Like a typical girl, she grew up pretending to pose like her model mother and dreamed of designing clothes.
The dream, though, seemed out of reach for the Snellville teen, who has intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy.
She watched her brothers go off the college, but mother Patricia knew that her daughter’s dream may never be fulfilled.
Today, though, Brielyn lives in a dorm and attends classes at Kennesaw State University, as part of the state’s only post-secondary program open to people with intellectual disabilities.
“It is a reality for her, and at one point, I didn’t think it could be,” Patricia Hubbert said talking about her daughter’s job at the campus bookstore and a possibility of an internship with Tyler Perry Studios. “I think it’s essential. Just because you have different challenges doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access.”
Under the Gold Dome this year, leaders with All About Development Disabilities are pushing for further funding for programs in hopes that people across the state can continue to learn if they desire.
“These students are people first,” said Jill Sloan, the director of KSU’s program, which pairs the students with mentors and allows them to audit two classes per semester. “This is a dream. ... They should be allowed the opportunity to learn.”
Rita Young of AADD said Georgia is behind the curve in building programs, with neighboring states having as many as nine colleges providing opportunities. She is hoping a $400,000 line item in the state budget, if approved, can provide an incentive.
“I think it’s important for all students who want to continue their intellectual and interpersonal growth to have that opportunity,” said Young, who has two sons with autism.
For many people with intellectual disabilities, the options after high school are limited, Young said.
That is what happened to Bess Winebarger, of Lilburn, who has Mosaic Down Syndrome. She went to work as a bagger at Kroger, but she wanted more from life.
When her younger brother left for college, she wanted to get back in the classroom too.
“She didn’t want to be a bagger at Kroger for the rest of her life, not that there is anything wrong with it, but she wanted more,” mother Laura said.
The possibilty of college seemed gone from the time Bess was born and her parents received the diagnosis, Laura Winebarger said.
“Everything came crashing down,” she said.
But the pediatricians told the family that Bess’s rare form of the disease would allow her to function well.
“They told me I should have as high goals as possible,” Laura said. “We’ve always provided with anything we could afford or access.”
After a few years at the grocery store, Winebarger began reaching out. She contacted Georgia Perimeter to see if her daughter could audit classes, and that is when she learned about the KSU program, which Bess completed last year.
“This has been what she wanted,” Laura Winebarger said.
Bess said she thinks the schooling helped her get a new job at the box office of the Jewish Community Center, where she can be immersed in the theater, which she loves.
“I loved it,” Bess said of the college program. “I would have liked to stay for another two years.”
Both mothers said the program has benefited their daughters in more ways than academics.
“There was an acknowledgement of her realizing her potential. It’s important for her not to just be seen as different,” Winebarger said, adding that the young woman’s self-esteem got quite a boost.
Hubbert said her daughter has become more willing to use technology, something that she was afraid of in the past. She has made many new friends most of which are typical students. And she has matured by living on her own and being able to make her own decisions.
“College is an important bridging gap for all children, making decisions and learning,” Hubbert said. “I’ve seen my daughter grow.”
And Sloan said that the typical student at KSU who has interacted with the students in the disability program has learned an important lesson on inclusion that could open up opportunities for people in the future.
“It’s education for all,” Sloan said.
Both mothers said a $400,000 line item in the state budget to add more programs isn’t much to ask for the potential to change lives.
“I just think every person deserves an opportunity to reach their potential,” Winebarger said. “These individuals can respond to that environment in ways we don’t eve know.”