HOLMEN, Wis. — Project LIVE aims to take its special-needs students beyond the walls of their high school and into the community, but the program faced a challenge: It had no vehicle of its own to transport the students.
With no school district money available to buy a bus, Program Director Nicholas Slusser and his students took it upon themselves to raise the funds.
“It became apparent that we needed to resolve this issue on our own as a lesson in perseverance, which embodies and essentially describes much of the experiences of my students as they overcome their own obstacles in life,” Slusser told SBF.
Project LIVE, which stands for “Lifelong Independence and Vocational Education,” was launched at Holmen High School in 2010. It consists of young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who have various disabilities. Slusser, who is the director and a special-education teacher, describes the program as a “classroom without borders.”
“The most impacting lesson has been having them directly involved in community activities, volunteering, job shadowing, getting out and seeing what this world has to offer,” he said.
The Project LIVE students began earning money for a bus by selling shirts, holding bowling tournaments and conducting other fundraisers. But, Slusser notes, "at that pace, we would not have had our vehicle for another 15 years."
With assistance and donations from family, friends and other community members, the group raised $54,000.
Roger Saxton, transportation supervisor for the School District of Holmen, worked with Rich Nelson at Wisconsin Bus Sales in ordering the bus for Project LIVE, opting for a Micro Bird G5 MFSAB with a wheelchair lift.
Slusser said that due to the progressive nature of Friedreich's ataxia, which his student Michael has, it was very important to get the vehicle as soon as possible. Slusser wrote to Micro Bird President Steve Girardin, telling him about Project LIVE, the students' tireless efforts and Michael's disease.
"It was clear that people rallied together to make sure he would have the opportunity to have this bus to get around the community to interact as much as he can while he is still a student in Project LIVE," Slusser said.
Micro Bird was able to get the bus built about a month ahead of schedule. At Wisconsin Bus Sales, the vehicle was prepared for delivery.
"Everybody hightailed it to get this bus ready for them," Nelson said. "It was a great team effort."
With snow blanketing the ground, the white bus emblazoned with Project LIVE logos arrived at Holmen High School on Jan. 23. The students' pride and joy were on display as they boarded their bus for the first time.
Saxton said that the vehicle will be part of the district's fleet, which includes about 40 other buses.
"The program is designed to go out in the community," he said, "so we're training the teachers and the educational assistants to drive the students."