John Brown University, in partnership with Ability Tree, launched the College Connections program, which
invites young adults with significant cognitive disabilities to experience college life.
The College Connections program originated after Ability Tree’s founders Joe and Jen Butler reached
out to Jacob Stratman, chair of humanities and social sciences at JBU, to collaboratively design a program
that provides kids who have gone through Ability Tree’s after school program the opportunity to envision
higher education. “We got everyone on campus involved,” Stratman said. “Student life, administration and
the academic department are all working together to see what we can provide students who come for the
The program kicked off this fall semester with one student, Micah Butler, who attends chapels, one
class and goes to all JBU activities of his interest. Ability Tree determines eligibility for the program by
consulting with the students’ families. JBU’s role, on the other hand, is to tailor the social, academic and
spiritual programs to each student’s needs. The College Connection program requires potential students to
be between ages 18 to 30.
Currently, there are five JBU students who volunteer for the College Connections program. Savannah
Crittendon, senior management major, previously worked at Ability Tree and now volunteers there. As part
of the program’s committee, Crittendon works with Stratman and other faculty members to develop more
opportunities for students with cognitive disabilities on campus.
“JBU is the perfect place to do this type of programs,” Crittendon said. “As a Christian school that
focuses on the ‘head, heart and hand,’ we are welcoming and loving to anyone who decides to come.”
JBU students can volunteer to join Micah’s college journey during classes, at lunch or at JBU events.
According to Stratman, the most important aspect of volunteering is companionship. “It is very easy to treat
others at arms-length,” he said. “When we spend more time just being with one another, a lot of these
barriers tend to break.” JBU permits students from the College Connections program to belong to a safe
space where their pursuit of higher education is encouraged and guided. The impact also reaches JBU’s
student body by enriching diversity on campus.
“A more diverse campus continually puts us in these wonderful situations where we are seeing God
work,” Stratman said. “And I begin to see how God is working in Micah’s life.”
JBU students can get involved and volunteer for the College Connections program by contacting
Stratman through email.