Kele says he loves cooking, so making lunch for himself and other participants in the NextED Challenge program this past summer was easy. But other learning activities have proven useful in helping the 19-year-old community college student tackle new challenges.

“I learned about using the public bus system, for one thing,” he says. “And managing money and finances, and basically how to not need my parents for everything.”

NextED Challenge is a week-long program that offers young adults an opportunity to try some of the independent skill building activities that are part of the St. Louis Arc’s NextED curriculum. “The summer experience is an opportunity to take risks and practice skills in a safe environment,” says Libby Eversgerd, Arc’s Director of Transition Services.

The 10-week NextED program and the summer challenge sessions are targeted to young adults who want to further develop and strengthen skills for independence. Curriculum is focused on key components of independent living that include household skills, personal safety, communication, planning leisure activities, money management, and social relationships. “Participants practice skills like cooking and laundry, but also making decisions, negotiating with roommates and navigating and engaging in the community around them,” says Libby.

NextED Challenge sessions take place in a local Airbnb and on a college campus, and include an overnight option. “We’re out in the real world environment,” she says. “It’s not home, it’s not necessarily their comfort zone, but it’s a chance to try out a variety of situations and be successful.”

“For me, I enjoyed it because everyone was new to me, so I got to meet some new friends,” says Kele. “It felt like we did get to be part of a community all working together.”