Building upon the success of AbleLight College, Concordia will launch Hesed Transition Program in fall 2024.

In an effort to streamline operations for the betterment of families and students served, Concordia University Wisconsin and AbleLight, a national non-profit provider of services for people with developmental disabilities, have agreed to wind down their partnership that provides individuals with disabilities with a two- or three-year collegiate-based transition experience. The transition program’s mission will continue on CUW’s campus, under Concordia’s ownership, and with a new name: Hesed Transition Program.  

The search for a Hesed director

CUW Occupational Therapy Department Chair Meghan Watry-Christian, PhD, OT-L, has stepped up to serve as Interim Director of Hesed. She holds a PhD in Special Education from Northcentral University. Her dissertation is titled “Exploring Postsecondary Transition Factors Related to Quality of Life in Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”  In the interim position, she will guide the search for Hesed’s new lead. CUW will begin accepting external applications for the director position next month.

As part of the transition process, Concordia and AbleLight staff also met with parents and students in the current program to receive feedback on the proposed change.

“Families are largely happy with the current program that was considered innovative when it was introduced 10 years ago,” Watry-Christian said. “There’s no doubt that AbleLight possesses the expertise needed to serve individuals with developmental disabilities and now that programs like this are more common across universities, we’ve agreed that it’s time to turn the program over to Concordia where we can provide a greater focus on things like accreditation and academic scheduling. We also saw opportunities to better align services with Concordia’s academic model and faith-based mission.”

About Hesed

The new Hesed program will officially launch in fall 2024. From the student perspective, the program will remain largely the same, with Hesed students being afforded the opportunity to live on campus in CUW residence halls and integrate into traditional undergraduate classes. Watry-Christian says the new director will have liberty to make changes as warranted, but the goal is to provide as smooth a transition as possible for returning students.

An exciting update to the program is the development of concentrations” that will allow Hesed students to “specialize” in certain areas. Staff members are working to create clusters of CUW courses that will allow for students to develop knowledge and skills in one of the following areas: liberal arts, fine arts, business/hospitality, or education/social sciences. By completing an area of concentration, students will earn a digital badge that they can share on social media, email signatures, and resumes to demonstrate their skills to potential employers.

Hesed will be housed within Concordia’s School of Health Professions, which means CUW instructors will have greater opportunities to be involved with the program in the future. Watry-Christian anticipates integration of occupational therapy students as supports for the Hesed program, for example. Additional co-teaching opportunities between Hesed staff and CUW instructors will exist as well.

Behind the name

Concordia chose the name Hesed for its new program as a nod to the type of actionable love that faculty and staff hope to espouse for the sake of students served. “Hesed” is a profound concept in Biblical Hebrew. According to Vice President for Mission and Church Relations Rev. Aaron Moldenhauer, Ph.D., “hesed” encapsulates the idea of steadfast love, kindness, and mercy. This is the love that the Lord shows to his people: “‘My steadfast love [hesed] shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10). As the Lord promises that his steadfast love for us will endure, we as his people aim to reach out with the same commitment to support and care for others. This care and support is a reflection of the Lord’s compassion and generosity.

“Just as ‘hesed’ emphasizes going above and beyond mere obligation or duty, the advocacy and passion needed for a postsecondary transition program often reflects a genuine desire to uplift and empower individuals with development disabilities as they navigate the challenges of transitioning to adulthood,” said Watry-Christian. “Concordia’s Hesed program is an expression of love and kindness toward those who may face unique obstacles in their journey toward independence and self-sufficiency.”

Want in?

Hesed Transition Program is a unique, post-secondary transition program that allows people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to realize their dream of receiving a college experience. The program affords students the opportunity to live on the CUW campus in integrated residence halls and attend classes that blend a liberal-arts focus with skills development. The curriculum aims to help students grow intellectually, vocationally, socially, personally, and spiritually, while also giving them some of the perks of a typical university-level experience.