Every year at our Opening Ceremonies, we invite a family member of one of our students to speak. This year we asked Richie’s dad, and here is what he said:
David Sellwood invited me to say a few words of welcome to you today. Initially I thought it a little odd that as new members of the Stewart Home School family I would be invited to offer my thoughts in a welcoming regard, but then I thought what a wonderful opportunity to explain how welcomed we feel as new members of the Stewart Home School family.
Perhaps it might be useful to share a little of how we have come to be participants of this Family Weekend and introduce ourselves a little bit. Our son Richie is 29 years old and was born very premature. In addition to his intellectual challenges he is completely blind and lacks fine motor skills on his left side.
We live in Park City, UT and prior to 2010 we had no idea SHS even existed. Then I had the occasion to be talking about my son with an associate while we were both working in India. My friend also has a special needs son and he told me about this wonderful place for special folks in Kentucky. Richie had always lived in our home and was working as a greeter at our local Walmart, but we were always hopeful we could find a place for him where he could go on to live a more independent life. Mary Ann, Richie’s mom, had spent the majority of her adult life working with Richie and organizing a myriad of activities for him. His life was quite full but all we could find were group homes where the residents were doing more vegetating than anything else. We could never find anything that we could remotely consider. So we Googled this place call Stewart Home School and spent most of 2011 looking over the website and studying what Stewart Home School had to offer. Additionally, my friend told me I needed to talk to this woman by the name of Sandy Bell.
Well we had several calls with Sandy and multiple emails and then in January 2012 we took a trip to Frankfort and visited the school. To say we were completely impressed would be an understatement. When we left the school we told Sandy we really wanted to see Richie enrolled, but didn’t know when we could make it happen. Over the course of the next couple of months we evaluated our situation and we received what turned out to be an unexpected blessing. Walmart eliminated their greeters and Richie lost his job. That was the catalyst to get us to commit to the idea of Richie attending Stewart sooner rather than later. We went about the business of filling out the application and then we took it to the Post Office to mail. After dropping it in the mail box Richie said, “Now the sweating begins”. Richie was approved and he started his life at Stewart in June, almost a year now.
When the big day came I’m sure we experienced all the feelings thoughts and emotions all those who join this family feel. Richie was assigned to Franklin Hall and was introduced to his new friends and dorm mates. We were amazed at how friendly everybody was and just how much everyone seemed to care. Soon we were introduced to Peggy Gould who would be Richie’s correspondent. Now I’m sure we are all prejudiced about how wonderful our correspondents are, but I don’t know how anyone could be more caring with Richie than Peggy. We are confident Peggy’s interest in Richie comes not from Richie being part of her job, but rather a pure love she has for our son. And you know what, we have grown to love Peggy also and now consider her part of our family.
The care that we see in Peggy can also be seen at least in some degree in everyone else who is a member of this wonderful extended family at Stewart Home School whether it be faculty or students. We are truly grateful to both the faculty and the students who team together to help Richie have the best possible experience he can here.
In preparing my comments, I took the time to do a little research. One of the articles I ran across comes from a 2007 article from the State journal where David Sellwood was interviewed. One of the questions that was asked was, “What about emotionally? What are some of the things you offer?” I think David’s response pretty well sums up what this wonderful place is all about. David said, “Emotionally, I think I could just state it in just a very simple term of just unconditional love. They have a secure environment here. We have a very loving population and we want them to be safe. We do everything we can to love them through anything.”
I’ve had the opportunity to participate in three campus tours conducted by David. The thing that stood out most to me in those tours was how much the students love him. It is amazing to see them run up to him calling, “Coach, Coach” and throw their arms around him to give and get a hug. The only way for them to have that kind of unconditional love for him is for it to be a great love that is being reflected back.
I believe our loved ones who are students here are indeed very special. I believe the love they feel is the most sincere. I think in the council given in Mathew 25 V40 when the Savior said; “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” is the spirit that lives here. I think the Savior was referring to our love ones here and that those who labor here with them do so not so much for the purposes of employment, but rather because they feel a calling to this work of love.
To Dr. Stewart I would like to express my gratitude to you and your family for perpetuating this institution. You know I have a couple of things in common with Dr. John Quincy Adam Stewart the founder of Stewart Home School. We both graduated high school from military academies that would go on to ultimately fail. In my case what was the beautiful campus of my school has become blighted and even though we have an active alumni association, it is sad to see the wasting of the facilities that was my home during my high school years. On the other hand, John Quincy Adams Stewart bought this campus when the Kentucky Military Institute abandoned it and started this wonderful legacy that lives on today. Dr. Stewart I say thank you again to you and your fore fathers for creating and maintaining this place called Stewart Home School.
To sum up my remarks, I want to tell all those who can hear my voice that we feel very welcome indeed and hope you do too. Thank you.