Students that are a part of Bethel’s BUILD program share about their time at Bethel, what they’re looking forward to and how they’ve grown through BUILD.
By Talia McWright | Lifestyle Reporter
Dylan Delaske pulled open the entrance door of the Barnes Academic Center courtyard, receiving enthusiastic greetings from the football team that would make the start of his second year at Bethel.
“I was coming back from a meeting and all the football guys were giving me hugs,” Delaske said. “It was such a warm welcome back that made me really excited for one more year.”
Delaske, a second-year Bethel student, joined the Bethel University Independent Learning Development program in 2021. Passionate about sports, involved in unified bowling, broomball and an assistant coach for the football team, Delaske was thrilled to hear that he’d also been accepted onto the NCAA track team. Director of the BUILD program, Dawn Allen had worked with Delaske, and other students in the program, to gain the approval, walking alongside them in celebration.
“We just got approved by the NCAA with a blanket waiver so that all of our students can participate and try out for any of the Bethel athletic teams,” Allen said. “That’s a big step for our students, and it’s something to celebrate.”
The event was not only a win for Delaske, but for the future of BUILD and Bethel. Now all students of Bethel are able to participate in sports alongside each other as a unified team.
“When Dawn told me the news I thought it was really cool knowing that it would pave the way for future students in BUILD,” Delaske said.
The BUILD program began in the fall of 2015. The program’s aim is to provide students with intellectual disabilities with opportunities to grow in areas of independence, relational skills, job skills and more. The program allows students to be integrated into a college, campus-style living environment, experiencing the norms of college life. Allen recognizes that BUILD adds vibrancy as a part of the Bethel community.
“The work that I do is important to me because it really aligns with my personal mission,” Allen said. “I would describe it in one word: edify. Meaning to build up, instruct or encourage and that’s what this program is all about.”
Traditional Bethel students have the opportunity of partnering with the BUILD program in mentoring roles, along with building in-depth friendships and relationships with students. BUILD offers three different types of mentoring. Job mentors support students in the BUILD program by experiencing job responsibilities along with the students and encouraging students independence during the adjustment phase. Student mentors attend class with students and form study groups, learning with students in the program. The role of housing mentors is to support students with on campus living. Each mentor is key in ensuring the students have a full college experience, build genuine relationships and are affirmed in their purpose.
Junior Christina Castaneda began partnering with the BUILD program as a job mentor during her freshman year in 2020, and is currently a freshman housing mentor living in Edgren. Inspired by her younger sister, Castaneda has a strong personal connection with the BUILD program. Castaneda’s younger sister, and best friend, was identified with down syndrome at birth. Their relationship has motivated Castaneda to be an advocate for those with disabilities, and encouraged her in her relationship with BUILD.
“I’ve seen how other people have underestimated my sister, and she’s constantly proving them wrong by being more capable than the limitations people put on her,” Castaneda said. “Growing alongside my sister encouraged me to want to be involved with other people as well.”
Students not a part of the BUILD program are commonly referred to as “traditional students.” Both students in the BUILD program, and traditional students take courses at Bethel, have the option to live on campus and build relationships with one another. Students not in BUILD often have questions about the program, and can sometimes carry assumptions about students in the program that do not accurately reflect the BUILD community. Examples can look like referring to students in the BUILD program as kids, though they are adults, and speaking to them with a loud voice, though the student may not have a hearing impairment.
”We’ve had students who’ve felt fatigued from the constant offers of help,” Allen said. “Or what really can be upsetting is somebody jumping in to do something for the student, assuming that the student couldn’t do it on their own.”
As BUILD mentors form close relationships to students in the program, they witness interactions between traditional students and students in the program, often find themselves directly involved and affected both positively and negatively.
“I love when people genuinely want to build relationships with students in the BUILD program,” Castaneda said. “I am trying not to put myself in the middle of those interactions because I’ve noticed that people often direct a question to the student and then look at me to answer the question.”
As the world caters to traditional learning styles and abilities, differences can often be viewed in the negative and approached with a lack of kindness. Students in the BUILD program share about the importance of kindness as a model on Bethel’s campus, and for everyday life.
“People need to be patient and kind with people who have disabilities and learn how to build off another perspective and build up each other’s faith,” Maggie Holland, a first year student in the BUILD program said.
Providing opportunities for growth and modeling a Christ centered community, the BUILD program is preparing students for futures beyond Bethel. First-year students reflect on their first two weeks at Bethel and share their excitement about the future.
“BUILD helps us find jobs, learn about social skills, live on our own and find our souls,” Mia Camp, a first-year student in the BUILD program said.
Al Charles, a first-year student in the BUILD program said, “When I think of BUILD I think of strong relationships in a special needs setting. Then we bring it out into the world because we’re together and get all these skills we can bring into the real world.”
“There’s a real opportunity to live out what I say is, celebrating the beauty of the diversity of the body of Christ,” Allen said. “Students are learning to see that differences are something to be celebrated and I think our community is seeing that including people of all different backgrounds makes us stronger.”
Bethel is deeply impacted by the BUILD community, as it fosters worthwhile relationships and reflects the wider scope of diversity and inclusion. Recognizing the privilege of education for all students, many students in the BUILD program experience campus life, taking on a posture of gratitude.
“BUILD blows my mind,” Ben Warren, a first-year Student in the BUILD program said. “I’m much happier being here as a freshman.”
Continuing to push past barriers, uncover opportunities and champion areas of growth across campus, the BUILD program is hopeful about the future of Bethel. Students in the program add value to the fullness of the campus community, as they experience independent living in the college context. BUILD celebrates, “The beauty of the diversity of the body of Christ” — a vision of community Bethel is continuously striving towards.
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