Sunny Meadows always wanted to make real friends and have a college experience like anyone else. The 2017 Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship recipient now attends Clemson University as a part of the ClemsonLIFE program, and she has done just that.
“I just finished my freshman year at ClemsonLIFE and it was a great experience,” Sunny said. “I made lots of new friends. I’m learning how to live independently. … I feel like I’ve learned to do more things on my own, like do laundry on my own, learn how to budget, cook…”
These are chores and household tasks Sunny was not able to complete on her own in the past.
“It makes me feel happy because I’ve always wanted to be independent,” Sunny said.
“I feel like I’ve learned to do more things on my own…
It makes me feel happy because I’ve always wanted to be independent.”
Before college, Sunny lacked confidence, was unable to carry out basic chores, and had very few friends to spend time with outside of school. After receiving OAR’s Hussman Scholarship and finding the means to attend the ClemsonLIFE program, Sunny has become more self-reliant.
Sunny’s growth has excelled over the past year, both functionally and socially. Home for the summer, she continues to keep in contact with her new friends from school. She talks to her friends on the phone, gets invited to social gatherings outside of the school setting, and has formed genuine relationships with her peers. These are all new experiences for her, as she had few close friends prior to attending Clemson.
“We usually go to Starbucks together,” Sunny said. “They’re funny, they’re always nice, and they have really great personalities.”
“I just finished my freshman year at ClemsonLIFE,
and it was a great experience.“
Before ClemsonLIFE, if you told Sunny’s mother, Anne Bowles, that Sunny would be taking public transportation, going to the grocery store, staying on budget, and returning home with hands full with grocery bags, she wouldn’t believe you. Anne described the prospect of Sunny living a truly independent life as a college student as a pipe dream.
“She’s learned to cook some basic meals, she can clean a bathroom like nobody’s business, and those are sort of the tangible things,” Anne said. “But the thing I think most changed Sunny in this past year is just her confidence, her ability to see that she does have a lot to contribute. She’s learning, she’s doing fabulously.”
In addition to her normal classes, first year students in the program attend a class that focuses on interview skills. Every few weeks, Sunny worked at a different job on or around campus. This gave her the opportunity to build her resume and gain real-world work experience, something she lacked in the past. She was even offered a job for next year at the local Salvation Army thrift store upon completing her first year.
“Sunny was not high-functioning always, and just because of blessing or luck,
and definitely a lot of hard work, she has come so, so far,” Anne said.
“The job coach practiced with us in class about our interview,” Sunny said. “They taught us how to dress for interviews, how to present ourselves and all that stuff.”
One of her favorite parts of the ClemsonLIFE program is the volunteering component. Among doing outdoor work at local churches and spending time at the animal shelter, Sunny and her peers served as reading buddies and classroom helpers at the Meyer Center for Special Children. She loves to give back to the community and the people who have been so helpful and kind towards her.
“We went to Meyer Center, a preschool for kids with disabilities,” Sunny said. “With the children in the classroom, we would help them paint, we would help them do yoga. We got to read stories to them, too. [Volunteering] makes me feel happy because I like to help people.”
Between attending her classes, making more friends, and exploring a new community, Sunny is thriving. She is interacting with the world around her in new ways. The same girl who used to hide away from the world now enjoys spending her nights at the local student center singing karaoke in front of a crowded room full of other Clemson students.
“[Volunteering] makes me feel happy because I like to help people.“
“I got the homesick call the first three days that she was there, and that was tough,” Anne said. “I thought that would go on for quite a while, but it did not. Three days. The fourth day she called me and said it was the best place she had ever been in her life and she loved it.”
The Bowles give a lot of credit for Sunny’s success to OAR for awarding them the $3,000 Hussman scholarship that enabled her to attend ClemsonLIFE. The Hussman Scholarship Program supports students with autism attending a two or four-year university, life skills or postsecondary program, or vocational, technical, or trade school. The goal of this scholarship is to help these students start their journey towards building job and life skills.
A final piece of advice that Sunny wants to leave other students with autism interested in pursuing higher education is a reminder that we all can benefit from.
“Make sure you try your best, and have fun.”
Join Meadows and take the next step to becoming more confident and independent.
Learn more about OAR’s scholarship program.