DGD Fund and Destination Dawgs program a perfect match
John Staton was not familiar with the Destination Dawgs program until a mutual friend mentioned it.
The University of Georgia’s inclusive, post-secondary education program includes students with intellectual disabilities in UGA courses and activities to build the skills needed for independent living and career readiness.
The more Staton found out, the more determined he was to help.
As one of the founders of the DGD Fund, created last year as a result of a new policy that allows college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness, Staton and his partners saw an opportunity to leverage the generosity of the Bulldog Nation to support various charities.
“We wanted to use this platform to give back to our communities,” said Staton, a former walk-on linebacker at UGA and member of the 2021 national championship team.
That’s where Destination Dawgs comes in. During a gala event held at the College Football Hall of Fame in September that recognized Destination Dawgs and three other similar programs, Staton met the program’s leaders and came away in awe.
He decided that night to partner with the team to raise awareness about the unique program, now in its fifth year.
“When I got (to the gala event), it changed my perspective,” Staton said. “It was just extremely eye-opening, and I realized UGA should be the leader in this. It made me motivated to use our organization to benefit them.”
Lisa Ulmer, associate program director for Destination Dawgs, said she is excited about the partnership and its potential to help build bridges between the program and the Georgia fanbase.
“We are incredibly grateful to have the support of the DGD Fund,” Ulmer said. “Through the generosity of the DGD Fund and its founders, we are spreading awareness about the value of inclusion across the Bulldog Nation. This partnership also will help develop meaningful relationships between students, players and coaches. Through those relationships, we can break down stigmas and stereotypes about those with disabilities. Their financial commitment to our program will make college possible for students and families who never imagined UGA was an option.”
The program is most in need of funding to provide student scholarships and support for staff and student travel to regional conferences and networking events, she said.
Though still a new program, Destination Dawgs already has seen significant progress in student outcomes and campus outreach.
Fifteen students have completed the two-year certificate program, with eight students currently enrolled. Destination Dawgs students have attended over 130 courses across 13 UGA colleges, and approximately 500 UGA students have served as volunteer student mentors.
In addition, two graduates of the highly-individualized program are currently attending technical school and several are competitively employed in a range of fields.
“It’s one of those things that when it sticks out, you know it’s the right thing,” Staton said of DGD’s partnership with the program. “We want to bring awareness to the program, use our platform to enhance theirs and just encourage more people to get involved. Kids should come to Georgia to do this.”
In addition to Ulmer and executive director Carol Britton Laws, the program employs two staff members: Kristina Childre Britton, who serves as mentor coordinator; and Alexis Szelwach, the transition coordinator.
Ulmer said additional support could enhance the program’s ability to serve more families. To learn more about supporting the program, visit the Destination Dawgs Support Fund page.
“Donations to our program, no matter how small, go a long way,” Ulmer said. “Our students are fully included at UGA but do not have access to the HOPE Scholarship or the Zell Miller Scholarship. The cost of meal plans, transportation, housing and technology add up quickly for any student. As we continue to grow, we are becoming more reliant on the generosity of donors such as the DGD Fund.”
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