Thanks to Chris Hunnicutt and his son,Chris, for collaborating to share their experiences and ideas. This will be the first in a series of posts about resources for helping families negotiate transitions.
Our lives together began with knowing before his birth that we were having a child with Down syndrome. Though Marty and I were initially off put with what this meant for our family within a week we were assured he was meant to be part of our life and we could make the most of it. By my temperament and training, I began seeking resources and knowledge for helping us to be parents who were ahead of the curve in supporting the possibilities for Chris. Another component of significance is that Chris has a sister, Carrie, who is seven years older; from his perspective, she hung the moon. From our perspective, she modeled what possibilities were available to others.
From the early years and up until now, we envisioned Chris would be a part of the typical community. Whether that was in sports activities, classroom settings, to other general activities, we wanted for him the ordinary and included, rather than segregated and “special”. So that is what we have sought across all areas. That said, there have been some barriers but there have also been some wonderful allies and advocates along the way who have been helpful and valuable in the journey. As a result, Chris has been able to attend camp and work alongside other “Crew” members; he has been a part of missions’ trips to North Carolina and Florida and missions’ projects in Atlanta. He has trained with others interested in martial arts and attained a” black belt certification”; he has enjoyed many opportunities as he and others considered possibilities and moved toward those even though all the “details” were not necessarily in place. We like to think of it as the “dignity of risk”. Virtually every good thing has difficulties, restarts, then milestones, and progress before realizing the goal. So vision and goals are the first things, the great news is they can come at any stage of life and build upon the current status.
So when Carrie went to Berry, he naturally saw his journey after high school being to college, he was about 11 at that time. Years later I knew he was serious when, at a family reunion, he stated to folks who found out he was in high school, “I’m going to Berry College “as his next steps. At that point there were no colleges in the south that offered inclusive post-secondary education ( IPSE) for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities ( Pw I/DD). There were programs in the north east, mid-west and Canada we considered yet those seemed a world away and fiscally unreachable.
Then in 2009 Kennesaw State University announced the Academy for Inclusive Adult Education and we were fortunate that he was accepted into the first cohort there. He took typical classes with other freshman and began learning of the challenges of college; classes, assignments, becoming a part of campus life getting to class, managing one’s life…you know the drill. In his second year he lived with a house-mate in an apartment and had to learn getting along, cooking, sharing space and food doing laundry, the things of becoming an independent young adult. Here again there were fits and starts and life lessons, much as you’d expect with a typical young adult. And learn he did and he continues learning as he sees where he’s been to where he has come. For others I would celebrate… there seems to be larger interest in replicating this model round the state. This may be an initiative you explore for your family member and consider advocating for on their and others behalf. I welcome contact to discuss this and next steps if that would be helpful
Chris now knows he can learn, he wants to learn about things that are important to him, and his grand desire for his life and contribution to the world is coming together; to get this…I have to learn and master this. Let me give him an opportunity to tell you in his own words. Some editing of his writing is a part of this.
At the point of being asked to blog, I presented these questions to Chris; these are his responses.
- What was it that first made you think you wanted to go to college? I wanted to have full college experience.
- What age were you when you first thought about going to college? I wanted to go when I was 22 years old.
- What did your family say about you wanting to go to college? My dad said it was okay for me to go to college. Yes he had confidence in me and wanted to watch me grow and learn.
- Did you get to go…where… when? This meant so much to me because I was ready. I went to Kennesaw State University. To go, I said to myself “this the year to see me and the other students grow”. How will this impact my life…it helped see everyone was like me. I was a safe community, they had a lot of KSU police,if I needed help then it was there if I needed it
- What experiences at college meant the most to you? (Dad’s writing) Chris had an opportunity to meet and make many friends through campus bible studies, meals in the commons, class interactions and projects. This built great confidence for him to be able to navigate typical settings, i.e. numerous times he was able to navigate Cobb County Transit ( CCT ) to get back to Decatur to work.
- What subjects did you take? I had so much fun taking self-defenses class. I took KSU 1101 (“Success as a Student and Citizen”) with Ken Hill. I have taken criminal justice class and music and arts in the community. “Health and wellness for life” was another class I took.
- What did they help you to learn? It was hard to push forward. In class with papers and tests, I pushed myself on learning the skills I needed. These skills will help me when I mature, it was hard but I learned to push forward.
- What work would you like to do now? I want to be in ministry or criminal justice. I am not certain what that may look like but I want to help people.
- How would your vocation (the work you do) help you and others? I have been working in Kroger for six years. I have made some great relationship. With them, both customers and coworkers, I work with to succeed in my job. I work with costumers to make them happy; when I help push carts to their car, I will unload groceries when it is needed, I want to learn new skills at my job.
- What additional skills do you need and where could you learn them? My manager will help me if I am moving to slow; I can count on him to help me when I needed.
So my encouragement to each of you is
- Imagine the possibilities… it is NOT too late to consider what might be. Let the PwI/DD be the guide…Seek to understand the “Why” this desire may be important. (Wanting to become a minister may mean a desire to help others and make a contribution. Chris does have speaking and presentation skills so we’re considering how seminary / biblical knowledge can be enhanced. Who knows!?)
- Move confidently in the direction of the goal… Be alert to those who stand in the way, move around them. Be thankful and develop those relationships that will encourage you and your family member. Those folks are priceless and may offer insight, ideas and information you may not have known or considered
- Never give up or give in…The efforts to excel and succeed will mean progress beyond the expected or may mean setting the bar higher to achieve the next phase.
- Have faith…we will achieve much more by believing in the worth of the efforts. And what we accomplish will be greater by virtue of the perseverance we apply.
- Continue looking toward the goal…It is easy to lose sight, and we must continue the trip, all our lives are richer by virtue of the journey.
This all said if I can be a resource to any of you, send me an email, I’ll be glad to help. That is a part of my life work. firstname.lastname@example.org