FAIRFIELD, CT- The Sacred Heart Pioneer football program took some time off from their spring practices to spend an afternoon running a football skills clinic with students from the University's RISE Transition Program. SHU junior defensive lineman Joe Tulino(Lacey Township, PA), who works with the program as a peer fitness buddy, helped organize the clinic featuring several of his Pioneer teammates.
"The activity last Friday was amazing," stated Jodi Lovegrove, special education teacher with the RISE Program. "In the nine years of the RISE Program, this was one of the more memorable moments for me as a teacher as it exemplified exactly what one of our program goals is: integrating students aged 19-21 with intellectual disabilities with age appropriate peers."
Each member of the program was outfitted with an official adidas Sacred Heart jersey for the clinic. Pioneer players ran several football skill stations focusing on passing, running, blocking and receiving drills. At the conclusion of the clinic, head coach Mark Nofri, his staff and players passed out brand new footballs to the participants. The group then posed for group photos and signed autographs to round out the day.
"To see our players interact with the RISE students, and put smiles on their faces, says a lot about the student-athletes we have here at Sacred Heart and in the football program," stated head coach Mark Nofri. "We ask a lot of our players, and they never disappoint us as coaches. They go above and beyond with their commitment community service projects."
The RISE Programs runs Monday through Friday each week during the school year on the Sacred Heart campus and set up as a traditional school day. The students utilize the campus to build social skills, recreational skills, vocational skills, and life skills. These activities are all done in university or community based settings.
The program utilizes a peer buddy program for RISE and SHU students to meet as Lunch Buddies and Fitness Buddies on campus. The fitness buddy component is one of the ways that the program aims to integrate recreational skills into the student's everyday lives. The SHU Physical Therapy department meets with the students at the start and end of every semester to conduct fitness testing. Professor Donna Bowers and her staff write a fitness "prescription" for the SHU buddies to follow with the RISE students in relation to what areas they need to focus on when working out.
RISE students utilize campus sites such as Chartwells and Campus Ops to build vocational skills. The focus is on teaching work skills and what it takes to be a successful employee. The SHU shuttle system used to teach community navigation while the SHU Occupational Therapy department to teach daily living skills such as cooking and cleaning.
The program started in 2004 with local school districts referring eligible students to Cooperative Educational services (CES), the agency that oversees RISE. SHU's enrollment has ranged from seven students up to the 14 that are a part of the program this year. The RISE program is a two year program after which students will graduate to adult life and will have completed their public education. Following RISE, students go on to adult service agencies, work or other activities.