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PROGRAM'S END HAS PARENTS WONDERING

Like parents of many graduating students this time of year, Kathie Lowry worries about what will happen to her daughter once she leaves the secondary school system.

Mindy Lowry, 22, Spanish Fork, was born with mental and physical handicaps that restrict her level of function in many areas to that of a 2-year-old. But as Mindy prepares to receive her certificate of completion Thursday from Provo's Oakridge School, she isn't much different from hordes of graduates who are trying to get into college or find jobs.Until recently, Kathie Lowry had high hopes her daughter would find educational and work opportunities through the Interdependent Quality of Life program. The program, which parents of handicapped young adults started three years ago, is funded by a state grant and links part-time paid tutors with handicapped people.

But now, the program's private provider, Danville Services, is dropping the program, and parents are unsure if their handicapped children will have anything to do once they leave schools like Oakridge or American Fork's Dan Peterson School.

"With Mindy, it's almost a panic position," Lowry said of the dilemma she faces. "Keeping her busy is the key to keeping her happy. Being at the school has been great for her."

Springville resident Andrea Pickering's daughter, Danielle, is also being recognized for completing her studies at Oakridge. When Danielle turned 22 in November, she left Oakridge and entered the Interdependent Quality of Life program. She has benefited from the one-on-one relationship with her tutor, called a private-care assistant, who helped Danielle continue her education while using what she had already learned.

"Eating in the community and going to the mall or BYU on the bus are things I didn't think she'd ever be able to do," said Pickering. Her daughter's tutor has also helped her learn to operate a computer, taken her swimming and accompanied her while spending time with retired people at the Seville Retirement Residence in Orem.

Now that Danville is dropping the program on June 30, Pickering and parents like her are looking at other options for their graduates.

"They can't go to Oakridge for 22 years and then sit around and watch videos all day," Pickering said.

Lowry hopes parents find a way to keep the program operating so Mindy can benefit from a tutor helping her swim, shop, go to classes and maybe work at a nursery watering plants.

"I think there are enough parents that want to keep (the program) that they'll come up with something," she said. "I would hate to see Mindy just wither and withdraw and have to have total care."

Lowry compares Mindy's situation with that of thousands of other Utah high school seniors and their parents. The students have to find opportunities to experience the world, and the parents have to let them go while still providing guidance and love.

"Mindy's going to miss Oakridge," Lowry said. "Changes bring on a lot of anxiety - maybe more for the family than for her."

Whatever happens to the Interdependent Quality of Life program, Lowry said finishing Oakridge is a great accomplishment for her daughter. She also says she will never give up on finding opportunities for Mindy to progress.

"It's like with all your children: you want them to reach their highest potential in life," Lowry said. "And sometimes we get so hung up on what we need to teach them that we forget about what they can teach us."