LAKEWOOD - For nearly 60 years, Dennis Schwed has dealt with cerebral palsy and other cognitive issues. For nearly 60 years, he lived his life with the help of others. But, now Schwed is graduating with a degree on life.
"You just gather information that you've learned and contain it," Schwed said. "Yes, it's a big deal in life."
Schwed works at arc Thrift Stores. He is one of 100 employees finishing the arc University program created to help store workers improve their quality of life.
"If you have an intellectual disability, these are things that have been out of reach for you in the past and what we're trying to do is put these things within their reach and to help them live lives like the rest of us," Lloyd Lewis, president and CEO of arc Thrift Stores.
With the help of a $100,000 grant from The Daniels Fund, arc Thrift Stores created a degree program to help employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn life skills like money management, food preparation, and using computers.
"Because it's important for anybody to know," Schwed said.
Schwed works as a cashier in the arc Thrift Stores, which is something he did not think possible before.
"I am not very good at counting money," Schwed said.
But, the year-long program of tests and classes changed that. Now, he knows way more than just how to count money.
"Just learning how to manage your money, correctly knowing where it's going and what's going out and what's coming in," Schwed said.
Wednesday night, he will receive his doctorate in life skills from arc University. Other students will receive their Certificates of Participation. Schwed will be recognized as this year's Class Valedictorian.
"I think everybody that's going to this class is rewarded or has accomplished something," Schwed said. "It's not just me. It's other people, too."
Lewis says he is proud of the program's second graduating class.
"It is their Harvard," Lewis said. "They are learning key skills. They are learning things they never learned before, doing things that people previously told them that they can't do."
Schwed says getting a degree is something he never thought possible.
"It's a great honor," Schwed said.
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