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A Chance at Independence: Hartley
CONTEST MONEY, DONATIONS ALLOW KM GRAD HARTLEY CHANCE TO ATTEND CLEMSON
Written by Elise F. and Lucy P. of NC

For many students with intellectual disabilities, education stops after high school. For Hartley Plyler, however, graduation was just the beginning.

Hartley, 18, of Kings Mountain, graduated from Shelby's Willow Tree Community School this year and applied for Clemson University's Clemson Life - a program designed for students with intellectual disabilities who desire a post-secondary experience on a college campus. LIFE stands for Learning Is For Everyone.

Initially, Hartley was placed on the waiting list, but in March, a second letter came - informing her that she'd been accepted. The Plyler family had just three days to inform Clemson of whether or not their daughter would accept her spot in the program, which costs $80,000 for two years and is not eligible for student loans.

Sending their daughter to Clemson Life was a no-brainer for the couple, despite the costs involved, Hartley's father, Charles Plyler, said.

"Something we can't do is give her the ability to be independent," he said. "ClemsonLIFE will give her that ability, which is something a lot of people with similar disabilities don't have."

Shortly after she was accepted, her mother, Lucy Plyler, entered a contest where she shared the story of the moment Hartley was accepted into ClemsonLIFE and became one of ten people to win $20,000 as part of the North Carolina Education Lottery’s N.C. Proud Moments in Education contest celebrating their 10 Year Anniversary.

"Winning the $20,000 is just a small facet of the bigger picture," Charles Plyer, said.

Through the generosity of friends, family and a GoFundMe account, as well as the contest money, the family has raised more than $38,000, which is enough to pay for Hartley's first year of school, he said.

Hartley, who moved into her dorm on Sunday, said she was thrilled when she opened her acceptance letter, a moment her mother documented with the camera on her phone. "I'm happy to be accepted and excited to go and be on my own," she said.

While she's there, Hartley will live an apartment with three other ClemsonLIFE students, as well as a student life coach. Much of the program’s curriculum will be taught in the apartment and the students will learn the life skills they need to succeed on their own, Charles Plyler said.

Hartley said, after the two-year program, she hopes to apply the skills she'll learn to real life. She said she would like to work in the child-care field and might consider completing a program at Cleveland Community College to earn a child care certificate that would allow her to work in a daycare facility.

"I'd like to have a house or apartment of my own," she said. "I'm looking forward to learning how to live on my own."

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