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Stories From the Heart
(Inspiring real life accounts from those often over-look)

Tim's Place
Sam the 'dancing barista'
Art by Joey
Letter from Joe
A place all their own

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America’s only down syndrome restaurant owner is closing up shop for love


Sam the 'dancing barista'



Art by Joey: Unique talents convey vision of young man with autism
By Barbara Bradley
Posted October 2, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

Joey Evangelisti works on an ink drawing during an art class at Kingsbury Vocational Technical School. The 21-year-old, who lives with autism, has made a name for himself for his unorthodox but accomplished art.
More information
Autism is a bioneurological developmental disability that generally appears before age 3 and affects brain development in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function.

It is diagnosed four times more often in boys than girls. Since it was first diagnosed in the United States, the occurrence has climbed to an alarming 1-in-150 people.

It is no longer considered a heritable, genetic disorder but is thought to be environmentally triggered. Environmental research holds the key to finding the cause and developing effective treatments.

-- Source: National Autism Association

At a recent art class, Joey Evangelisti worked diligently on a picture, sometimes calling out a number or a name meaningless to everyone but himself. Questions from visitors drew one-word replies. His favorite reply is "yes," because it tends to end conversations.

Joey, 21, isn't much of a talker, but he's a heck of an artist, according to his art teachers and others, who compare his work to Andy Warhol and even to Mayan hieroglyphics.

Certainly Joey's vision of the world is different from most because he is autistic.

Joey, who is well-known in parts of the city and is always called by his first name, attends public schools, where he studies mostly functional living skills. But he attends regular art class at Kingsbury Vocational Technical School and an Advanced Placement art class at White Station High School.

While at Richland Elementary School, he got the attention of Macy's in New York. He loves parades. A teacher collected some of his parade drawings and sent them to Macy's, which responded by sending his family tickets for seats for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Macy's also asked Joey to create a mural, which he did on 4 feet of paper, drawing the parade front to back. Macy's officials said he saw details only the producers of the parade would notice. His mural eventually hung in an art exhibit in Nashville.

Joey is also prolific, creating many of his pieces in one sitting. At his home in East Memphis, he has built a city of tiny people. They are TV and cartoon figures, football players, wrestlers and others, which he draws, cuts out and intricately colors on the front and back. "A wrestler will have a face in front and in the back you see a guy with a Speedo on," said his mother, Barbara Evangelisti, a nurse practitioner. Hundreds of them fill albums and blanket the walls of his room.

"They're organized," she said. "If you knock one out of alignment, you're in trouble. He knows if they're gone."

People know about Joey. In July and August, The Frame Corner held an exhibit of his pen-and-ink drawings, acrylic paintings, and prints. "Buying was frenetic," said manager and artist Marc Young. There were never fewer than 10 people in line. They bought about 240 pieces, 40 originals from $80 to $200, and 200 prints, from $20 to $80. "That's fairly inexpensive for what he's doing," said Young. "I'm sure they'll go up."

Joey has much more to learn about art, said Charles Berlin, his art teacher at White Station. "But if you put him in the New York market, there would be no way to know he's got special needs," he said. "I can see him getting six figures with his work if he gets the right agent." Kenneth Harris, his art teacher at Kingsbury who has guided him to several local awards, said much the same thing.

One who helps Joey learn is Daniel Watkins, an educational support professional for Memphis City Schools who shadows Joey everywhere, on buses, in his classes and often outside school as well.

"He's a wonderful go-between," said Berlin. "He responds to Mr. Watkins, who translates what I'm saying and gives it to Joey."

Joey thinks differently. While most people might draw a train engine starting at the front, Joey might start at the center with a nut, said Watkins, and expand in great detail. He does not sketch. Once, he drew just part of an engine. When Watkins laid another sheet of paper beside the first, he drew more of it, and so on.

Asked to draw an engine on one sheet of paper, he drew one that looked wrecked, because it was squeezed into a space too small.

Joey must be prompted to do most daily tasks. He must have his clothes laid out for him. He can't cross the street alone.

Because of his autism, Joey lacks empathy. He doesn't read nonverbal cues and cannot see things from another's point of view, said his father, Joe Evangelisti, an executive vice president at First Tennessee Bank. "For the most part, he's a sweet person and docile," he said. "But he can be irritated. He doesn't like a baby crying or people whistling. He might tell them to stop or grab them."

"He wants acceptance and to please anyone he is around, especially family members," said his mom. Joey has two younger brothers. "But in his art he doesn't try to please. He does his thing."

A window into autism was opened recently in the TV movie "Temple Grandin," which won five Emmy awards. Claire Danes portrayed Grandin, an autistic girl whose ability to hear and see things as animals did led her to study animal science and to revolutionize practices for the humane treatment of cattle on ranches and in slaughterhouses.

In fact, the Evangelisti family has attended conferences where Grandin spoke. Grandin explained that words came to her not as sounds, but as colors. They had to be rerouted in her brain and translated into meaning.

Joey, likewise, needs time to reroute.

Patience is the key to Watkins' work with him, too, he said. "When he wants to communicate, he'll express it to you," he said. "But you can't rush it."

