Judson Students RISE

Judson University in Elgin becomes the first Christian university in Illinois, and one of only a few in the country, to offer post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities


story by Lisa Stamos | Photo by Linda M. Barrett

The Power of Three

Three women found each other at the right time and their meetings, conversations, concerns, and faith enabled the RISE concept to become a reality. Gayle Gianopulos, a Barrington resident, felt a calling to provide a college opportunity for her two daughters with Down syndrome, so that one day they could go to college and have an experience like other students. She is also a Judson alumna.

Meanwhile, Judson’s Executive Director of Enrollment Services, Nancy Binger, learned that her son has Down syndrome. She was devastated at first. A friendship grew between the two while advice and perspective was shared. Gianopulos shared her idea about offering students with intellectual disabilities a campus experience and why not at Judson? They did research, and visited a school in Minnesota, Bethel, that had this model.

Kathryn Lambert, who is the new director of the RISE program, had been working at Willow Creek as an assistant director for the church’s Penguin Project, which trains students with intellectual and developmental disabilities musical theater. In her life, she was ready to leave her long-time career. An introduction was made, and then an offer.

Three women at the right time with the right skills brought an idea to life. Judson is the only Christian post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities in Illinois.

A Tremendous Opportunity

At the RISE launch on November 16, the student body learned that not only would they learn how to understand and accept students with disabilities, but that a student mentor program would add to the richness of their college experience. RISE stands for Road to Independent Living, Spiritual Formation and Employment. Now students at Judson University can be a housing, study, job coaching, or social mentor. RISE has created a learning experience for the entire campus. Most important, it gives students with disabilities a safe, small campus to attend, and most likely as near a typical college experience as someone without the same challenges.

To learn more about Judson University, and the RISE program, visit www.JudsonU.edu