Megan Rindal and Sara Murdoch started Project STRIVE 2½ years ago with one aim in mind — to help transition-age youth with special needs develop the skills they need to live as independently as possible.
"The ideal goal is they'd be able to live in an apartment and have a job," said Murdoch, Project STRIVE's lead instructor.
Rindal, the transition coordinator, agreed.
"It's really just for them to be independent and as integrated in the community as they can," she said.
Project STRIVE (it stands for specialized transition, recreation, independent living and vocational experiences) is an Elmbrook School District initiative to prepare its cognitively disabled and autistic students ages 19 to 21 for life after high school.
Students — this year there are seven in the program — aren't taught in a traditional classroom. Instead, their classroom is a one-bedroom apartment on Bluemound Road, and it is there that they learn how to plan and prepare meals, balance a checkbook, do the laundry and prepare for and land a job.
There is time too for recreational activities and volunteering in the community.
"The application of the real world is so important," Murdoch said.
While other school districts have transitional programming for special needs youth, the apartment component makes Elmbrook's different.
"There was a need," Murdoch said. "Once they finish high school, they need more than just the academics. STRIVE's not an acronym for a statewide program."
Rindal said she and Murdoch researched similar programs elsewhere and were convinced that having an apartment where students could learn by doing was key.
"The apartment piece was very important to us," she said.
Not surprisingly, the enterprise is costly, and Project STRIVE is holding its second Taste of Elegance fundraiser to help defray the cost of the apartment's monthly $550 rent and, perhaps, purchase a wheelchair-accessible van, which has a $60,000 price tag.
"We're looking to have an apartment that is handicapped-accessible, and that's going to raise our rent," Murdoch said. "We need to have funds to support that."
Project STRIVE's first Taste of Elegance drew 135 people and raised a healthy $22,000, Murdoch said.
"It was pretty awesome," she said.
But this year, the ante's been upped to $40,000, and Murdoch wants upward of 200 people to attend.
The evening will feature entertainment — a small ensemble from Brookfield Central's musical "Hello Dolly" will perform — and a silent and live auction. Jewelry, sports packages and gym memberships are among the items awaiting bids.
There will be two giving trees in the silent auction, each containing $500 worth of gift cards, and a $10 wine pull.
"We have a couple of bottles of wine that are pretty expensive," Rindal said. "I think we have a $90 bottle of wine this year."
Students who have made progress through Project STRIVE also are part of the evening's program.
"We're going to have some students from Project STRIVE speak about how it's so valuable to them," Rindal said.
Parents, too, will give testament to the program's value — and they've been instrumental in organizing the Taste of Elegance fundraiser.
"We have had tremendous parent involvement in getting this organized," Murdoch said. "Without them, we couldn't do this."
If you go
WHAT: Project STRIVE's Taste of Elegance
WHEN: 6 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 1
WHERE: Milwaukee Marriott West, W231-N1600 Corporate Court, Pewaukee
COST: $65 per person or $120 per couple
TICKETS: Order by Oct. 24 by calling Sara Murdoch at (414) 378-6956 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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