BUILD Program Continues Changing Lives at Bethel and Beyond

During National Disability Awareness Month, we're sharing stories of how Bethel's BUILD program has changed the lives of students with intellectual disabilities, their families, and students and employees across campus.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

March 28, 2022 | 10:30 a.m.

BUILD Students

Since Bethel launched the BUILD program in 2015, it’s changed Bethel and the lives of students within and outside the program. During National Disability Awareness Month, we reflect on how students in the program are growing, gaining new skills, and going on to meet their goals after they leave Bethel.

Meet students and alumni who have been changed through the BUILD program!


“What we’re doing is providing opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to have that full college experience. Bethel is a great next step for them, to be able to live away from home, to develop their independent living skills, to develop their employment skills, and to really have that full college experience.”

— Build Director Dawn Allen

As a comprehensive two-year educational experience for students with intellectual disabilities, BUILD provides students with an opportunity to have a full college experience. In the program, they grow more independent and gain skills through dynamic and encouraging instruction, career-oriented curriculum, a specialized mentorship, and on-campus living—all within a supportive Christian environment

For many, the first step into the BUILD program is an emotional one. A video of Sean Sielini BUILD’21 opening his acceptance box went viral as viewers connected with him on an emotional level. For parents like Joy and Geoff Cline, it was a “step of faith.” They weren’t sure their son, Daniel BUILD’19 would be accepted and that he would choose to join the program. But after he was accepted, he attended an overnight visit and experienced life at Bethel by attending Vespers, sitting in on a class, and eating on campus after his parents left. “We put it to prayer and God continually opened the door,” Geoff says.
The Clines and many other parents see their children take significant steps forward in their independence and life skills at Bethel. Geoff describes seeing Daniel full of joy at Bethel. “He’s out with people and he’s just living a fuller life,” he says. Similarly, Coreen Evilsizer remembers when her son, Justin Evilsizer BUILD'20, called her from the Target near Bethel to ask a question about groceries after he went there on a Bethel shuttle through the program. “That made us say we need to step back and let him do this on his own because he’s more capable than we originally thought,” she recalls.

Students in BUILD take core courses focusing on things like jobs and employment, Bible and theology, and independent living. While living on campus, they practice cooking, cleaning, self-care, and health and wellness. They also spend about half their time in elective courses with the broader Bethel community, choosing courses based on their career goals and interests—like psychology, astronomy, clay forms, American sign language, and more. “Students are really fully integrated into the community,” BUILD Director Dawn Allen says. Students then complete on-campus internships during their first year. Zoe Johnson BUILD ’20 loved her time working in Bethel’s marketing office.

Hands-On Learning

Most students complete an off-campus internship in their second year to gain confidence and put classroom lessons into practice. After a Bethel family opened a Dunn Brothers Coffee near campus, the comfy space quickly became a perfect training ground for interns like David Kaetterhenry BUILD’19 and Kirsta Graf BUILD ’19. Others have completed internships in retail and floral design, as a Children’s Museum “playologist,” as an usher at Target Center, and as a kennel assistant.


A group of peer mentors like Jaran Roste ’21, GS’24 plays an important part in BUILD, helping connect students in the program to Bethel’s supportive community. These mentors work alongside students in the program, modeling life skills and providing support as needed. Many have even gone on to work for the program. “I tell [the mentors] we could not have this program without them,” Allen says. “They are the primary support for students. Also, they provide a natural connection to what it means to be in college.” But she’s also noticed the program has a profound effect on the wider Bethel community, far beyond the students serving directly with BUILD.

“This Program is Working!”

Today, program graduates are meeting their goals and thriving. “This program is working—to help students meet their own personal goals, to be more independent, to maintain integrated, meaningful employment,” Allen says. “It’s exciting because you’re seeing that students are living out their dreams.”

Study in the BUILD program at Bethel.

Bethel's BUILD program provides a supportive and comprehensive educational experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities. You'll experience dynamic and encouraging instruction, career-oriented curriculum, specialized mentorship, and on-campus living—all within a supportive Christian environment.

Learn more