Friday, August 4, 2017

These Dads Have One Very Important Similarity

Story and Photo by Tommy Farrell

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- With beers in their hands and the Syracuse Chiefs down below, these men have gathered on the balcony near first base once a year at NBT Bank Stadium for the past five years. It may not seem obvious, but these men have one very important thing in common,  it is what bonds them and brings them together: their intellectually and physically challenged children.

Jowonio School, a not-for profit pre-schooling choice for typical and challenged children 2 through 5 years of age, sponsors Dad's Night Out once a year. Dad's Night Out gives Jowonio fathers a night of baseball and buffet out on a sectioned off balcony of NBT Bank Stadium.

Jowonio social worker Melissa Hyman enjoys coming to Dad's Night Out because she sees fathers take a break from their demanding schedules to enjoy themselves.

"My favorite part is being able to connect them with the same people in the same situations," Hyman said. "They're having the same experiences, which means a lot because they're not alone."

Mark Lepetich is the father of a 5-year-old boy with special needs that attends Jowonio. At the school, Lepetich's son is offered occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

"He's now reading at a 1st grade level," Lepetich said. "It's astonishing from what he was when he first started it, and now he's going to be in kindergarten."

The school was founded under the Onondaga Nation language. Jowonio, which means "to set free" has a mission to be free of stereotypes and prejudices, according to their website. Jowonio receives state funding for developmental disability care, however typical children can also enroll in the school. Both typical and challenged children are taught in the same classroom.

Dan Kelley is on the alumni ticket with Jowonio School. Two of his children, both with Down syndrome, have recently graduated. Kelley credits an early intervention worker for putting him in touch with Jowonio School.

"You don't really notice a difference in the classroom," Kelley said. "They're just another kid in there. I always felt like when I walked in the school that my kids felt they personally owned the place."

As the Louisville Bats went up 3-2 in the top of the sixth inning, Lepetich went to get another beer.

"It's actually nice to watch a baseball game without worrying about anything," Lepetich said.

Adrian Bayardi, has perfect attendance with Dad's Night Out. He started volunteering when his two children were going through Jowonio. Now, he is on the full-time staff.

"It's a learning experience, as a parent, with a child receiving all of the special needs services," Bayardi said. "It's hard to keep up."

That didn't stop Bayardi from being involved with Jowonio.

"A lot of times it's first time parents," Bayardi said. "They don't know what to expect. They don't know what's going on. So, to be able to come to that from a perspective with someone who's been through it, that helps."

Alejandro De Aza hit a walk off home run over the right center field wall sending the Chiefs to a 5-4 victory.

Lepetich, Kelley, Bayardi and the other six fathers at Dad's Night Out also made a big play - sending their children to Jowonio.

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