4/18/2017 7:27:00 AM Jump! Start program leads to life of advocacy for Nicolet student
Kayla Breese/River News
Ashley Mathy, left, diagnosed as a child with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) — a condition listed on the autism spectrum, has been excelling in the Jump! Start program offered at Nicolet with the help of liaison Katherine Garrison.
By Kayla Breese River News Feature Writer
A chance encounter led a young woman to a Nicolet Area Technical College program that has changed her life and led to a new passion for disability advocacy.
Ashley Mathy, diagnosed as a child with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) - a condition listed on the autism spectrum - was with her family at their cabin in the Northwoods when her parents began talking to a contractor working on the cabin about her education concerns.
"He said 'Well, my wife is part of Nicolet and part of the accommodation specialists,'" Mathy said.
From there, Mathy's parents called Nicolet and were put in contact with Katherine Garrison, Jump! Start liaison. Mathy's mother researched Jump! Start, talked with Garrison extensively and decided it was a good fit for her daughter.
The Jump! Start Program was formed six years ago to give individuals with disabilities a chance to have a college experience, learn soft skills, interact with others and prepare for the workforce.
"The Jump! Start program is unique to the Northwoods, we are one of only six in the state of Wisconsin," Garrison said.
Jump! Start is the only such program in the northern part of the state. Mathy said a similar program is being developed in the Milwaukee area, but it isn't anywhere near up and running and she wanted to start her schooling before the estimated completion date.
"It's a unique program and I think one of the great things about this is we want to give them the skills to move ahead," Garrison said. "It's not a place you would come and stay, it's a place just like any other college where you go, you learn the skills, you develop your confidence, you find your focus and your dreams and you go out into the world to be your best self."
Mathy enrolled in the program a little over a year ago and has been working with Emily Stuckenbruck, dean of liberal arts and business, since September.
As their main residence is in Milwaukee, Mathy's dedication and passion for Jump! Start has kept her and her mother on the road quite a bit.
"(They) drove back and forth every week for her to come to class," Garrison said. "That's a lot of driving and a lot of commitment so family support is just huge."
Mathy is grateful for her family's continued support.
"It means the world to me that my mom does that and I appreciate her doing that because I wouldn't have had the opportunities in Milwaukee that I would here," she said.
Mathy not only has support from her family, but from all those working with her at Nicolet.
"One of the things that she learned in Jump! Start was the right supports for her, because that's important. She's going to go out and have her own full life and so we want her to build a full life and if she knows and understands what it is that she needs and she has the advocacy skills then she can let other people know what it is that she needs in order to be her best self," Garrison explained.
"I learned that I could self-advocate, which means I could tell people what my needs are and feel comfortable that I can talk to them about certain things, and that I had a voice and I could help people," Mathy added.
She learned to not fear failure, and now just views disappointments as an opportunities to grow.
"The great thing about this program is Ashley has been able to find out her passion and she has developed the confidence to go after that," Garrison said.
Mathy's passion is to be an advocate for all people with disabilities. She has already spoken to hundreds of people, including state officials, to spread the word.
She interviewed former state Senate candidate Brian Van Stippen and Sen. Tom Tiffany about their points of view on disability rights. She has given speeches in Madison, at UW-Stout, the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Partners in Policymaking, and in Rhinelander, telling audiences about her journey and Jump! Start.
"I'm definitely trying to educate people and raise awareness for all people, not just with autism," Mathy said.
That isn't all this determined young woman has been doing. She also provided input on Nicolet's Health Care Assistant program.
"Nicolet was given the opportunity to pilot a brand new program for the state of Wisconsin and Ashley was interested in working with children and so I asked her if she would be interested in getting into this class and helping us to tweak the curriculum and she did," Garrison said.
Mathy gave school officials feedback on how to write the curriculum. The information was used to formulate a bill, but it hasn't been passed yet.
"That will be rolled out across all technical colleges and that way people with disabilities will be able to help fill the need of a shortage we have in CNAs," Garrison said.
"I thought my passion was to help people in an aid setting but my passion really was to advocate for all people with special needs and create equality," Mathy noted.
Garrison said she has no doubt her student will make a mark on the state in the field of disability advocacy.
"Because of these connections I think that she will make a difference in Wisconsin, no doubt," Garrison said.
Mathy strongly encourages other people to explore the Jump! Start program.
"I love (the program)," she said. "I think that it can help anyone with a disability and give them more confidence, and I think anyone with a disability or without a disability can go to college if they just have the right supports."
She added that she hopes the program catches on across the state, so others don't have to travel such long distances to take part in this unique experience.
"I think people with disabilities want to go to college, they don't want to go and watch TV every day and that's the life that a lot of these people are living," she said. "Hopefully we can get more programs in the state of Wisconsin so people can be less depressed."
While there have been advancements, Mathy said she feels the public isn't fully aware of autism.
"If someone is sitting in their seat and getting anxious, sometimes people think that the person has autism when maybe they're just nervous that day," she said.
Garrison is an avid supporter of Mathy's and feels is she doing great work.
"I think that Ashley is a great advocate to show people that even though it might be something that we don't understand we could understand and they still, of course, bring great value to every community," she said.
Mathy has had many experiences where people have misunderstood her, but with the knowledge she has gained from Jump! Start she has learned how to tell others what works for her. This, in turn, helps individuals understand her better.
"I'm definitely more visual than a lot of people," she explained. "I have to have a hard copy of things, but I think that if there's good communication between the teacher and the accommodation specialist and student I think that anybody can go to college because it's all about knowing your needs."
Garrison believes in all of her students and that they all have a place in the community.
"All of these students have gifts in them," she said. "We just have to give them the right support in order to get those out and give them the confidence to speak their truth," she said.
For more information on the Jump! Start Program, call the Nicolet College Workforce & Economic Development at 715-365-4905 or email at email@example.com.
For more information on Mathy's inspirational journey follow her blog at www.ashleysautismjourney.com.
Kayla Breese may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.