Jonny Peay says he has made a lot of friends during his first year at Utah State University. Now, the 24-year-old from Orem said some of those friends and others may be left behind because they can’t afford to go to school.
Peay, with some help, recently formed the Jonny and Friends Foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to raise money for scholarships to help those with intellectual disabilities who can’t afford school programs attend universities.
Peay is part of a federally designated Comprehensive Transition Program called Aggies Elevated. It is the only program of its kind in the state, and is based at USU in Logan.
Aggies Elevated is a two-year program that offers certificates in Integrated College and Community Studies.
Members of the Jonny and Friends Foundation board include Mike Reid, professional golfer; Bruce Brockbank, Brigham Young University’s Men’s golf coach; Terral Cochran, Peay family friend; and Glen Overton, Utah County developer.
“When you meet Jonny, you’re a friend for life,” Reid said. “He’s a pioneer for this program at Utah State.”
All proceeds will go toward the education scholarships. Right now Jonny knows of 13 friends in Aggies Elevated he would like to help financially.
Peay and his family are not ones to use the word disability or the term special needs in their home or in reference to those with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.
“I am a human, there is no segregation,” Jonny Peay said. “I do not need to be treated special. I am learning to be a good example. We are all human beings. I am a child of God.”
Lisa Peay, Jonny’s mother said, “They don’t have special needs, they have human needs.”
Some of those needs include financial help to get into programs like Aggies Elevated. According to Lisa Peary, the federal funding is ending for the program and will cut off several students who want to advance after high school.
The certificate and curriculum for Aggies Elevated is approved by the Utah Board of Regents and Utah State University as a vocational program.
Currently, there are only 16 students nationally who have received scholarships to institutions of higher learning in these programs; Peay is one of them.
Peay said he started the foundation to help his friends and to give back to the community.
“I have made a lot of friends,” he said. “When I graduate, I want to work as a professional DJ with my cousin in San Diego.”
Peay said the past year, some of his classes included budget management, LDS Institute, and a 7:30 a.m. weight training class that he never missed.
“I have known Jonny since he was born,” Cochran said. “He has been given opportunities and has had expectations. He has been treated like all the other kids. He makes mistakes and learns from them.”
With the help of determined parents, Peay has graduated from high school, attended two years of Utah Valley University, and has served a two-year service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lisa Peay acknowledges that it has taken a village to help Jonny be where he is today, including teachers, mentors, friends in the SCERA Youth Theater programs and members of the LDS Tongan Ward in Orem.
Jonny Peay speaks English and Tongan, can read and write, and, according to his father Mark Peay, has the ladies standing in line at dances.
Jonny Peay has progressed far beyond what the doctors told the Peays his life would be like when he was born. Now, he wants others to have the education and opportunities he’s had.
To bolster the foundation’s scholarship fund, Jonny and Friends will hold a benefit golf tournament Aug. 5 at the Fox Hollow Golf Course in American Fork.
“Our goal is to have 120 (participants). We have 90 so far,” said Glen Overton, board member and local developer. “We want to raise $50,000 to $100,000.”
For more information about the benefit golf tournament, Aggies Elevated and Jonny and Friends, visit https://jonnyandfriends.org.