Rosemary Ingram didn’t want to hear it.
For 17 years, she’d cared for her grandson, Cody Pope, who has Down syndrome. Roughly 12 years ago, they moved from Thomasville to Tuscaloosa to enroll Pope in independent living and educational services offered at the University of Alabama and through Tuscaloosa County’s Park and Recreation Authority.
Shortly after Pope completed his second Summer Bridge at UA – a college-preparation program for individuals with intellectual disabilities – program coordinator Dr. Amy Williamson was convinced Pope could live independently.
“Cody took advantage of all the Summer Bridge had to offer, and as time went along, Amy would say, ‘Cody can live by himself and have his own apartment,’” Ingram said. “It worried me some because it was exactly what Cody wanted to hear. I’d always felt like [Pope] would be right here with me. I didn’t know what might be when I wasn’t here.”
Pope was determined to reach the milestone of independent living after completing his second Summer Bridge program in 2017. When he returned home, he did every chore, on schedule, the way he’d learned at Summer Bridge. He was empowered and motivated, and his social skills had improved tremendously, Ingram said.
“Cody grew a lot, but so did I,” Ingram said. “I allowed him to do the things he was wanting to do. I backed off a little.
“Now, here we are.”
“Here” is Pope’s first home, a cozy townhouse in Tuscaloosa, where he’s lived on his own since December. He maintains his home and deals with the unforeseen issues that accompany home ownership, like a bathroom leak just a day before his housewarming party last month.
His favorite part of the house is “everywhere,” but if he had to pick a place, it would be his living room, where he can kick back and watch comic book movies or hang out with his girlfriend, Heather.
Buying a home is stressful, from securing financing to home inspections, and it can be especially daunting for first-time home buyers. But Pope has met each challenge like anyone in 2018 would: by searching the web.
“There was nothing about moving here that worried me,” Pope said.
Home ownership is part of the American dream, but it’s the ultimate milestone for a graduate of CrossingPoints, a partnership among UA and the Tuscaloosa City and County school systems that helps students with significant disabilities develop skills necessary for successful adult functioning. More than 100 students have graduated from CrossingPoints, many of whom work on campus or at businesses in Tuscaloosa.
Pope graduated from CrossingPoints in 2008 and has worked as a lab runner at University Medical Center for nine years. During that stretch, he’s leaned on the services of PARA’s Therapeutic Recreation division, where he’s learned to cook, clean and further develop independent skills, like paying for things on his own.
“We all got together in my office and made a plan,” Williamson said. “There are certain hurdles Cody faces because he has Down syndrome, so we made a list of things he needed to learn, like when to answer the door or how to hang up on a telemarketer, things that many people might take for granted, but these are things Cody’s never done before.
“Many people have played a part in helping Cody get to this point.”
Williamson said Pope’s transition to living independently is a “dream come true” for the instructors at CrossingPoints.
“We’ve all sat around and dreamed about what could happen, but when they start to come true, it’s a different feeling,” she said. “Cody, his grandmother and uncle have said they were willing to create a manual on how other students can achieve this goal. You have to have that foundation and support from somewhere. We teach positive choices in school, but when you’re living in a house on your own, those interactions and choices look different than when someone is there to support you.”
This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.