Dixi Kinchen has been talking about going to college since she was in fifth grade.

Now, she’s a college graduate.

Dixi Kinchen, a Livingston Parish native, became the first student to complete the four-year Lions Connected program at Southeastern Louisiana University.

A native of Albany, Kinchen completed her curriculum in the area of early childhood. She was one of the inaugural students in Lions Connected, Southeastern Louisiana University’s inclusive post-secondary educational program for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“Lions Connected is a total answer to many prayers,” Dixi’s mother, Debbie, said in a message to The News. “It takes a hard-working team of big-hearted people to make it work. This college opportunity has been a dream come true for Dixi.”

Approved by the U.S. Department of Education, Lions Connected provides young adults with intellectual disabilities an inclusive college experience while preparing them to become contributing members of society, according to its website.

Socialization with typical peers, independent living and self-advocacy, career development and experience, knowledge and personal health, and skills and enrichment are some of the specific goals, but the ultimate goal is “to increase the quality of life for students through a college experience,” program coordinator Gerlinde Beckers has said in the past.

The group works closely with on-campus inclusive vocational opportunities, community partnerships, parents, and college-age peer mentors. 

According to its website, academic mentors accompany LC students every step of the way, helping them learn how to navigate campus life. Social mentors are also available “to enrich interpersonal skills and relationships through extracurricular activities,” the website says.

Each semester, LC students audit one Academic Course as well as one Kinesiology Lab Course to take while on campus. Students also participate in a functional Life Skills Program. During the final semester of the program, students have the opportunity for supported employment.

For Dixi, Lions Connected was a dream come true. 

Debbie Kinchen said her daughter has been talking about going to college since fifth grade, especially Southeastern, where her favorite cousin attended and graduated from. After Dixi graduated from Albany High in 2016, a church friend told Debbie about the Lions Connected program.

She quickly reached out to learn more about the program that would enable her daughter to attend college. 

“I wasted no time setting up an interview with Dr. G. Beckers,” Debbie said. “Dixi was so fortunate for all the amazing Albany school staff and community that have always supported/encouraged her in all of her endeavors.”

Along with the courses Dixi audited, she was an active member of the Student-Led Louisiana Early Childhood Association (SLAECA). She successfully completed her inclusive vocational opportunities (internships) at Head Start/Regina Coeli Child Development Center and Southeastern Lab School kindergarten with Bethany Dowdy.

During the spring 2020 semester, one that was upended by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Dixi worked two mornings a week at the Learning Curve Daycare in her hometown.

Last weekend, Lions Connected took to social media to congratulate Dixi on her accomplishments.

“We are so proud of all of your accomplishments,” Lions Connected wrote in the Facebook post. “We are going to miss you, but know you are going to make a difference in the world.”

Her mother felt the same.

“I’m so proud of her strong ambition,” she said.

For more information on the Lions Connected program, contact lionsconnected@southeastern.edu.

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