Khamani Jones wakes up and watches some cartoons, slapping his thigh at the funniest bits. Then he takes a bath, dresses and eats breakfast with Kevin Jordan, his family care home dad. Next comes a bus ride to Lutheran Family Services’ Starkey Station Minnick School.
“He likes his routines,” said Leslie Jordan, Khamani’s family care home mom. And he likes order: Khamani keeps his floor vacuumed, his laundry clean and his shoes, DVDs and scrapbooks put away.
The Minnick School means seeing Khamani’s pal, Harley, and his other friends, plus, of course, teachers and learning. Today’s class includes the preparation of scrambled eggs. Khamani moves confidently from breaking and whisking the eggs to adding salt and pepper to the actual frying – and eating. But he’s not all business. He flashes a smile amid joking give-and-take with teachers and classmates.
“Khamani is a very happy and outspoken student,” said teacher Katie Lineback. “I have seen Khamani grow — with friendships with peers as well as staff.”
People who know of the neglect Khamani endured as a boy marvel at the young man he has become.
“To put it plainly, Khamani was unloved,” said Kimberly Irvin, Minnick Schools Transition Coordinator. Diagnosed with speech and language impairment and intellectual disability, he went without food so often he foraged in trash cans. Without interaction with parents and siblings, his language development was severely delayed, and that probably worsened his cognitive disabilities, Irvin said. And he walked on all fours.
“Walking, talking, eating, and being ‘human’ are all learned behaviors that must be observed and taught,” Irvin said. “Without human interaction, a child will not learn these skills, and this is exactly what happened to Khamani.”
Khamani was in foster care when he came to the Roanoke Minnick Education Center as a 9-year-old in 2002.
“Those first days were rough,” Irvin said. “We had never seen anything quite like it. He was really scared and, naturally, did not trust us to care for him.” It took patience, expertise and perseverance, but Khamani did come to trust his Minnick School teachers, who then applied, over the years, even more patience, expertise and perseverance to help him build skills and confidence. Eventually, Khamani, walking upright and communicating better than ever, returned to public school. That only sparked a regression, though, and he returned to the Minnick School. Then came another blow: the death of Khamani’s adoptive mother, Dorothy Bradford. Khamani’s learning and outlook on life suffered.
“He wasn’t his usual happy-go-lucky self,” Irvin said. “We noticed an increase in irritability and aggression towards peers. He started to snap at his teachers.”
Khamani regained a stable home life when he moved in with Leslie Coleman (now Leslie Jordan).
“Khamani is a fighter,” Irvin says. “He has persevered through every trial life has thrown his way. Because of his consistent and nurturing home life now, we’ve seen a progression back to the happy and productive young man we once knew.”
Now, another big change is coming, for Khamani and for his LFSVA family. Khamani, 22, will graduate from Starkey Station this spring. He’s touring Day Support facilities, with the hope that he’ll eventually spend part of each week at day support and the rest at a job-training program.
This is something Khamani and his teachers have been working toward for years. At Starkey Station, he’s had job training and life-skill lessons that include such chores such as mopping, vacuuming, cleaning windows, loading and unloading the dishwasher, dusting, washing, drying, and folding clothes, making beds, and wiping tables. Then there is the typing, filing, sorting, data entry, and such restaurant-oriented tasks as rolling silverware and filing salt and pepper shakers.
“He has become great at keeping his belongings with him,” Lineback said. “For example, he keeps his money in his locker, as well as his lunch and jacket. I foresee Khamani being able to get a job involving organizing, cleaning or sorting.”
Leslie Jordan is just as confident that Khamani can handle this next step.
“Show him something a few times, and he’ll get it,” she said. “Khamani can do it.” –Dan Montgomery
Caption: Khamani with his Family Care Home parents Leslie and Kevin Jordan