Their dreams seem simple. They want to drive a car, learn to use a computer and write their own name.
But for students in Rowan-Cabarrus Community College's compensatory education program, a program for intellectually disabled and brain damaged adults, those dreams are challenges, but not challenges that are out of reach.
Danny Bentley, 51, wants to earn his GED.
He hopes he'll be able to begin GED classes once he improves his reading and spelling skills.
"I'm learning how to spell better," Bentley said. "If I can learn that, I can move up."
RCCC's compensatory education program works with students to develop skills ranging from reading to healthy eating habits and managing a bank account.
The program is designed for adults who have received insufficient education or have not developed skills necessary to live independently, said Sue Price, executive director of the Arc of Cabarrus County, an organization that advocates on behalf of people with developmental disabilities.
"Many of them would be sitting at home with nothing to do," Price said. "This gives them the skills they need so that they could be employed or live independently on their own."
Most North Carolina community colleges host the program, which is funded by state and federal dollars. The program is free for students who are ages 17 and older and have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability or brain damage.
RCCC began hosting the class in September 2008. The program, which also has classes at Rowan Vocational Opportunities in Salisbury, has served more than 100 students in the past year.
During class last week, five students sat around a table with instructor JoAnn Hawthorne.
They took turns reading healthy living tips. Bentley helped other students when they got stuck on a word.
Bentley lives on his own in Concord and works for his brother's construction business where he paints, helps lay flooring, puts up drywall and lays brick. He comes to class two or three days each week.
But only two of Hawthorne's 13 students have a job.
"A lot of them want to work, but they need skills to get a job," she said.
When students enter the class, Hawthorne, who has been working with special needs students for 25 years, assesses their skills and areas of weakness. Then goals are set for each student.
"I've seen students come in not able to write their own name," Hawthorne said. "I've also seen them grow and blossom."
In class, students work on computers to improve typing skills and learn to use e-mail. They read and do math problems and learn to use calculators. They practice filling out job applications.
They also work to develop social skills by acting out different scenarios, ranging from family disagreements to job interviews or emergency situations.
"It's never a dull moment," Hawthorne said.
The class runs on a flexible schedule from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Friday.
"It's been a wonderful learning experience for them, as well as for the college population," Marsh said.
Marsh has become an advocate for the students, who she calls "differently-abled" rather than "disabled."
"They deserve a great deal: respect, acknowledgement and love," she said.