Usually when you graduate, you are supposed to move on with your life and leave the place that you have called home for the last few years. I swear that was my plan, but as I have learned in my life, things don’t always go according to plan.
I came into CIP Berkeley in July 2008 completely broken. Everything in my life had been a downward spiral for the previous two years. I had failed out of two colleges, had lost two people that I loved deeply to cancer and had been suffering from mild depression and other issues.
My journey at CIP started in April of 2008, when a doctor in Colorado Springs, CO told us that I had Asperger’s. When I got home from the appointment I Googled Asperger’s and found this checklist of criteria, and as I read through the checklist, I started to realize that this could be the answer to my problems. Not even a month later, my apartment was cleared out and I was packing away my life into two suitcases and a small travel bag to start anew in a program in Northern California.
When I walked into CIP Berkeley for orientation that July I was scared. Though I would be living with my sister (she was starting the program too), and had an aunt in San Francisco, I still felt like I was completely alone. I felt hurt that my family was abandoning me because they didn’t know how to help me.
So many emotions fly through you when you walk across that threshold into this new way of life, and I’m not saying by any means that they all will be bad. But in reality, it’s the one immediate factor that brings us all together. We are all out of our element, and to be honest, that made it so much easier to relate to the other students at orientation, because we all had something in common.
My two years at CIP were full of ups and downs, as it is for almost all the students that enter the program. First off, the friends that I have made in the program, I guarantee I will still be friends with them years down the road. When you live in such close quarters and are together every day, you start to become family and begin to lean on each other for support. You begin to learn that it is okay to have flaws because your peers in the program accept you for who you are, flaws and all.
Even the staff (yes the staff) are beyond amazing. I know that at one point or another most students will have an issue with a staff member. But even though you may not see it yet, they are there for you, they have your best interests at heart, and sometimes everyone just needs a little tough love.
While at CIP I had so many first-time experiences on weekend activities; like going rock climbing; going to a Giants or A’s game; going to the museums in San Francisco; and of course the Berkeley Farmers Market just a couple streets over from where I lived.
I loved being able to experience the Bay Area from a tourist's point of view, even though I now lived in the area. But one of my favorite experiences by far at CIP was when I got to go on the Spring Break trips with not only my sister, but my fellow schoolmates.
My first year we went on a cruise to Mexico and my second year we went to Oahu, Hawaii. It was during these trips that I not only got to know my CIPmates at a deeper level, but also our Residential Coordinator. During these times I also got to experience things that I thought I never would get to do in my wildest dreams. I got to go para-sailing, off-road ATV'ing, visit Pearl Harbor, horseback riding in Mexico, and snorkeling/ kayaking in Puerta Vallerta.
During my first year at CIP I entered the running and was elected President of the Student Senate. I was also given the honor of being the Student of the Year- Underclassman. While at CIP I also had the satisfaction of passing my first college class, and continuing to do so after that.
During the end of my first year I began volunteering at Alta Bates Medical Center in their gift shop and then in the middle of my second year was “promoted” to volunteering in the Maternity Ward. I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at Alta Bates because it not only gave me a sense of responsibility and pride, but also a sense of meaning. It solidified the feeling for me that I was meant to help people. I feel that no matter what internship/ volunteering you do, it should have some kind of special meaning to you, because through the work you do for the community, you learn more about yourself.
Now a year after graduating from CIP, I am still at Berkeley City College studying so I can transfer to a four-year institution. I was out in the workforce, but had to put that aside due to health issues; however, I plan to work this summer. As far as volunteering, I “graduated” from Alta Bates and am now on the lookout for a new opportunity. I also am the Alumni Coordinator for CIP Berkeley and I plan girls' nights so that all the girls at the program can form lasting friendships with each other (you always will need your girls!)
The biggest piece of advice I can give you, is to advocate for yourself. When I was getting ready to leave CIP there really wasn’t any kind of help/program to aid those who were leaving, so I asked for it. In all seriousness, as long as your request isn't crazy, CIP will try to help and accommodate you as best they can.
Also, try to remember that even though you are out living on your own and you think that all the rules have been lifted, you have a responsibility to yourself to eat healthy, exercise, go to classes, engage in CIP activities and so many other things. And just because you are on your own, always remember to be safe. Don’t share your address carelessly and try not to walk alone. I know it’s a lot of advice but sometimes the advice that we don’t think we have to say is the advice we really need to.
In the future, I still see myself as part of the CIP community helping keep in contact with the alumni and setting up the events. I hope to one day be married and starting my own family and owning a home. I also hope to be done with school and in the midst of pursuing a career as a therapist working with individuals with learning disabilities.