Jonathan Ardoyno was born with cerebral palsy and totally blind. Doctors told his mother he would always lie stiff in his bed. He would never walk or talk. But by age 2, his vision began to return, and by the time he was 3 years old, he started talking. Now he works, volunteers, audits college classes and goes to every women’s social club event he can.
“Jonathan’s never had a dull life,” said his mother, Janet Ardoyno.
With help from care providers Jonathan rolls across campus in a motorized wheelchair complete with a neck rest and adjustable seat. Although he can’t get a degree because he lacks math and reading skills, his mother, a 1974 graduate, said Jonathan has seen his siblings and peers go to college and wanted the same experience.
Everyday at 9 a.m., Jonathan takes the CityLink bus from his house to campus where one of his care providers, Tori Haas, junior pre-occupational therapy major, helps him get to classes. For seven years he said he has been auditing classes ranging from Child Development to Communication Design – any class in a wheelchair-accessible room.
Ask Jonathan what his major is and he’ll say, “Girls…and education.”
Quips like that endeared him to players on the men’s basketball team, including Jovan Crnic (Sir-neech), senior communication major from Nis, Serbia.
At the beginning of the fall semester, Crnic and a few of his teammates went to a party at Jonathan’s house and got to see Jonathan’s basketball signed by the San Antonio Spurs team. After the party, Jonathan wrote the team a thank-you note with a picture of him in a gym with a basketball. Crnic said he taped the note on a wall in the men’s basketball locker room and took Jonathan to the locker room once to show it to him.
“He makes me laugh just as much as I make him laugh,” Crnic said. “We have regular conversations that I would have with anybody else. That’s what I like about Jonathan – he’s aware of reality and at the same time perfectly capable of syncing in with everybody else.”
Although Jonathan’s voice sounds strained because of his condition, Janet said he talks well for someone with cerebral palsy. Jonathan said he wants to be treated as normal, but he knows he needs extra help.
“I’ve never heard him say ‘I wish I could walk,’ or ‘that’s not fair,’” his mother said. “He’s always asking me what else he could do.”
Jonathan volunteered for the Children’s Miracle Network, Love and Care Ministries’ Mission Thanksgiving and the Share Your Christmas food drive for the Food Bank of West Texas. Janet said he raised $25,000 for Bowl for Kids’ Sake. On Mondays and Wednesdays, he works at H.E.B selling reusable bags. He also volunteers at Hendrick Health System as the “gatekeeper” in the children’s hospital, making sure children don’t get out of the area.
Navigating campus in a wheelchair can be difficult for Jonathan, who said he can’t take classes in the upper levels of the Hardin Administration Building because his wheelchair can’t fit correctly in the elevator. His wheelchair also can’t get through the gate to the Larry Sanders Intramural Field to watch his friends play intramural sports.
“I just don’t want to get scratched up going down the center,” Jonathan said. “They’re going to fix it next year.”
Jonathan said sometimes teachers struggle to incorporate him in their classes because he’s not getting a grade for participating. One of his favorite teachers, Dr. Heidi Morris, director of Family First, said he participates by making comments and joining in class discussions.
“It just brings a different variable to the classroom,” Morris said. “He reminds me that even students who have challenges, with the motivation and the determination, can still learn.”
Even though Jonathan can’t write, Morris said he sent her handwritten thank-you notes with help from friends or care providers.
“He’s a giant,” Morris said. “He strives not to let his physical limitations restrain him.”
His physical limitations don’t restrain him from putting encouraging notes on people’s cars with his care providers. They also write “Good luck” notes with chalk to the volleyball and football teams before game days. But Jonathan said he does have a tough side too.
“Sometimes I appear to be rude when I’m trying to make a point,” Jonathan said.
Growing up as the middle child of three siblings, Jonathan said he had to defend his older brother, who got into trouble a lot because of his ADD. He said he did the same for his sister, but not as much now that she has her own children. Seeing his siblings get married sparked his own desire to get married, his mother said, even though it could be difficult because of his disabilities.
Jonathan said he wants to get married by his 35th birthday, Nov. 18, 2017.
“That means I have to start dating now, so we can start making plans,” Jonathan said. “First of all a girl has to take me out. They have to come to me.”
Although he has limited mobility in his hands, Jonathan said he texts, emails and uses Facebook through a Bluetooth device. His phone ringtone features a line from his favorite movie, Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Jonathan can be seen rolling around campus in a GATA hat or an Alpha Kai Omega sweatshirt. On the back of his wheelchair he sports a license plate with the words “Run, Forest, Run.”