“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. And what you have to do to get to where you want to be may not be pretty or may not come easy.”
My name is Josh Jones and this quote defines my life. I am in my last semester at the University of Georgia – not a surprise to me, but a surprise to many others who may have focused on my disabilities, instead of my potential, early on in my life. I know others have overcome similar and even greater obstacles in reaching their goals in life, and I write this in the hope that my story will motivate others to achieve in the face of adversity.
I was born in Marrietta, Ga and moved to Lickensville, Pennsylvania as a baby, and lived there until I was nine years old. If you love carriages, horses, and wooden furniture, this is the place to live. It was Amish paradise! My siblings and I were all expected to do their share of the chores around the house; if I did my assigned chores for the entire week, I might be rewarded with a quarter to buy a soda pop. This started to produce a strong work ethic for myself that will be exhibited more elaborately later on.
Because of my parents’ low opinion of available public education, all of the children in our family were home-schooled, at least in the beginning. But for reasons I would learn later on, reading and writing were very difficult for me, and learning, in general, was extremely challenging. I also struggled in social situations; I feared talking to others outside my immediate family because I had trouble processing what people said to me. I also struggled trying to formulate a response, and most of the time ended up looking at the floor and mumbling incoherently. When I was nine years old, our family moved to Georgia, and I was enrolled in the second grade at Grayson Elementary School, a public school.
I also remember, on several occasions, being called on to read aloud in class and not being able to pronounce the first word in the sentence, so I just stopped because I was so embarrassed. An understanding teacher suggested to my parents that I be formally tested to better understand why I was having so much difficulty.
At this age, I received academic testing to see why I had trouble in school. After testing, the person who administered the test told my Mom that my learning disabilities were mostly attributable to severe dyslexia; he suggested that I would be lucky to graduate from high school, and that college was probably out of the question for me.
I struggled through public school for another two years before my parents decided to try home-schooling again at the fifth grade level. Home-schooling was probably better for me at that point, but even though my Mom would try to teach me the basics of math, literature, and history every day, it seemed I still couldn’t comprehend anything. I was very frustrated and spent hours playing by myself because, by doing so, I wouldn’t have to put myself in an embarrassing social situation, unable to process what others were saying to me.
When I was ten, my Mom learned of a camp for learning-disabled kids in Georgia called Camp Academia, which was owned and managed by a wonderful and caring woman named Shirley Pennebaker. Using a computer-based learning program called “Brain Jogging,” Mrs. Pennebaker and her camp supervisors, all of whom had overcome severe learning disabilities, helped young people of all ages read, write, and learn better.
After I enrolled in Camp Academia, I learned there were plenty of other kids in my shoes. Imagine what a tremendous relief this was to me as I thought I was the only one who struggled with learning disabilities! Seeing and interacting with others every day, including the camp supervisors who themselves had been able to climb out of their frustrating situations, gave me hope, for the very first time, that I might be able to do the same.
After a year of doing Brain Jogging exercises religiously, twice-a-day for a whole year, I slowly learned how to read and write, and became much more comfortable in social situations. As I look back now on my Camp Academia experience, what I learned can be summarized from the main premise of a book I read recently (The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy): “The positive results you want to experience in your life will be the result of smart choices (and actions) repeated consistently over time.”
I returned to public school at the eighth-grade level with a newfound confidence. My academics, although improved, were still problematic and I still had to concentrate on them to get through. I always loved sports, especially baseball, since I was very young. Oddly enough, as I look back, following directions and interacting with teammates and coaches on the baseball field, was a far more comfortable and manageable situation than engaging strangers away from sports. So, imagine again the excitement I felt when I made the travel baseball and basketball teams – it did wonders for my social development. I’m still friends with some of those guys to this day!
The doctor told me I’d be lucky to run again. But I wasn’t going to let someone tell me I couldn’t do something; within six months, I was running again. But a more serious – and chronic – dislocation injury to my shoulder eventually ended my baseball career and my dream of someday playing in college.
My experience at Grayson High wasn’t what one would call the “normal” high school experience. My parents owned a cleaning business and always seemed to need the entire family’s help to manage and operate it. There were many times when I had to drive a half-hour after baseball practice to help clean the shop, sometimes not finishing work until well after midnight. There were even times when I had to miss some of my football and basketball games to clean. This experience taught me the importance of a good work ethic and of setting priorities.
