High School and Think College
Nicole attended school in Vermont and also went to a boarding school in Cape Cod. This school was designed for people with disabilities. While Nicole attended this school she did karate, field trips, a summer program and she learned different skills. She learned how to keep a budget and also learned about chores. During her experience at this school she took away valuable skills such as making friends, living with other people, grocery shopping; all are independent living skills. Nicole also gained employment skills as she worked in a Thrift shop. Nicole said, “Growing up and through high school I didn’t really feel like I had a purpose and I was a part of this world. I was frustrated with feeling like I was different. By my junior year, I was having a lot of trouble and my boarding school made me feel like I fit in a little better.”
Nicole always wanted to go to the University of Vermont, but there wasn’t a program that was available to her. Until Think College gave her an opportunity to make her dream come true. In Nicole’s eyes this was her second chance at going to a big University. This is what her class schedule was like: “A year and a half and I did a nine-credit certificate in Think College and I took Public Speaking, Written Expressions, and an Internship at Green Mountain Self-Advocates.” Nicole said, “I had such a tough time my last year of boarding school. I took some time off and I felt like UVM was my second chance to go to college and complete something.”
“Think College has changed my life in a really big way. It’s helped me figure out the career that I’ve wanted for a long time. It has helped me gain experience and just live my life and be happier with who I am.”
During her transition it was tough not being with her mom; but she says, “It’s helped me to grow even more into being successful and to rely more on myself and more responsibility. Now I pay for everything pretty much myself. I pay bills. It’s been a lot of transition. So now I’m just kind of used to it and it’s still tough, but I enjoy it.”
Jobs and Internships
Nicole currently works at three jobs. She does housekeeping at Pillsbury Manor, Mentoring at Bellcate School, and Advocacy work at Northwest Counseling and Support Services (NCSS). She previously worked at the Center for Disability and Community Inclusion at UVM doing office work. During Think College, Nicole did an internship at Green Mountain Self-Advocates in Montpelier, Vermont. She said it was her first job in her “field.” There was a lot of hard work at times but she ended up organizing the R-word campaign at the University of Vermont. She learned a lot of skills and did a presentation at a board meeting. She thinks the internship really helped her shine at the job that she does now.
Nicole liked having peers who were in both college and her internship with her because they were learning together and growing together in “our field.” Nicole said that she can apply the things she learned at Think College to the work world. Her field work and GMSA work and office experience helped her learn a lot about self-advocacy and office work put together.
Traveling is a big part of Nicole’s life. She has traveled to Michigan, Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine, and Florida. Nicole has dreams to keep traveling farther and farther! “I really want to travel around the world someday, to Poland, England and China. I’m just very excited about traveling.”
Nicole has been very active in Special Olympics since high school. She competes in a sport every year. Her sports include soccer, basketball, track, downhill skiing, and bowling. She used to do swimming and bocce as well. “I love it,” she said. “That’s where a lot of my relationships have formed over the years.” Nicole is also planning to be trained to be part of the Global Messenger program, which is a leadership program.
In addition to working at her three jobs, Nicole is very active in the Vermont advocacy community. “I’m on many committees and on the Autism Task Force. I just did a presentation for work. I was at the Respectful Language Bill passing; I do a lot of work with Green Mountain Self-Advocates. I do a lot of community work and committees behind the scenes which is really exciting.”
Making Friends and Peers
Nicole describes herself as someone who likes talking to people and being around people and is coming out of her shell. Nicole said, “I really like socializing; I’ve always been a social person. When I was a lot younger I used to be a lot more shy. I kept getting disappointed when I couldn’t make friends.”
“It’s been harder since I left Think College. I work a lot now and I don’t really have any transportation around unless I’m with my house or doing Special Olympics. So it’s been a lot more challenging. I try to socialize at Voices and Choices and Special Olympics events. You don’t see everyone like every day like when you go to college.”
Stirling Peebles, of CDCI and GMSA, interviewed Nicole Villemaire in 2014 for this story. Nicole Villemmaire is currently a member of the CDCI Community Advisory Council.