One summer leadership program at UGA helps students with intellectual or developmental disabilities prepare for their futures while giving them a college experience.

July 12-14, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development coordinated the Destination Dawgs Summer Leadership Institute on the UGA campus.

The summer leadership institute is a prerequisite for the Destination Dawgs program, which is housed within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ Institute on Human Development and Disability and offers participants a chance to prepare to transition to adulthood and independent living by auditing classes on campus, learning job skills, and building a social network, all with the help of peer mentors.

“This leadership institute is an instrumental part of the Destination Dawgs program,” said Carol Britton Laws, a clinical assistant professor and interdisciplinary training director for the Institute on Human Development and Disability at UGA. “We get to know the students, see how they respond in situations, and see if they are a good fit for the program. Meanwhile, they gain a lot of experiences and build communication and teamwork skills.”

During the three-day program participants learned about setting goals, developed leadership skills, completed a scavenger hunt and ropes course, and experienced UGA campus life.

“The schedule is organized so that attending classes, riding, buses, and living in the dorms were part of the regular routine to see how the students responded to these real life, college situations,” said Lori Tiller, a public service assistant at the Fanning Institute.

UGA student mentors guide and support the participants throughout the experience.

“It’s awesome watching them grow and see them all blossom in their own way,” said Abby Callaway, a third-year student majoring in music therapy. “I am honored to be a part of the program and we’re all excited to see what the future has in store for these students.”

This year’s participants also had an opportunity to meet with students who went through the leadership institute last year, an event Tiller called a real highlight.

“Seeing the growth of our first-year participants, who feel a real ownership of being a UGA student after only one semester, and to see them share that with the new group was incredible,” said Tiller.

Participants in this year’s class said they really enjoyed the program.

“My favorite part was the ropes course,” said Graham, one of the participants. “I also enjoyed meeting new friends.”

Now in its second year, the Destination Dawgs Summer Leadership Institute has graduated 10 participants.

“I am challenged to continue to give populations that have historically not had the opportunity a chance to have a postsecondary educational experience,” said Tiller.

For more information on the Destination Dawgs program, e-mail DestinationDawgs@uga.edu.