SOUTH FORSYTH -- In many ways, Jordan Huffman is just like any other high schooler. He is involved in sports. He has a group of close friends that are like family.
He has always wanted to go to the University of Georgia.
Having Downs syndrome has not stopped him from graduating from Lambert High School or working or playing basketball, flag football, golf.
“Jordan has played, my goodness, so many sports,” said Kathryn Junod, Huffman’s mother.
In some ways, Jordan Huffman is not like other high schoolers. Unable to go to college without a special needs program, the 20-year-old was not going to be able to apply to his dream school. Until now.
Destination Dawgs will launch in January as the college’s “inclusive post-secondary education program,” a non-degree certificate program that supports students with intellectual disabilities who “are transitioning to adulthood” with “an opportunity to prepare for a career and independent living over the course of five spring/fall semesters.”
In many ways, Jordan Huffman is not like most other students in the nation – he will be among the inaugural class of Destination Dawgs.
“Getting Jordan into college, we’ve been working for years in planning,” Junod said.
Huffman will gain a college experience “with modifications designed specifically for his learning ability,” his mother said. He will gain life skills and learn about topics in which he is interested.
“Like making food in the microwave. It may sound like a simple thing, but it’s not. It’s a life skill. He needs to have that independence. Or like how to appropriately understand euphemisms … learning how to order food on their own and to use his money,” she said. “And they do a lot of one-on-one counseling to find out what [does he] want to do with his life once he finishes college.
“He’s so sports. It’s got to have something to do with sports.”
Huffman participated in Special Olympics of Forsyth County throughout high school.
Junod said she could not have asked for a better community for her son through Mary Nicoletti, a special education teacher at Lambert who leads the peer program, his friends and administrators at Lambert and his coaches and neighbors.
“[They’ve] been so supportive and nice and kind, and they get it,” she said.
Huffman worked at AMC Avenue Forsyth 12 in The Collection at Forsyth for five years until he walked into Rosati’s Pizza and Sports Pub, also in The Collection, which, according to his mother, is “his best thing.”
“I need to go to school”
Maybe above all, he loves the Bulldogs.
“He really had his heart set on going where he wanted to go since middle school. Since we moved here,” Junod said. “He said, ‘I need to go to school to be with my friends.’ It’s like a family. A second family. We’re very fortunate.”
He interviewed at Clemson University because a friend goes there, but his heart was set.
Getting into UGA was not easy.
He and his mother had to complete paperwork. Lambert and his teachers had to complete paperwork. The school system had to send records. Huffman had to write an essay. Junod had to write a letter.
“They take all of that, and then only a handful they invite for the weekend,” she said.
He was chosen for a weekend stay in a dorm on campus to see if he would mesh well with other students.
“He wants to do what all of his other friends are doing,” Junod said. “The program idea is to live on campus. Right now they’re working out housing.
“One way or another he will [live in Athens], and if I have to move up there and live with him while they get that happening, then that’s what I will have to do.”
Junod recorded him opening the acceptance letter and his reaction to reading he will become a Bulldog to send to friends and family, including his father, Rob Huffman, in North Carolina.
“We waited and waited. It was a long few weeks. I had actually gotten it by email the day before and Jordan had to work that night. I wanted to wait for Saturday,” she said. “Let him be surprised. I thought I think a letter because he kept saying, ‘When are we finding out?’
“I said, ‘If it says congratulations, that means you got in.’”
When she walked into the room where he was playing drums, he stood in front of a poster-sized sign on the wall that featured the Georgia “G” above the words “man cave.”
As he read the letter, he got more excited, his smile growing wider, with every word.
The first word: congratulations.
“He was so excited. He really has been on cloud 9 since. He has not come down,” Junod said. “He just talks about it all the time. He says, ‘When I go to school,’ this or that. ‘Mom, the Bulldogs’ this or that. The world revolves right now around football and the games.”