Cynthiana's friend

Austin Jones (center), 30, laughts with Greg Shirley, his uncle and old little league coach, at Galactic Alley in Cynthiana. Austin, who has Down syndrome, is a popular member of the Harrison County community. When he was young, his family and neighbors looked out for him. Now, they're his friends.

When Clarence Jones, a Harrison County farmer, goes to Hardee's to enjoy his morning coffee, one name is mentioned nearly every time: Austin Jones.

"He's an inspiration to the community," Clarence says. Austin is his grandson.

Austin, 30, has been an integral part of Cynthiana since he was born. His parents, Greg and Laura Jones, weren't aware of Austin's Down syndrome until the nurse brought the news at the hospital. Greg says it overwhelmed him.

But Austin's parents were determined that he'd have a fulfilling life. As Austin grew up and started going to school,  he began to attend classes with the Functional Mental Disabilities (FMD) program. When he graduated from middle school, he was supposed to continue taking FMD classes there until he would graduate from high school, meaning he would be surrounded by eighth graders well into his late teens. But Laura wouldn't let that fly.

“I said when he was a freshman he needed to go to high school, not stay in the past,” Laura says. 

By his sophomore year, he was at high school full-time till he graduated in 2008 at age 19. He's worked at McDonalds for the past 10 years. He plays in a regular bowling league. He stays up late playing video games and loves to watch WWE wrestling.

Everyone from around town – the schools, businesses, restaurants – has kept an eye on Austin all his life.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and it really did with Austin,” his mom says.

But today the community is no longer just looking after him. They've become his friends.

Sissy Hyatt was in charge of the daycare Austin attended and an aid in his elementary school. Now, as Sissy faces the first stages of Alzheimer's, she and Austin share laughs  while remembering trips to the zoo to see the monkeys. Chris Reffett, who took care of Austin in an after-school program, has named his son after his buddy. Anywhere he goes, Austin always has a friend.

“He always tells the truth,” says Carl Wayne Hitch, a bowling teammate and longtime friend of Austin, "he could never tell a lie."

Austin jokes with his friends as they take a break from bowling. It's one of his many hobbies. The team is preparing for a tournament in December.
Austin works out on his own at Harrison Memorial Hospital twice a week with a weigh-in every Wednesday to make sure he maintains a healthy weight.
Austin loves holidays. For Halloween, he carves a pumpkin and hands out candy to trick-or-treaters – a tradition he keeps every year.
Austin kisses his 15-year-old cat Lucy at home late at night. Lucy was a stray who was found in a friend's backyard when Austin was little.
Austin organizes a team in a WWE game late in the evening. He hunted the deer hanging on the wall. While he is well-known for his happy energy in social settings, he keeps a number of hobbies that he does alone at home each day.
Austin practices on the drum set at his house. He is learning to play the drums, guitar, and how to sing and wants to start a band with his friends.
Austin putters around on his phone while his mom, Laura Jones, finds him a coat. He's headed to work at McDonalds where he has worked for the past 10 years.
Austin packages hasbrowns at his job at McDonalds. He works the morning shift Mondays through Fridays.
Austin sands the paint off car parts with his grandfather Clarence Jones in a garage at his grandfather's farm in Harrison County. Austin loves to deconstruct old cars and motorcycles. Clarence says he hears people talking about Austin every morning when he's getting coffee. "He's an inspiration to the community," Clarence says.