The family had been driving almost nonstop for the last two days as they rounded a corner on Interstate 81 in upstate New York.
Kevin Treadway and his mother, Cathy Clark, watched as Syracuse started to roll into view. It was about 11 p.m. and city lights filled the horizon.
They had driven 1,264 miles away from a humid cul-de-sac in central Florida, wedged between Tampa and Orlando, near wetlands and strange cow pastures filled with palm trees.
“It’s just amazing, beautiful,” said Treadway about Syracuse. “It’s such a different atmosphere.”
Treadway was born nonverbal. Doctors mistakenly diagnosed him with a range of different mental disorders, including schizophrenia, before determining in 2006 he has Asperger syndrome.
Treadway, 18, can now talk. He loves to read. He graduated summa cum laude from the Florida Virtual School and, earlier this year, was accepted into the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs to study history.
His family, though, had no car and almost no savings. They were evicted on Aug. 19 with no place to stay except overcrowded homeless shelters in Lakeland, Florida.
Clark, who suffers from a degenerating back and painful spine injuries, lost her health care coverage this summer. She needs surgery before paralysis sets in, she said.
We can be homeless in Lakeland. Or, I can get Kevin to Syracuse … He’ll be safe, he’ll have his college. I’ll be nearby, even if I’m homeless, in a shelter or somethingCathy Clark
They decided to “slingshot around the moon,” Clark said, akin to the infamous Apollo 13 mission. In 1970, astronauts used the moon’s gravity to steer their crippled space shuttle back toward Earth.
“It was a mad dash for sure,” Treadway said. “My mom was in total, bone-crunching agony for most of the trip.”
Clark raised just more than $3,000 on GoFundMe for travel expenses. Her goal was $15,000. The family used a light blue bucket, labeled “College Fund,” to collect extra cash at garage sales. Disability advocates ended up renting a van to drive Treadway and Clark north.
The family got into Syracuse late Sunday night, a week before classes started.
Now living in a small apartment off Genesee Street, near the University Avenue intersection, Clark said they lack basic amenities. They need cups, and plates for food. They don’t have winter clothes.
“The most important thing is that Kevin is here,” said Clark, who last week fell near the SU Health Services building and received treatment at Crouse Hospital.
It took years of occupational, physical and speech therapy before Treadway entered school for the third grade. He received constant support from his mother, doctors, teachers and counselors.
Treadway originally attended traditional public schools before switching to the state’s virtual program to help deal with social anxiety.
“If there’s a kid that deserves to go to college, it’s him,” said Steve Morgan, a chess coach at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland who was a mentor for Treadway. “Kevin was a natural gentleman. He was brilliant.”
Courtesy of Cathy Clark
Treadway graduated with a weighted GPA of 4.25 and now wants to be an elected official, government adviser or investigative journalist to help advocate on behalf of disabled people.
“I feel like that’s what my purpose in life is,” he said. “To help other people like myself.”
The family has roots in New York and ties to SU. Treadway’s grandfather, Bill Clark, grew up in Geneva and attended the university to study journalism.
Throughout grade school Treadway listened to Clark’s praise for the Orange. Originally waitlisted, Treadway was accepted to SU only a few days before the college decision deadline.
I feel like that’s what my purpose in life is. To help other people like myselfKevin Treadway
Studying in Syracuse had been a dream of his for years, and Treadway immediately committed to his grandfather’s alma mater. Most of Treadway’s tuition this year has been covered by a Dean’s Scholarship and university grant, his mother said.
Sean Carson, a Florida Virtual School history teacher, originally recommended Treadway try online fundraising.
Carson, who taught Treadway’s 11th grade United States history course, heard about the family’s impending homelessness after calling Treadway to congratulate his former student on competing in the Florida state academic challenge, he said.
“By the time he came to me, he had already won a lot of battles,” Carson said. “And I would love for him to have the opportunity to keep fighting.”
Courtesy of Cathy Clark
The family had no immediate relatives to seek support from, though, Clark said. Both of her parents are dead. Treadway’s father, Ronald Keith Treadway, also died years ago. Ronald abandoned the family after Treadway was born.
There’s only Cynthia, Treadway’s aunt, who broke her arm before the family left for Syracuse. She’s still living in Lakeland. Because of the difficulties, some people questioned why Treadway just didn’t take a bus north, Clark said.
“(I) got down on my hands and knees … and begged him to just go,” Clark said. “‘Please leave me. Go. I’ll be alright, I’ll catch up with you.’”
But Treadway refused to abandon his mother. It would be almost cruel, he said, to leave her after everything she did for him.
And, despite the stress and pain, the family made it. Treadway’s first class on Monday, Human Geographies, starts at 9:30 a.m.
(I) got down on my hands and knees ... and begged him to just go. ‘Please leave me. Go. I’ll be alright, I’ll catch up with you.’Cathy Clark
“People would tell us ‘No way, that’s not happening … are you out of your mind? That kid can’t go to college, he has Aspergers,’” Clark said.
Treadway on Sunday, though, walked toward Maxwell Hall. Smiling, enjoying the weather. Right where his grandfather walked decades ago.
Sam Ogozalek | Asst. News Editor
Published on August 28, 2017 at 12:34 am