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Dad creates scholarship for autistic program at WKU

Ryan Hodges was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 4 years old, but neither Ryan nor his family ever let that diagnosis hold him back. Ryan recently completed his freshman year of college at Western Kentucky University, and plans to graduate and get a job so he can be a contributing member of the community.

Ryan’s story is not unlike many young people’s story. He went to school, graduated and wanted to go to college to further his education.

With patience, counseling and an Individualized Education Plan that provided for modifications in lessons to accommodate his learning style, Ryan attended high school classes without an assistant and he graduated with the Class of 2012.

Ryan applied to college, he met WKUs requirements and was accepted. He “is a student in every way,” according to Ryan’s father, Jeff Hodges; paying tuition, living a dorm and taking a full schedule of classes – but he does need help.

Ryan gets that help from an organization affiliated directly with WKU. Kelley Autism Program is dedicated to providing services for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder to achieve their potential as productive and active members of the community.

John and Linda Kelly founded KAP to provide a college experience for their autistic daughter and it expanded to other autistic young adults who were capable of living a productive life.

KAP provides mentors to help students assimilate and get involved in activities outside the classroom, tutors help them study and work on assignments as are the structure and resources autistic students need to be successful.

But the services KAP provides costs money. While Hodges is in a position to afford his son’s membership, it concerned him others weren’t as fortunate.

On his way home from a KAP party in which Hodges had a chance to speak with John Kelly, he questioned what he could do to help.

“A lot of the kids in KAP are struggling financially,” Hodges said.

The Brentwood businessman who grew up in Franklin loves to run, so he decided to combine something he loves with someone he loves and create opportunities for others. The result was to run half marathons to raise money for a KAP scholarship.

“The goal was to raise $25,000 for a scholarship endowment,” Hodges said. “Western Kentucky will match anything raised $25,000 or more.”

After four consecutive weeks of half marathons in the spring, thanks to the generosity of friends, family, colleagues and others interested in helping those diagnosed with autism, the goal is in sight. However, since WKU will match anything over the $25,000, the fundraising, “is still in motion,” and “the plate is still being passed,” Hodges said. “We are generating funds to create opportunities and we are generating awareness – having a conversation. It’s remarkable how many people I’ve talked to who have a story. There’s an element of hope to it.”

Hodges now hopes to raise enough money to add two additional students to the KAP program each year with a goal of providing four-year awards.

The awards will help people like, Curtis who has been a member of the KAP program for four years. Curtis is a Civil War history buff and like most people, he had a fear of speaking in public. With help from his KAP mentors, he overcame his fears and upon graduating in the fall, “he will be productive and utilize something he is passionate about” in a job working with the Kentucky Archives.

“He would never have achieved a college degree without KAP,” Hodges said.

There are many young men and women like Curtis, who can be productive and become a part of the community if they have help. Hodges hopes the scholarship will provide that help to at least a few students. 

Posted on: 7/3/2013


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