College for Life Program Doubles Enrollment and Dreams for Students with Disabilities

More scholarships, class options and internship opportunity helping to expand program’s reach

 Quincy, Illinois - Double the amount of dreams will come true at John Wood Community College this fall.

 Just three years ago students with developmental and intellectual disabilities in JWCC’s 2,363 square mile district in West Central Illinois never dreamed they could experience a college campus or continue their education past high school. 

 That stopped in 2017 when the College piloted a College for Life Program, providing an accessible path to opportunity, learning and growth.

 This August enrollment doubled from seven to 14 students, all who can be found laughing in the cafeteria, smiling from ear to ear in the hallways, chatting with the president and learning job skills, foreign languages, budgeting, nutrition and writing.  Most importantly, each student learns how to advocate for themselves and find their unique contribution to society.  

 Classes include communication, healthy relationships, self-advocacy, personal finance, German, writing, nutrition, fitness and more are being developed.  A new visual storytelling class has been added through a partnership with KHQA, a local ABC and CBS affiliate and JWCC is exploring internship opportunities at Quincy Medical Group to help  CFL students learn about possible careers in healthcare.

 Nick Burgess began the program two years ago with a fear of talking to others and today he has conversations with other students and instructions and has decided he wants to start a hand-crafted furniture business.

 “Nick’s story is just one of several that shows the impact of College for Life,” Michele Westmaas, CFL coordinator shared.  “This is transformational.  Students went from no goals to writing their own books, finding a career path and building relationships with community members.  All it takes is access, a welcoming environment and a willingness to find their own path to a new life,” she said.

 The program’s value has spread throughout JWCC’s service area which reaches parts of Illinois, Missouri and Iowa along the Mississippi River.  Working with private organizations, CFL is working to increase scholarship opportunities to make college a reality for even more students who didn’t save for education beyond high school and cannot access Federal or state grants because of the non-credit nature of course offerings.  

 One funding opportunity created by JWCC is the “We Want You 2!” scholarship. Students who enroll in two CFL classes for the 2019 fall semester may receive their third class, Self-Advocacy, for free. CFL students are required to take three classes each semester. Cost for each class is $250. The free class offer is only available for a limited time.

 “The idea behind, “We Want You 2!” is to let families and students know that education after high school is for them, too,” Michele Westmaas, JWCC College for Life coordinator shared.  “Some families think their student’s disability might prevent them from joining the program, or that they can’t afford the classes, so this is one way we are showing them that we can make college accessible for them.”

 Students interested in the program may also apply for a separate scholarship to cover CFL classes for one semester provided through the Salvation Army.  Deadlines apply and funding is limited.


“Doubling enrollment is great, but we want to grow even more and encourage families to talk to us about the program and we need more funding partners to increase access,” Westmaas shared.

 For more information on the CFL program, to make a contribution or access scholarships, contact Westmaas at 217.641.4340, or email  Details on classes and schedules can be found at

 Private donations to the JWCC Foundation also fund CFL scholarships. Individuals, organizations and businesses interested in supporting the program may contact Barb Holthaus at 217.641.4104 or



John Wood Community College is the educational link between business and community. JWCC collaboratively creates innovative and relevant academic and training programs with business leaders to educate young people and the workforce for today’s needs and tomorrow’s opportunities. JWCC has centers in Quincy, Pittsfield, Baylis and Mt. Sterling, Illinois. Programs include a comprehensive baccalaureate transfer curriculum, customized business training, career/technical degrees and certificates and personal enrichment courses.

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