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Auburn University: WINGS mentors paving way for inclusivity, support of EAGLES students on Auburn’s campus

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At the heart of the Auburn Family is a dedication to inclusivity and support for every student, staff and alumni.

This is never more exemplified than with the collaboration between the EAGLES, Auburn students with intellectual disabilities, and their peer mentors, the WINGS. Warm-hearted Individuals Nurturing Great Success, or WINGS, serve as natural supporters and friends for students of the Auburn EAGLES program, or Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success.

EAGLES students work hard to overcome disabilities and challenges, but thanks to the program, they have the same opportunities as other Auburn students. EAGLES attend classes, live on campus and participate in student organizations, including student government, Panhellenic sororities, AU Singers, Diamond Dolls and more.

“Auburn University has truly embraced the EAGLES program across all areas of campus,” Assistant Director of EAGLES Student Services Jessica Milton said. “However, our students would not be able to experience everything Auburn has to offer without WINGS helping them navigate college life.”

In August and September alone, WINGS mentors volunteered more than 1,800 hours with the EAGLES. Students can serve as WINGS on four different “levels,” ranging from residing with EAGLES in their dorms to planning weekly activities for students of the program. Regardless of level, being a friend to all and advocating for inclusion for those often marginalized is at the heart of the program.

The WINGS mentors are valued peers and friends for EAGLES students.

“To me, having a WINGS mentor is great, and they help and support me with homework for my classes,” said EAGLES student Marni Lane. “I love hanging out with them, and I love going grocery shopping with them.”

As Milton often says, “Inclusion without support is not inclusion.”

“The relationship between EAGLES and WINGS is of much importance,” said WINGS mentor Allyson Kicklighter. “These relationships are direct examples of how individuals should treat each other. Such representation allows for normalization of certain students’ lives that otherwise may be overlooked or underappreciated.”

When speaking with the WINGS, it is clear that serving with the EAGLES goes far beyond just volunteering their time. WINGS become advocates, role models and valued friends for EAGLES students.

“There is just this contagious joy that is impossible to resist with the EAGLES community,” said WINGS mentor Jack Hilton. “No matter what is going on, there is nothing that lifts me up and gives me perspective to let go of everyday worries like EAGLES students do.”

As the EAGLES program is growing, the need for more WINGS is growing as well. Members of the Auburn Family are encouraged to apply to be a WINGS mentor, regardless of experience, and applications for the upcoming term will close at midnight on Friday, Nov. 18.

“I genuinely believe no one has ever regretted becoming a WINGS mentor,” Hilton said. “It is easily the most rewarding organization I am a part of, and I couldn’t recommend it more.”