L.O.P.E.S. Academy at the Cardon Center

Going to college is a rite of passage for most young adults. It marks a time of transition into adulthood; of gaining more independence, developing friendships and forging your own path. The college experience, as a whole, allows students to:

  • Discover their passions
  • Gain important life skills
  • Learn about the world around them

However, the opportunity to experience college can be non-existent for many, especially for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Until now.

The L.O.P.E.S. (Learning Opportunities for Participation and Engagement in School) Academy is a two-year, non-degree program for neurodiverse individuals. Participants attend the program twice a week for a total of 10 hours per week. There are various components of the program which include seven courses, social activities, lunch, chapel and workshops. After the first year and a half in the program the participants receive an internship on campus.

An Inclusive Postsecondary Education Experience

The L.O.P.E.S. Academy at the Cardon Center was created by Don and Kim Cardon to invite participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities to experience college life at Grand Canyon University (GCU). GCU is a private, Christian university, located within a gated community in Phoenix, AZ.

Annual Golf Tournament Fundraiser

The L.O.P.E.S. Academy hosts an annual golf tournament to help financially support internal programming.

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Our Mission

To provide a post-high school, Christian university experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities focused on finding personal purpose through academic, social and job skills development.

Make a Gift

All donations go directly to support the L.O.P.E.S. Academy program and participant scholarships.

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Our Academic Program

L.O.P.E.S. Academy partners with GCU to provide a two-year program in a fully inclusive, Christian environment.

Each course in the L.O.P.E.S. program is seven weeks, with participants taking two courses per 15-week semester (fall and spring). Each class meets twice a week for one hour.

L.O.P.E.S. participants can look forward to taking foundational courses designed to provide the knowledge and skills they need for more independent living. These courses include:

This course is designed to provide students with an introduction to the L.O.P.E.S. program and the university environment.

This course is designed to provide students with effective communication and social skills that can be applied in a variety of settings including, in school, at home, on the job and in the community.

This course explores the big questions of life. For example, “Why are we here?” and “What is my purpose?” Students examine how Christians answer these big questions and work on exploring their own worldview and purpose.

This course introduces skills and resources necessary for students to integrate leadership principles and character development into their personal and professional lives. Students review contemporary leadership skills and employability skills needed for successful employment. Students identify personal strengths, interests and needs related to employment, and identify goals for communication, customer service and skills related to their interests in order to guide their own character development and leadership skills.

This course is designed to provide students with a basic understanding of general nutrition and overall health and wellness. The course will focus on independent daily living skills to support the student in making healthy life choices.

This course is designed to learn and apply math skills related to daily living. The course will focus on real-world problem-solving related to math.

The Campus Experience Internship will include exploration of different internship opportunities. Students' interests and strengths will be identified in preparation for choosing an internship placement. Job shadowing and internships will provide L.O.P.E.S. learners the opportunity to work in a setting on campus, gain work experience and prepare for employment opportunities after completion of the L.O.P.E.S. program. In addition to the capstone class, participants earn an internship on campus after the first year and a half and are provided job coaching by L.O.P.E.S. Academy staff.

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Gaining the College Experience

As we know, college is not all about academics. In fact, the skills and experiences students gain outside the classroom is just as important for their development and independence.

As part of the L.O.P.E.S. Academy program, participants are able to dive deeper into the typical college experience based on their individual interests and skills. Here are some fun activities and opportunities participants can anticipate in our program:

  • L.O.P.E.S. Buddies: Each L.O.P.E.S. participant will be matched with a GCU student as a guide and support partner throughout the program. Depending on the participant’s interests and needs, these mentors can serve as a lunch buddy, workout partner, academic tutor and/or event planner.
  • Chapel Events: GCU holds weekly chapel services for participants to come together to worship and hear from God’s Word. Our Worship Team engages participants in music, and speakers from across campus and throughout the Phoenix area come to share truth as they teach from the Bible.
  • Clubs: In Spring 2023, GCU offered over 100 student clubs and organizations with the goal of providing participants with an unforgettable college experience. We encourage all our learners to visit a club with their buddy.
  • Guest Speakers and Workshops: L.O.P.E.S. Academy will provide regular hands-on workshops and guest speakers to help participants learn about various topics, such as career exploration, health and wellness, life skills and more.
  • Sporting Events: If you love sports, GCU has something for every fan. From basketball and baseball, to soccer, swimming, tennis and volleyball, you can cheer on the GCU Lopes throughout the school year.

What a Day at the L.O.P.E.S. Academy Looks Like

L.O.P.E.S. participants can expect to spend a five-hour day twice a week on campus. Each day will be a little different and offer a mix of learning, socializing and hands-on engagement.

Sample Schedule (subject to change)

Day One:
10 – 11 am Academic Course
11 am – noon Chapel
Noon – 1 pm Lunch
1 – 3 pm Workshop

Day Two:
10 – 11 am Academic Course
11 am – noon Social Activity
Noon – 1 pm Lunch
1 – 3 pm Workshop

L.O.P.E.S. Academy Essential Elements for Participants

For successful participation in the L.O.P.E.S. Academy program, participants should:

1. Be between the ages of 18-27 years old when beginning the program.

2. Be open to a Christian academic environment.

3. Have a diagnosis of an intellectual and/or developmental disability with supporting IEP (Individual Education Plan) or MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team evaluation) documentation.

4. Possess supporting documentation with diagnosis eligibility. For example, IEP (Individual Education Plan) or ISP (Individual Service Plan).

5. Have completed high school with a documented diploma, GED or attending a high school transition program with flexibility to attend the L.O.P.E.S. Academy.

6. Have the ability to independently address self-care and hygiene needs (e.g., toileting and eating).

7. Have the ability to self-administer and manage any medications.

8. Have the ability to follow GCU’s student code of conduct policies, including self-regulation.

9. Demonstrate ability to independently use functional reading, writing and math skills.

10. Demonstrate the ability to independently follow multi-step verbal and/or written directions with minimal prompting.

11. Have active participation throughout the application process.

12. Have the ability to independently navigate the GCU campus using safety procedures with minimal supervision.

13. Demonstrate interest in obtaining independent employment.

14. Have the ability to maintain short-term-supported employment.

15. Have the ability to independently sustain an extended period of work (4-8 hours per shift).

16. Demonstrate an interest in finding personal purpose through academic, social and job skills development.

The Future Looks Bright

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We understand that young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have just as much to gain from the university environment as their peers. The L.O.P.E.S. Academy is here to help you get started on your journey toward more independent living.

For further questions about the L.O.P.E.S. Academy program, including program rates, please email [email protected]. To apply for the program, submit your application by clicking on the “Apply Now” button below. We will follow up with you shortly.

Meet the Staff

Dr. Heidi Boldway
Assistant Dean/Humanities Director – L.O.P.E.S. Academy
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Email: [email protected]

Allison Mancinelli Kolanko
Program Manager – L.O.P.E.S. Academy
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Email: [email protected]

Courtney Patton
Program Coordinator – L.O.P.E.S. Academy
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Email: [email protected]

To best inquire please email [email protected].

Although the L.O.P.E.S. Academy at the Cardon Center is a non-credit and non-degree program, this fee-based program provides a university environment and prepares participants for potential employment.

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