When Roger and Neomia Sundy first told their 25 year-old son, Jason, that he was going to move into the Hess Drive Home, a group home that houses six developmentally disabled men and two house parents, to say he was reluctant would be an understatement.
“When he moved in, he resisted it,” said Roger. “He wouldn't even say the words Hess Drive. He was in a catatonic state when we first took him over there. He was so petrified at the whole idea.”
“We had done all this work and had been talking to him the whole time,” he added. “We said, ‘This is a good idea, Jason, we're not going anywhere. We're going to be visiting with you. You'll be coming back to our house a lot. You'll be coming to church.’”
Perhaps it was the lessons that then-pastor Mel Williams had taught Jason about love that softened his feelings. Perhaps it was because he learned to love his roommates and the independence the home afforded them. But after a few years, he learned to love the Hess Drive Home.
“Mel's feeling was Jason knew love and understood love as well as anybody in this congregation,” said Neomia.
That love was a feeling he would have for the next 26 years, until he moved back to his parents’ home in February 2014 after becoming ill.
He passed away from dementia in February, 2015.
“All people with Down Syndrome, if they live long enough, get dementia,” said Neomia, who began a career working with kids with special needs when Jason was a child. “Fifty is around the age. I have just seen so many of those kids that I worked with and lost them.”
“Her work put her in a lot of relationships with developmentally disabled people,” said Roger. “When she sees one go she has to grieve for all of those that she's lost. And there are lots of them.”
As anyone who ever met him will tell you, Jason loved two things: humor and sports. He was particularly fond of college football and the University of Georgia Bulldogs, a fact that wasn’t lost on his Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket dad.
“Jason was such a delight,” he remembered. “He was a wonderful guy. He really was. I never thought it would end. It was so much fun.”
“Roger never anticipated his death,” Neomia said. “He was convinced that he would outlive us.”
“Yeah,” he replied.
To celebrate Jason’s life, Developmental Disabilities Ministries will rename the Hess Drive Home to the Jason Sundy Home on Sunday, April 17, 2016.
“It's something we wanted to do for Jason, and the board unanimously approved it,” said Neomia.
The home began as a mission project of Oakhurst Baptist Church in 1985. Originally the home was to occupy space directly behind the church, but neighbors at the time rallied against it. Eventually it became clear to all that while they might be able to get the home placed there, it was wrecking the church’s relationship with their neighbors. So they set their sights on a house in unincorporated DeKalb County. The “not-in-my-backyard” fight began again, but the men needed a home where they could live self-sufficiently, and the mission group was determined.
“As soon as the neighbors realized they couldn't stop us from doing it, they applied to the city of Avondale Estates to be incorporated so that establishing homes like we proposed would be much more difficult to get started,” said Roger.
“It was always the same concerns: Who are these people? Are they dangerous? What will it do to the property values?” he added.
“They would say things like, ‘We love these people, but we don't want them next door to us,’" said Neomia.
Once the men moved in, the neighborhood was eventually won over.
“The garden club now thinks of them as their guys,” said Neomia.
“We felt like the men deserved to have a life that was as independent as possible,” she said.
“Living in community, a residential community, that's the whole idea of having a group home,” added Roger. “It’s also about living independent of their immediate family and having an adult life apart from mother and dad.”
“Because we can protect them too much,” said Neomia. “And they let you protect them and spoil them. They need to grow up and live as independently as they can.”
“I really feel like Jason had a good life,” she added.
“He did,” said Roger.
“He was happy. He could love,” she said.