New program helps adults with intellectual challenges after aging out of public education system

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For 24-year-old Marquez Jones and his mother, it's a bridge to a brighter future.

"It's life-changing. It's life-changing to be able to give him the skills that he needs to be, to feel like he's actually a member of society," said Jones' mother, Kisha.

Marquez is part of the welcoming class of the "After 22 Project," which aims to connect adults with developmental disabilities to continued education, job training and employment.

"I thank God," Jones said. "Thank you, and I couldn't do it without you."

It's called the After 22 Project because that's the age when students with intellectual challenges traditionally age out of the public education system, leaving them with few options to further their learning.

"Now, we have a plan for Chicago's young adults with disabilities to step out of high school and directly into opportunity," said Rebecca Clark, president and CEO of Anixter Center.

Funding is provided by Special Olympics' Special Children's Charities, as well as the Anixter Center and Richard J. Daley College, where students in the program will attend classes.

"We set out to create a college experience for people with disabilities," said Alderman Matt O'Shea, 19th Ward. "But more than that, we wanted to create opportunities that would allow them to eventually use their skills."

"It is our hope that we can expand the After 22 Program to include more students every year and that this program will be a model that other organizations will emulate throughout the world," said Carolyn Daley, president of Special Olympics Chicago.

For Jones, he hopes to one day become a chef.

"It makes me feel like there is hope for him. There's a future for him, for him to get a job, transition," Kisha said.
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