Connections

FEATURE

The Mayor of Campus

LifePrep@Naz builds community that strengthens all.

by Brian Fleurantin

Kelsey Barrett sitting at a desk in a classroom

Kelsey Barrett ’19

Community matters. As you navigate the world, find yourself, and find your place within it, having people around who care for and will do their best to support you is essential. 

Jake Miller, who's now 25, and many Nazareth students he met through four years in LifePrep@Naz formed a close community that continues to be a big part of Miller’s life. Four years after completing the program for young adults with developmental challenges, Miller is like the mayor of campus, making his rounds through multiple buildings several times a week — visiting friends and posing for selfies before and after his work shifts as a culinary ambassador in the dining hall. 

The program infused confidence in Miller while teaching him skills — and the 10-year-old program also has ongoing benefits for the Nazareth students who work as mentors.

Kelsey Barrett ’19, who worked in the program, draws on those experiences as a math teacher at Westminster Community Charter School in Buffalo, New York. She joined LifePrep@Naz as a student mentor in 2015; she later became a LifePrep@Naz graduate assistant, and eventually a student teacher. 

Barrett says the students and the program “helped me realize how much I gravitated toward teaching and helping people with their education” and gave her additional skills. The sense of community the program creates, Barrett explains, helped her to feel included and “helped me build relationships with people that I don’t think I necessarily would have” without it. Barrett adds that she built upon her communication skills, developed teaching styles individualized to each student, and created a familiar and comfortable environment for her students. Today, she uses her conflict resolution, de-escalation, and verbal and nonverbal communication skills to create a welcoming and positive environment for her students. She does so by listening closely to her students, and spending time understanding their needs. Barrett makes sure her students feel safe and cared for in the classroom and that they know she is there for them.

She’s not alone. LifePrep@Naz has so far provided opportunities for 237 Nazareth College students — including 30 in spring 2022 — to learn and grow as they offer academic support, peer mentorship, and friendship. And the program has enabled 78 young adult participants to learn and grow by attending college classes and participating in vocational internships.

In addition to working his ongoing job on campus, Jake Miller volunteers for Athletics and for the Arts Center, both places that he was part of while in LifePrep@Naz. He says the program amplified his skills and helped him to develop lifelong friendships and succeed. He uses his organizing skills to stay on task and relies on his structure and routine to excel, he notes.

His mom, Ellen Miller-Sarkis, says having Naz students and staff appreciate her son for who he is — “a really friendly, nice young man” who has autism and challenges — helped him blossom into a well-rounded person.

The connections Miller formed were visible at Nazareth’s Commencement ceremony in 2018. When he crossed the arena stage and received his certificate and a hug from the college president, the audience of 5,000 rose to its feet in applause — an “amazing” moment, says his mom, that showed the power of community.


Brian Fleurantin is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York, who previously worked at non-profit organizations serving people with developmental disabilities.

Jake Miller