Denise Riley is passionate about what she does. As a neighborhood assistant at the Teresian House, she makes sure all the residents are properly cared for.
“My role is to assist the residents,” said Riley, a graduate of The College Experience. “Make sure that their nutritional needs are met.”
It’s a job Riley has had for the last seven years. A job she was able to take on after graduating from the College Experience Program.
“It was a last-minute thing and it was very scary because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Riley. “It was my first time every being away from home.”
Riley is from Manhattan and moved to Albany to enroll in this Living Resources program through the College of Saint Rose in 2010. The program helps student with intellectual disabilities learn key life skills through a college experience, preparing them for an independent adult life.
"It ultimately gives students the opportunities that their siblings and peers would naturally have, which is progressing to college after high school," said The College Experience and CareerNext Living Resources Director for Admissions Colleen Dergosits.
Colleen Dergosits and Jennifer Richard are in charge of the program. When it started in 2005, four students were enrolled. Today, 39 students are in the program, like Danielle Passariello.
"I told myself when I came here I'm going to keep active,” said Passariello, who is also involved with the college's dance team and Best Buddies organization. “I'm not going to lock myself in my room."
The program is two years long, three semesters a year. Students take six to eight classes each semester. They learn everything from finance to interpersonal communication, and taking public transportation to cooking.
"When I do my meal planning I'll decide what I'm eating Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and decide what I'm eating Thursday, Friday, and go from there," said The College Experience freshman Catherine Chintery, who is from New Jersey.
In addition, students complete internships. After graduating, students will either continue pursuing a degree, or enroll in the transition program, which helps individuals work and live on their own, like Riley.
"Denise is paying her own bills now, she is working a full-time job. She gets to and from on her own,” said Jennifer Richard, the living resources assistance executive director for college programs and employment services.
Even though has a job and is living on her own, Riley is still pursuing new goals. She hopes to one day become a certified nursing assistant.