Recently, Watkins took him to the Cooper-Young Festival in Midtown where Joey was recognized by some and greeted warmly. He gave his well-taught hello, but such gestures mean little to him. What brightened his eyes was the artwork, especially things that reminded him of parades.

-- Barbara Bradley: 529-2370


A Letter from Joe




A Place All Their Own

Photos by Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal

By Amanda McGee Robbins
Special to The Commercial Appeal
April 29, 2007

Both Keith Greenwald and Damien Stewart work two jobs; together they share the household expenses.
The house was move-in ready. "All the furnishings are Keith's and Damien's," said Carol Greenwald, Keith's mother. "I don't think we had to buy but one chair."Keith Greenwald's new home on Highland Park Place may seem small from the outside, but its 2,200 square feet hold three bedrooms and two baths.
Keith's favorite room is the master bedroom in the finished attic. It has built-in closets, drawers and a desk. Keith had to add a staircase railing to meet code for homeowners with Down syndrome. West Tennessee Family Solutions and First Tennessee helped him buy the place.

The grin on Keith Greenwald's face, as he opens the door to his East Memphis home, says it all: This is one proud and happy homeowner.
Keith, 34, has always wanted his own place, but that dream seemed out of reach until recently. Keith, who has Down syndrome, lived with his parents, Carol and Jim Greenwald, in their Midtown home until two years ago, when he moved into a rented Cordova house supported by West Tennessee Family Solutions.

The nonprofit agency assists intellectually disabled individuals to live independently, helping them with jobs and household management.
Still, Keith wanted his own home. When he received a back payment owed him from Social Security, the Greenwalds couldn't pass up the chance and started house-hunting. Realtor Martine Hobson of the Germantown office of Prudential Collins-Maury, Inc., was more than willing to help. "My daughter has Down syndrome and I was so excited about this," she said.

Although the Greenwalds wanted Keith closer to their own home, their search for the right house took them throughout the city. "We even looked on Christmas Eve," said Carol. "And nothing was quite right. Some were too far away from us or there was no privacy for housemates or they needed too much work." They also wanted a house that would be close enough to a retail area that Keith and his housemate, Damien Stewart, 26, could walk to the grocery or pick up a movie from a video store.

Then, three days after it went on the market, they walked into the pristine white house not far from Poplar Plaza and knew they'd found a gem. The house, built in 1940, is much bigger than it appears from the street. The 2,200-square-foot house, which cost $167,000, features three bedrooms and two baths as well as a living room, dining room and family room. "The house was move-in ready and that was important to us because we didn't have the resources for a big redo," said Carol. They didn't even need to buy a lot to furnish the house.

"All the furnishings are Keith's and Damien's," said Carol. "I don't think we had to buy but one chair, and, of course, some things were passed down through the families."

The rooms are painted in neutral tones, accented with white molding and, in the family room there are built-in bookshelves. A small room in the center of the house, anchored by a table and two chairs and a tall corner cupboard, serves as the "pass-through" room, a place for all the paperwork of the agencies that help Keith and Damien.

Off to one side is the kitchen and on the other is a hall that opens to a full bath and two bedrooms, one of which is Damien's. The other is being used as a game room, but could be converted to a bedroom for another housemate, should Keith and Damien need to further share household expenses, said Carol. "One thing that was very important was that they have privacy in their own rooms because this place is everything for them," she said.

The family and dining rooms at the back of the house are a newer addition, along with a large deck, offering lots of views of the private backyard. There's also a sprinkler system for maintaining the yard, although Keith and Damien share the lawn-mowing chore.

Keith's room and bath are on the second floor in an attic area that was enlarged. The cedar-board ceiling gives the room a lodge feel and one wall houses a system of closet space, built-in drawer storage and even a built-in desk. And proudly displayed atop furniture and on bulletin boards are the many trophies and ribbons that Keith has won as a Special Olympics athlete in weight-lifting and swimming. "My favorite thing in the house is my room," said Keith, "and to have my own place."

Carol said the upstairs bedroom was perfect for Keith. "In our old house, I remember he once asked to move into the attic. And now he's got his upstairs spot." Damien said he likes everything about the house. "I like living on my own. And I've got a nice roommate." Both Keith and Damien work two jobs; together they share the household expenses. They also share weekly trips to a fitness club and are active in People First, an advocacy group.

Jimmy and Melanie Macon, with West Tennessee Family Solutions, assist the young men daily with their household routines and management, with the help of several family counselors.

"West Tennessee Family Solutions made this happen," said Carol. "They could have said, no, this isn't one of our houses, but they didn't. They've helped us so much." The home search, as well as setting up financing and getting all the inspections needed for licensing standards, took about six months. "I didn't even know, really, if people would be willing to work with us," said Martine. "But I called Debbie Moore at First Tennessee and she was willing to look at anything and everything that was available. So even though there are obstacles, with support, people can make their dreams come true."

Carol said that having a house has been Keith's dream since watching his brother, Chris, as well as other friends, get their own places. "We don't have any family within miles and that's another reason it's a good feeling that Keith is in this place. I feel roots here for Keith. He has his home until he no longer needs it. The dream came true for us." Back to top



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