SALISBURY, N.C. – Rowan-Cabarrus Community College recently held a completion ceremony for 21 students in its Skills, Opportunity, Awareness, Readiness (S.O.A.R.) program. The S.O.A.R. program helps adults with intellectual disabilities acquire literacy and life skills to become more independent.

Those completing the S.O.A.R. program walked the red carpet to receive their diplomas and were congratulated by college faculty and staff, friends and family. The College created a festive atmosphere for the ceremony, with music, signs, tents, firetrucks, and a large American flag flying above the event site at North Campus. The College’s mascot, a red-tailed hawk named Beacon, also was on hand to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishments and pose for photos.

“We take great pride in the fact that our institution values everyone, and we are one of only a handful of community colleges offering a specific program designed for students with intellectual disabilities or traumatic brain injuries,” said Rowan-Cabarrus Executive Director of Adult Education and Literacy Jay Taylor. “We began the S.O.A.R. program at the North Campus in the fall of 2011 with just six students and, to date, we have proudly served over 100 students in Rowan County. Our campus community has embraced this amazing population. In fact, some of our former students have been hired by our institution and are now working alongside us as our colleagues.”

Evelyn Medina, owner of Mean Mug Coffee Company in downtown Salisbury, also has welcomed S.O.A.R. students to work at her business doing tasks such as folding napkins or serving drinks to customers.

“The idea of our partnership with the S.O.A.R. program was to bring people with cognitive disabilities into the community, not only to teach them soft skills and how to participate, but so that the community will recognize and appreciate them,” Medina said. “The S.O.A.R. program is incredibly important, not only for the disabled adults it serves, but for the community as a whole. Sometimes people with disabilities – or as I say, people who are “differently able” – stay in the shadows. If we leave them there, they will not be able to reach the fulfilled life they deserve. They deserve to thrive. If we give them the opportunity, they will show us how high they can ‘soar.’ ”

The S.O.A.R. curriculum focuses on helping individuals become more independent and self-directed by teaching specific skills needed to function successfully in daily life. Classes are built around each student’s unique strengths and goals, covering functional academics, community living, health and safety, leisure activities, and humanities. Students use computers and other technology and participate in campus and community activities.

To be eligible to participate in the S.O.A.R. Program, an individual must be 18 or older, not enrolled in the public school system, and either be diagnosed with an intellectual disability or functioning at the level of intellectual disability due to a head injury or brain damage. Students must achieve a minimum test score to be considered for enrollment and demonstrate progress to remain in classes. S.O.A.R. classes are offered at no cost to the student.

“We are passionate about meeting all students where they are and empowering them to go as far as they can go,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “We are so proud of our graduating S.O.A.R. students. We celebrate their accomplishments, and we also treasure the many wonderful lessons they have taught us.”

The S.O.A.R. program is accepting new students. For more information, please contact Bridget Henderson at or 704-216-3657, or Mandy Thacker at or 704-216-3761, or visit the S.O.A.R. program website.