On a brisk October morning, Peggy and Pat Thomas usher their son, Paul, out the front door of their two-bedroom house. Peggy reminds Paul about an upcoming doctor's appointment. She bends over to retie his right shoe and asks if he needs any pocket money.
At 6:30 a.m., a small bus pulls into the driveway and, with a half-hug goodbye, Paul clambers aboard and settles into a window seat. His hour-long ride will take him from Uniontown to Henderson for his part-time job at Old National Bank, where he's worked as a greeter for 17 years.
Peggy presses a warm cup of coffee into her hands as the bus disappears down the street.
"When Paul was born," she says. "We just never thought he would live."
*** In a filing cabinet at the Hugh Edward Sandefur Training Center sits an inch-thick binder of medical papers pertaining to Paul Thomas.
The most recent record describes the bubbly 51-year-old in a neat, cursive paragraph. "His diagnosis is mild mental retardation. He monitors his sugar intake due to being diabetic."
But the expressive man out on Sandefur's workshop floor joking around with the other disabled adults enrolled in the center's job program doesn't seem to notice his limitations. He chats about an upcoming Special Olympics bowling tournament. He teases friends. Sometimes he finds himself sucking his right thumb and quickly lets his hand drop.
A slew of medications keep him going. Isosorbide for chest pains. Metoprolol for high blood pressure. Metformin for diabetes. He washes them down with diet cranberry juice early each morning before his mother sets out his breakfast.
"He was a mess for a while," Peggy says. "For years, I had to keep an eye on him constantly."
But he learned to walk at age 5, started working at Sandefur at age 17, learned to read at age 30. He took up cooking classes and art classes. Peggy started letting him take the bus alone. He goes to Henderson Community College once a week to work on his handwriting
"I got him into every kind of program I could," Peggy says. "I had to turn him loose to see what he could do."
One day, Paul came home fuming. He asked his older sister Karen what the word "retarded" meant. She told him that it meant he is beautiful.
In Paul's mind, he doesn't suffer from handicaps. He can do anything that anyone else can do. When he gets his degree, he says, he's going to apply to be president at Old National Bank. Peggy says they let him keep thinking that.
"He's reaching his full potential," she says. "That's what a lot of love for a child will do."