendship that taught her to be more genuine, open and caring.

Keats and Eldridge were paired through Temple’s Institute on Disabilities’ Academy for Adult Learning, which brings people with intellectual disabilities to Temple's Main Campus for four semesters to experience college life. Participants in the program attend two classes per semester, explore career options based on their interests and goals and participate in a variety of activities available to all Temple students.

As a mentor, Keats went to classes with Eldridge and introduced him to popular campus locations and activities such as the Student Center game room, the Independence Blue Cross Student Recreation Center and Temple sporting events. They also went to concerts and plays on campus and explored the city together, taking in museums and a Yankees game.

“I just tried to make him feel like a student as much as possible,” said Keats. “He talked a lot about how he wished he could have lived in a dorm, so I explained to him that many students commute like he does. ‘You get to do all these things; you are a Temple student.’”

An honors psychology major from Long Island, N.Y., Keats learned about the academy from a dorm mate her freshmen year. She has a sister with an intellectual disability and worked at a home for people with disabilities during high school. At the time, she was considering majoring in special education and thought the job would be a good experience.

“I like the idea of helping people with disabilities attain independence,” said Keats. “They need support, but I liked this job because it was giving support in a fun way. We help them get used to being a college student. The program gives them a chance to say they went to college and do all the fun things that go with that.”

But spending time with Eldridge has been equally rewarding for Keats.

“He’s helped me so much with trying new things on campus,” she said. “We’ve gone to concerts and plays. I would never do that before, but now we both get to.”

“I think of Charles as a friend now,” she added. “I don’t feel like I’m his mentor as much as he’s giving something to me also. Charles cares so much about other people that it made me realize I could try that too. As much as I think that I am a good person because of all the activities I do, he teaches me to do it in such a genuine way. He’s very genuine, and I hope I’m like that one day.”

Both Eldridge and Keats are graduating from Temple this month. Keats has been accepted at Thomas Jefferson University for graduate study in occupational therapy, and Eldridge would like to work at a bookstore. The two plan to stay in touch.