Each and every day approximately 353,000 babies are brought into the world by laboring mothers who anxiously wait for the first indication of life … the cry. However, for some mothers, the first cry is coupled doctors and nurses whisking the baby away, or whispering amongst themselves directly in front of the new parents.
“WE HAVE CONCERNS SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.”
In an instant, these newly blessed parents find themselves ejected from their comfy seats in first class to immediate placement in the economic section of a plane going way too fast for them to process any of the emotions attached to being the parent of a child with special needs.
Early Intervention, speech and physical therapy, sweat test, failure to thrive, intrauterine growth retardation, legal blindness, hearing impairment, and pervasive developmental disorder become the norm.
THE YOUNG PARENTS DESPERATELY SEEK ANSWERS.
Appointment after appointment.
Specialist after specialist.
Nothing but continued frustration over lack of answers as to “why” this happened.
The years past, the young boy develops into his own unique persona, and eventually, the question of “why” gets answered -
BECAUSE HE WAS CREATED FOR A GREATER PURPOSE.
Now, imagine you are THIS young person with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) watching your siblings get their first car, go on their first date, graduate from high school and college, and eventually, move out of their childhood home into a place of their own.
Imagine you are watching these changes unfold as the oldest child in the sibling group and the last one left to fly the nest … simply because there is
LACK OF HOUSING.
In New York State, over thousands individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities are waiting to find home ... away from mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, or caregiver. A placement where independence is nurtured, and empowerment thrives. Unfortunately, for these individuals, this means remaining on a list with Central Register at the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) until an opening arises, a list that is approximately 20 years long.
AUSTIN IS ONE OF THESE INDIVIDUALS and THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE VILLAGE OF HOPE.
I will never forget the moment when the physician placed Austin on my chest. His wrinkled forehead, tiny hands, and faint cry. I was a mom, and I brought life into the world. The feeling was surreal.
But, the feelings of overjoy quickly subsided, and my world would turn upside down and become twisted over and over again as this precious baby started to grow, now I was the mother of a child with special needs.
As I watched other babies reach their textbook milestones with ease, I continually beat myself up, wondering what I did wrong in my pregnancy to cause Austin’s delays. Lots of tears were shed, until one day I realized Austin had a greater purpose.
We were told by the “professionals” that Austin would never be able to do this or that; however, being a woman of great faith, I repeatedly said to my husband, “they don’t know our God.” Well, those words would prove especially true as the years passed and as the God of the impossible worked in Austin’s favor.
Despite challenges and delays, Austin reached his milestones and has continued to this day to overcome any obstacle before him. Easily the apple of everyone’s eye, Austin has proven that his “disabilities” are actually his “capabilities.”
Austin is now 24 years old; loves to cook, bowl, and go to the movies. He is in his third year of college, auditing classes while learning life and vocational skills in his program. He has flown on an airplane by himself, interned in many job experiences, and developed an eye for capturing life through his own special photographic lens. He is ready to enter the world as an independent adult. There’s just one glitch …
Like everything, Austin has had to overcome a lot, and he still has one large hurdle to maneuver … lack of noncertified housing for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Significant budget cuts have left parents/caregivers to “think outside the box” and create alternative housing opportunities for their adult children. Available noncertified homes are basically nonexistent in Rochester and throughout NYS, forcing this population of adults to be waitlisted for a residential opening; currently, a 20-year wait list of which Austin has been on six years.
It became obvious it was time for me to take matters into my own hands. Not only for Austin’s sake but on behalf of individuals with I/DD living in Rochester, NY, seeking independence and looking for solutions.
In 2017, The Dirt Road Project was founded, a Rochester-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose mission is to empower underserved populations through the creation of sustainable opportunities, including an unique co-housing community designed for individuals with I/DD.
Individuals just like Austin.
In the Bible, Jesus speaks of the three men and their talents. A master had three slaves and gave them several talents to increase their value. One was given 5 talents and went to work, doubling the amount for his master. The other took his 2 talents and did the same; however, the man with 1 talent buried his talents in the ground and did nothing, leaving the master angry at the great loss.
Meet Johny Jean-Smith, an adult education teacher with ASPIRE and a faithful follower of Christ.
Johny has been working with TDRP since September 2017 at which time he was a volunteer assisting students with homework through the STAR Centre. It became quickly known to TDRP that Johny was special. His enthusiasm for teaching was infectious, and his students were eager to learn from him.
Always displaying gratitude for the opportunity to earn an income for his family. Walking 20 miles per day to work in 100+ heat and down-pouring rain during the rainy season ... never complaining and always boasting a brilliant smile.
In 2018, Johny was offered a part-time position with TDRP as a Level II Adult Education Teacher and immediately put his "talents" to good use. In less than a year, Johny built his family a home and purchased his own parcel of land. Something most Haitian people never get to experience in their lifetime.
Johny's gratitude and zest for life continues to bless him. Recently, Johny received his second promotion as an employee of TDRP and now holds the title of Lead Adult Education Teacher of ASPIRE; and, soon, he will begin pursuing university to become a certified teacher.
Johny's example in the community has been inviting to others and is in fact changing the mindset of many in that "dreams do come true." TDRP is sure Jesus is looking down upon Johny and saying,
"Well done, my good and faithful servant."
(Pictured above is Johny with his sweet boy Djoudjou and his lovely wife, Nadege. Also, Johny and his family care for a child from their neighborhood without a home).
Paris Benson Photography
Scott Jones Photography
Don Wenzel Photography
© The Dirt Road Project.
All rights reserved.
Dirt Road Project, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in the State of New York.
All donations are tax-deductible to the full extent allowable by law.