Feature Kenny: the state-school ambassador

Kenny is a ladies’ man. Or used to be, until he met the love of his life, Dawn.

He saw her for the first time in the dining hall, informally known as the canteen. “I said, ‘Look at that female that just walked in.” She had short hair and wore a blue shirt and white pants. “I kept on looking at her, and I winked at her.”

They courted, attending dances and movies together. During breaks throughout the day, they sat on either side of a fence that divides the yards and held hands.

Kenny works at the state school Developmental Center, where he earns money assembling parts for sprinkler systems. “I love working here,” he says, adding his dream is to be a truck driver or a professional wrestler, like his hero, the Undertaker. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

At the state school’s Developmental Center, Kenny is one of the highest producers, earning $60-$80 a week cranking out thousands of connectors and wing nuts used in sprinkler systems. Kenny used a portion of his weekly earnings to buy Dawn roses, chocolates, stuffed animals, and eventually, an engagement ring. “She treats me like a king and I treat her like a queen.”

At the DC, as its known, residents assemble spice packets, stuff envelopes, or even work as groundskeepers, emptying trash cans and operating leaf blowers. In Kenny’s workshop, friends chat as they fold machinists’ towels, an air compressor exhales in the corner and a talking board, used by Cory, a SASS resident who can’t speak or use his upper body but works with his feet, says in a mechanical voice: “I need more connectors.”

As one of SASS’ most gregarious residents (he’s also known as the SASS ambassador), Kenny has a lot of friends, and Cory is one of them. At quitting time today, Kenny puts on Cory’s shoes and socks for him, then hugs him before they leave.

As a child, Kenny attended regular classes and special education. He has lived in group homes and several state schools, including San Angelo. Eight years ago, his family transferred Kenny, who is his own legal guardian, to San Antonio so they could be closer to him.

He attends church on Sundays and sings his favorite hymns, “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus in the Morning, Jesus in the Afternoon.” After work, he goes to the gym, does Word Finds dozens of the puzzle books are stacked by his bed or watches his favorite soap opera, One Life to Live.

Earlier this year, Dawn, who is also her own guardian, moved from SASS to a group home, which had long been her goal. While the couple plans to marry next year, Kenny is wrestling with a dilemma: How to reconcile his love for her and his aversion to group homes.

“I don’t want to live in a group home,” he says, but won’t elaborate. “I’m better off here.”

Last week, Kenny had dinner with Dawn at her home to celebrate her 37th birthday. “It was gorgeous there,” he says.

He is buying cell phones so they can call each other more regularly.

“I don’t like living apart. I miss her,” Kenny says. “I want me and Dawn to get old together and die together.”

By Lisa Sorg

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