Lindy wanted to help her brother, so she started a college for adults with special needs!
Lindy Cleveland was saddened when her brother, Jordan, who has Down syndrome, was unable to go to college after he finished high school. So she decided to do something to help him— and ended up changing the lives of so many others!
L indy Cleveland bubbled with excitement as her family helped her move into her college dorm. But then her eyes fell on her big brother, Jordan, who has Down syndrome, sitting off by himself.
“I wish I could go to college too,” Jordan sighed, and his sad, yearning expression tore at Lindy’s heart.
It’s not fair… there should be a college for people with special needs, Lindy thought. Everyone deserves a chance to make his or her dreams come true.
A sister’s endless love
Growing up, Jordan had always been eager to learn. He worked hard in his special-ed classes and beamed with pride when, at 21, he received his high school diploma. But after graduation, his parents couldn’t find an adult program close to their home near Vestavia Hills, Alabama, that suited Jordan’s abilities. And because he has pulmonary hypertension that requires oxygen, Jordan was unable to get a job at a store or supermarket like many of his friends.
So their mom retired from being a schoolteacher to work with Jordan herself. But mostly, he spent his days watching TV and playing video games on his own.
When Lindy came home on college breaks, her heart ached seeing Jordan so withdrawn and isolated.
Then one summer while Lindy was working at a special needs camp, the kids
watched Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, a story about the importance of preserving the environment. Her heart jumped when the Lorax spoke his famous line, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
He’s right, Lindy gasped. Wishing Jordan could go to college wasn’t going to make it happen. Someone had to care enough to make it happen for him— and that someone is me!
That fall, Lindy changed her major to human development and family life education. And when, in her final semester, she took a grant-writing course and the class project was to create a mock nonprofit, Lindy told her professor, “I’m going to start a college for my brother and other special needs adults, but it won’t just be a project…i’ll do it for real.” I’ ll call it Unless U, she smiled, a nod to Dr. Seuss. Lindy got started by holding fund-raisers to pay for supplies, and her mom signed on to teach. Through friends in the special needs community, Lindy recruited four classmates for Jordan, and in the summer of 2014, they held their first course in her parents’ home. Jordan’s eyes lit up when Lindy told him that he was going to college. And the other students were just as enthusiastic. They studied everything from fine arts and technology to cooking and crafts. “Thank you for giving my son this opportunity,” one mother told Lindy. “It’s changed his life.”
As more parents looked to enroll their children, Lindy moved her school into her church basement. And today, Unless U (Unlessu.org) has 50 students enrolled in a variety of courses and team activities such as dance, drama, basketball and cheerleading.
But Lindy’s star student will always be Jordan. Now 32, he has blossomed academically and socially. And recently Unless U broke ground on a new campus, so they’ll have room to grow. Jordan stood awestruck at his sister’s side. “You did all this for me?” he marveled, and Lindy could barely speak over the lump in her throat. “Yes,” she said. “Because I love you, and because I care a whole awful lot.”
“Everyone deserves a chance to learn, grow and build a beautiful life,” says Lindy
“Jordan and I have always been very close. As kids, we’d play together, and I’d always tell him how special he was. We were— and still are— best friends,” says Lindy, here with her brother 25 years ago “Being able to help my brother— and many others like him— is the best feeling in the world!” says Lindy ( right), with her brother, Jordan ( left), who has Down syndrome
Assistant coach Jordan ( in white) firing up the Unless U basketball team