For most parents it's a bittersweet time when their kids finally grow into adulthood and begin to find their way in life. But for Tonya and Carlton Ardrey, that moment also comes with anxiety.
The Ardreys' 17-year-old daughter, Kamaron, has a learning disability, and is on the fourth-grade level in her education, Tonya Ardrey said. Kamaron's a senior at Hickory Ridge High School in Harrisburg under her Individualized Education Plan.
The IEP program is designed to provide special educational and developmental assistance for students with disabilities. Part of the program focuses on job skills and requires students to work in volunteer and paid positions.
But after nearly a year of trying, Kamaron still hasn't been able to find a job, so she won't be able to get her diploma.
"We've been lucky enough to get lots of interviews, but they never call back," Tonya Ardrey said. "She's not physically disabled; she just requires a little more hands-on assistance. But with the economy, when you've got all these people looking for work, no one wants to hire someone with a disability. It feels like she's being left behind."
Since last summer, Kamaron has applied for jobs everywhere from movie theaters to restaurants and grocery stores, with no luck. Now time is running out for her to work the required 260 hours to graduate.
"She is really trying, and it would mean the world to her to get her diploma," her mother said.
The Ardreys first learned Kamaron had a learning disability when she was in third grade.
"She just wasn't able to keep up," Ardrey said.
At the time she was attending school in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system. Ardrey said school officials wanted to place her in a special class for kids with developmental and behavioral problems.
The family resisted.
"She doesn't have behavioral problems," Ardrey said. "She's the sweetest kid you've ever seen, and I didn't want her exposed to that."
Ardrey sued the school system, temporarily preventing her daughter from being moved into another class. The case eventually went into arbitration, but rather than get into a protracted legal battle, Ardrey and her family moved to Cabarrus County.
They enrolled Kamaron in the special IEP program at Hickory Ridge High School, which Ardrey believes has better prepared her daughter for adulthood.
But Ardrey admits she's nervous about the future.
"Her dad and I aren't always going to be around to take care of her," she said. "We need to know she's going to be able to do something to take care of herself. I just want her to be self-sufficient, as long as it's an honest living."
Ever since Kamaron was a little girl, Ardrey said, Kamaron has loved animals and cooking, and she talks about being a chef or a veterinarian.
"It's hard to tell her 'You can't do that.' I don't want to put in her mind that something is wrong with her, because that will give her a crutch," her mother said. "I want her to think she can do anything if she applies herself."