Judy Cox, a Cobb native who resides at Winnwood Retirement Community on Whitlock Avenue, lost her son, Kenny, who died in his 50s almost two years ago. He had Down syndrome.
She had big plans for a large home boasting a swimming pool and basketball courts, but the plan went sour.
“I had planned to do something bigger for my son,” she said.
That was before she took the advice of Frank Constantino, a Marietta financial planner who scammed her out of more than $2.7 million, promising a return on investments in fraudulent stocks based in Belize. Constantino was arrested in 2009 and later sent to prison. But Cox has yet to receive any restitution.
Though the home that became a reality Thursday is a smaller version of her original plan, Cox was able to overcome the financial setback and named the house the Kenny Cox Home, after her son.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said.
Four developmentally disabled adults will be able to live in the four-bedroom home on Olive Springs Road near Austell Road.
Right in the Community, a Marietta-based nonprofit, built the home, will maintain it and will hire caregivers to help its residents.
Cox, who worked as a contract specialist for the Department of Defense before retirement and owns the Rib Ranch restaurant on Canton Road, was able to donate some money to the project. She declined to say how much.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $420,600 on the home.
Rudy Clemens, senior project coordinator for HUD, addressed the roughly 50 people who attended the grand opening Thursday and encouraged them to stand up for funding of projects like the Kenny Cox Home.
“It’s the way our tax dollars need to be spent,” he said, and there’s more demand than HUD can keep up with.
“If the people who cut the funding were here today, I think the funding would be put back,” Clemens said.
Kenny Cox inspired many
Cox said her son was charismatic, outgoing and loved people. He also loved to participate in athletic events.
He won a gold medal in swimming and a bronze medal in diving during the Special Olympics World Games and was named Citizen of the Year several times.
“He lived longer than most people with Down syndrome. He was such a great person,” Cox said.
“Of all the children and young adults (with Down syndrome) I’ve been associated with, they have a certain spark,” Cox said. “If we nourish that spark, we’ll discover that our lives, not only their lives, will be measurably enriched.”
Family and friends of Kenny stood in the kitchen and living room of the home named after him following Thursday’s grand opening reminiscing about his life and reliving cherished memories.
Ann Boutin, whose disabled son befriended Kenny, had tears in her eyes as she recalled the way that he excitedly sang “The Night Before Christmas” each year at a Christmas party.
“He had just the best personality,” Boutin said.
A former governor makes a plea
It’s that kind of cheerful attitude that leads former Gov. Roy Barnes, who attended Thursday’s grand opening, to say that God sent the disabled “with a special message.”
Barnes said he’s been an advocate for rights of the disabled since he began his political career in the state Senate in his late 20s.
“I’ve always been interested in making sure that those that have intellectual disabilities are not institutionalized and just forgotten,” Barnes said.
He took a trip to an institution in Milledgeville in the 1970s and said he was horrified at what he saw. It was just a place to “warehouse” people with “no thought of independence,” he said.
“What I saw there would rip the heart out of any human with any feeling whatsoever,” Barnes said.
It’s the community’s responsibility, he said, to ensure that disabled people have a safe and pleasant place to live.
“If we don’t do this, what kind of people are we?” Barnes asked.