Athens, Georgia (Senate District 46)
Jordan is a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome. This year, he began attending UGA through the Destination Dawgs full inclusion program. Reflecting their tagline “Life is a journey. Be prepared for the trip,” the program’s goal is for Destination Dawgs graduates “to gain new knowledge, skills, and competencies which lead to a rewarding adult life.”
Mom, Kathryn, says she’s always believed in full inclusion, starting all the way back at kindergarten in Tennessee. She had to fight to get her son into a regular kindergarten class, and then, year after year, she would work with Jordan’s teachers to modify their curriculum to his needs. When Jordan asked to go to college, and especially expressed his interest in journalism, they did a thorough search. They considered Clemson Life, and other Inclusive Postsecondary Education programs, but according to Kathryn, “They just were keeping the students with disabilities mostly off to themselves, and that’s just not what I want for Jordan. We’ve been on this path of inclusion all our lives. Why would we stop now?”
With Destination Dawgs, there are student peer mentors who are part of the program at every step of the way, assisting him with participating in classes, going to the gym and working at the paper. These volunteers are a part of the cohort and interested in the same academic and social things as Jordan. (Story continues below after slideshow.)
Jordan does not have a Medicaid waiver, and that is something that deeply impacts their lives on a daily basis. “Our number had just come up when we lived in Tennessee, but then we moved here to Georgia, so we had to start all over,” says Kathryn. When he wanted to go to college, Kathryn had to move to Athens with him and adopt the college lifestyle. “Fortunately, my job is entirely mobile,” Kathryn says, “I can sit pretty much anywhere and work a full day.” That’s precisely what she does. While Jordan goes to classes, works at the school newspaper and spends time at the gym, Kathryn sits in coffee shops and hallways, fielding phone calls, doing email and running statistics for her full-time job with RTI. Often, though, because of helping Jordan navigate his day, and especially taking him back into Atlanta for doctor’s appointments or the job he’s required to keep in order to participate in Destination Dawgs, she has more work to do when they get home at night. “It’s hairy, I gotta tell ya,” she laughs. “It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to get him to a place where he’s functional, living independently, and working independently.”
Next semester, Jordan will go into a dorm situation with roommates, which is something they’re both looking forward to with mixed emotions. They’ve been a working unit forever, and this will be the first time they’ve lived apart for any length of time. You can tell they’re both excited and apprehensive to try it, though. When Jordan moves to the dorm, there will be four roommates in a quad, one of whom will be a peer mentor.
If an elected official came to talk with him, Jordan would want them to know a few things. “I’m growing up,” he says. “I would show them around campus. I would probably cook them something in my crock pot at home – maybe chicken – because I’m becoming a very good cook. I would probably write about their visit in the paper.” Currently, Jordan works at a pizza place called Rosati’s, which is all the way in Cumming. They have to drive so far because it’s simply not easy to find a business that’s willing to employ a person with a developmental disability. He gets paid $11.82/hour plus tips to bus tables there. When he was in high school, Jordan worked at the AMC Theatre in his town, but “I didn’t like it as much. It was too much standing around,” says Jordan. For the next month, Jordan is also going to begin volunteering at the YMCA in Athens for their clothing drive.
Kathryn says that she and Jordan have already done a lot of advocacy. Jordan has participated in Take Your Legislator To Work Day, and they lobbied to help make the ABLE act pass in 2013 when they were still in Tennessee. Kathryn would say to an elected official, if given the chance, “Our needs are changing. Programs need funding. Please support people with disabilities so they can live fulfilling lives and contribute back to the system. Jordan’s been working paying jobs since he was 15. He contributes.”
Writer: Shannon Turner, Photographer: Lynsey Weatherspoon