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The HEELS Prep program addresses key skill-building areas for the transition to adulthood, including self-management, life skills, career development, mental health, and community safety. Through interactive group instruction and 1:1 coaching, participants gain understanding of adult roles, rights, and responsibilities. 

HEELS Prep Participant, Max Van Name, engaged in an online 1:1 coaching session

Program Details

Dates: June 17-July 12, 2024

Format of Delivery: Hybrid format for Summer 2024 – classes on campus Monday, Wednesday, Friday; classes online Tuesday and Thursday

Daily group lessons, 1:1 coaching, and on-campus and virtual social events

Eligibility: Must be 18-26 y/o and have documentation indicating an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment. HEELS Prep applicants should be interested in setting goals and building skills for the transition to adulthood. The program will admit 10-12 participants for the Summer 2023 Cohort.

Apply: Applications for the Summer 2024 program are now open and can be completed HERE.

UNC and Community Staffing: Group sessions will be led by experienced professionals in the fields of occupational therapy, developmental disability supports and services, safety training, and clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling. In addition, each participant will be paired with a coach for bi-weekly coaching sessions as an opportunity for further application and individualization.

UNC Student Coaching/Volunteer Opportunity: UNC Students interested in supporting the HEELS Prep program as a coach or volunteer should send an email to 

Attendance Policy: We ask that participants commit to attending the full duration of the program. Our attendance policy allows for no more than two full-day absences (or a total of four classes) from each participant. Additionally, parent involvement is critical to support participants’ virtual learning and transfer of strategies to daily habits and routines. For this reason, we ask that parents commit to providing support as needed throughout the program for technology use, home assignments, etc.

HEELS Prep participants and coaches are standing in a group, smiling, in front of a tree on UNC’s campus

Our Purpose

To provide young adults with opportunities to explore personal interests, discover strengths, make choices, and set goals for a self-empowered adult future. 

Our Goals

  • To help individuals gain the skills, attitudes, and capacities needed to achieve their vision of a fulfilling adult life 
  • To provide instruction, practice, and resources in a fun, engaging, and accessible way 
  • To provide individualized support within key skill building areas for transition 

Key Areas of Transition

Self Management

Throughout the program, participants will build on the foundation of a self-management curriculum developed by TEACCH. This curriculum integrates time management, goal planning, and routine strategies to support increased responsibility in adulthood.  These systems and tools form a structured approach that can be generalized to almost any situation, from household chores, to making plans with friends, to navigating a workplace setting. It also provides a framework and vocabulary that remains consistent throughout the program among participants, instructors and supports, as well as easily transfers to home and community contexts. Self-awareness, self-advocacy skills and assertive communication strategies are embedded within all components of the curriculum. In addition to group lessons, participants will practice self-management during individual goal coaching sessions.

Career Development

In the career development portion of HEELS Prep, participants will focus on building soft skills related to employment. Participants will work in large groups to learn about professional communication, professional behavior, and interviewing skills. Everyone will also have the opportunity to practice these skills in a smaller group setting as well. In addition to large and small group instruction, participants will be matched with a graduate student to meet for individual coaching sessions approximately once per week. In these sessions, participants will select action steps to work on in a one-on-one setting. Examples of action steps include updating a resume, writing a cover letter, and practicing interview skills.

Safety Skills

The safety portion of HEELS Prep is led by Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International® certified instructors and designed to further the participants’ personal safety and self-protection skills and strategies in the home, community, and workplace. Both a success and strengths-based learning approach is used that builds on the individual’s ability to advocate for their own well-being and develop healthy relationships. The classes emphasize “learning by doing” by integrating structured practice and role play scenarios that are germane to their lives.   Assignments and recorded sessions will supplement learning and promote carry over of skills.  Lessons address safety skills such as being aware, setting boundaries, getting help, making safe choices, staying calm and more. In addition to group lessons, participants and their families will be offered individual support to develop customized safety plans and practice relevant skill areas.

Life Skills

The life skills portion offers structured approaches to enhance daily living skills for increased independence. Developed through a partnership with TEACCH and The Division of Occupational Therapy, the curriculum offers tools and steps for success in adult roles and routines. In addition to group sessions, weekly individualized coaching will be available to address the particular areas that are most relevant to each participant. Through video technology, individual lessons can be customized to the home environment to identify unique strategies and supports. Examples of life skill areas we may address include cleaning, cooking, meal planning, nutrition, laundry, grooming and hygiene.

Mental Health: Resiliency and Coping Skills

Presented by the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, participants will learn how to practice mindfulness as well as some of the basic strategies associated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Mindfulness practices help individuals to focus on the present moment. ACT incorporates elements of mindfulness as well as acceptance strategies to increase mental flexibility and reduce outward negative behaviors. CBT focuses on changing negative thoughts to increase positive behavioral outcomes. The Mental Health component of HEELS Prep will be held three times over the course of the summer in a large group setting. All of these strategies are intended to build coping skills and reduce stress, anxiety and low mood while increasing positive thoughts, moods, and behaviors.

More Information


Dara V. Chan, ScD: (919) 843-4471