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When the project is love

Wesley Smith, 14, smiles as his mom, Karey Riddell, laughs during a family Halloween party at the home of Karey's parents in Cynthiana. Three generations of Karey's family live on the same block near downtown.

"That’s the biggest part of your life," says Wesley Smith, 14, as he eyes the personal pizza in front of him.

"What?" says his mom, Karey Riddell, 39, from the next room.

"Getting me up and out of bed for school!" Wesley replies, with a matter-of-fact smile. Karey pokes her head around the corner of the kitchen.

"Yeah, really, yeah, that’s probably true." she says, laughing.

This home is full of laughter; even disciplining Wesley is done with a smile. Karey says she has learned that Wesley responds best to affirmation. He craves love.  Karey, her husband, Noel, and their extended family have plenty to give. 

Wesley was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder when he was 5 years old. Restaurants and social situations present a unique challenge for him. When Karey opened The Burley Market in downtown Cynthiana last May, it posed a problem for Wesley.  “Wesley can’t sit in the store," she says. "He can’t handle it.” 

Suffering from sensory issues related to his autisim, Wesley can’t separate the sounds in a bustling cafe. At school, Wesley eats his lunch in the offices of his teachers, talking with them or listening to classical music.   

Before opening The Burley Market, caring for Wesley was Karey’s main project.  Karey is a woman of endless projects, says her mom, Monica Mattox, of Cynthiana. 

“She’s been that way her whole life,” Monica says. Karey has been marketing director at an industrial products company, director of community development at a community college and Cythiana Main Street Development Coordinator.  Opening The Burley was a way of contributing to the community, Karey says.

Despite the demands of owning and operating a café, Karey continues to focus on Wesley’s care.  Weekday afternoons, Wesley plays music outside The Burley. Every night, Karey checks to be sure he’s done his homework. 

Karey is hopeful about Wesley's future. "I hope he can be independent," she says with a smile. "I want him to manage himself. I want him to be an adult, a tax-paying citizen. I want him to have value. He has a big heart; I know he can do it."

Karey pauses to remind Wesley to shower before bed as she passes him on the stairs in their home.
Wesley packs up his belognings after 8th-grade band class at Cynthiana Middle School. He says band is his favorite class, and he plans to join the marching band when he starts high school next year.
Wesley eats lunch in the classroom of one of his teachers. He prefers to eat lunch in a quiet space where he can focus on eating.
Karey drives Wesley to school every morning. Today, they are running late because Wesley took longer than usual to get ready for school.
Wesley dry heaves over the toilet after taking his daily mediciation. If Wesley does not eat enough before taking his medicine in the morning, he gets sick.
Karey gestures to Wesley as she tucks him in bed. Karey is trying to find out if Wesley showered before bed. He did not.
Karey and Wesley talk in the kitchen as he prepares to leave for school. Wesley is apprehensive about the day because he is concrned about a disagreement with another student.
Wesley, an animal lover, plays with Reacie, one of five family pets.
Wesley plays the trombone through a Darth Vader mask at a Halloween gathering at his grandparents' home. Wesley's grandparents live next door and his Grandfather Rick helped Wesley cut the hole in his mask.
Karey picks Wesley up from school every afternoon. Today he tells her how great his day was.