I had trouble academically in high school as well. One of the main reasons I graduated high school was thanks to a tutor named John Siebel. I thank my parents for paying him to tutor me weekly my junior and senior year. He had a knack for breaking down language in subjects so I could understand them better. He did a lot of this by relating material to what I loved, the game of baseball.
By the time I graduated from Grayson High in May 2009, I had two new goals – to attend college at the University of Georgia and to eventually work for the Atlanta Braves professional baseball organization. Easier said than done!
My less-than-stellar academic record in high school mandated that I take intermediate remedial courses at home before I could enroll at Georgia Perimeter College, a local community college, for a year to prove that I could do college-level work. At the same time, my parents’ cleaning business was suffering from the then lagging economy, and money for any level of college was very tight.
Luckily, Georgia Perimeter College did not cost that much money, so my parents paid the tuition with what little money they had for two years until I could hopefully gain HOPE. They also paid for my car insurance and phone bill my first three semesters there until I moved to Athens. However, I had to pay for everything else on my own. If I were going to attend college in Athens eventually, I was going to have to generate the additional tuition to HOPE on my own and save up money to pay for living out there. It also wasn’t a blast driving an hour to school three days a week. But I did what I had to do.
I worked at three part-time jobs – at Dollar General, my parents’ cleaning business, and a local landscaping company – to earn the money I needed to get started. After a semester and a half of taking non-credited intermediate classes at Perimeter, I finally enrolled in college-credited courses there. Talk about a dagger to the confidence.
I was so behind in school compared to friends. However, I didn’t let this bring me down. I kept my end goal in mind of becoming a Bulldawg and making something of myself. I hit the books hard, attended tutoring sessions three or four times a week, kept my nose to the grindstone, and, after two years at GPC, finally prevailed with a 3.4 GPA! I then transferred to Gainesville State College to be closer to Athens, Georgia. After a semester there, where I also worked full-time to support my “dream,” I applied and was admitted to UGA – with a HOPE Scholarship, which paid for 90 percent of my tuition!
I was delivering pizzas for Dominoes when I received an email saying I was accepted to Georgia. I’m not going to lie, I swerved a little and pizzas almost flew everywhere. The following week, I was sitting in my apartment when I officially received my acceptance letter from the UGA Admissions Office. The word “Accepted” jumped off the page at me.
I was so excited to finally see it writing that I dropped the letter, yelled then did an un-known number amount of pushups out of excitement and adrenaline. It was definitely one of the most joyous moments in my life. I put my head under the pillow on my bed for about five minutes and just thought back about all the people in my life who told me I wasn’t smart enough to get into college. I also thought of all the hard work I put in to get to this wonderful moment.
I then called everybody in my family and all my close friends. To be honest, they all seemed pretty shocked, but, more important, they were truly very excited about my acceptance, which was special to me. I knew there was still a whole lot of hard work ahead of me, but I promised myself that there was no way I could be denied a college degree from UGA at this point.
I started taking classes at UGA during the Spring semester of 2012, while still working at two part time jobs to support myself. I probably bit off a little more than I could chew and quickly ran into some academic difficulties. I withdrew from two courses and then was forced to take a semester off to reevaluate how and why things were not going according to plan. During my time away from campus, I continued to work 60 to 70 hours a week at Dollar General and Kangaroo Express.
But, from all the things I had been through and the small successes I had achieved, I knew there was a better place I could get to if I just kept pushing forward. Not long after this, a friend told me of an opportunity to interview for a job on the Atlanta Braves Game Day Ticket Event Team Staff (TET Team). I got the interview, and despite showing up with a surfer hair style and a facial hair pattern more suited to a homeless man, I was hired for the summer.
And what an incredible experience that turned out to be! Among other things, I learned: how to step outside my comfort zone and build relationships with strangers; the importance of doing the little things, such as body language, and dressing and acting professionally; and how to market and sell products.
In time, I learned how to set and work toward an end goal and motivate others on the team to follow the example I set. I worked with an amazing group of people that are now already making an impact in the sports market. I believe we will all be friends for years to come. It will be amazing to see where all of them are at 5 years from now. I gained a great amount of confidence in myself that summer.
My boss at the time, Dan Eanes gave me great advice : “In any job you work, make sure that you are making a positive impact on the goals of the organization.” This is solid advice that I try to live up to every day of my life.
And for the incredible training and opportunity given to me by the Atlanta Braves organization, and for the opportunity to learn from the great people in that organization – Dan Eanes, Justin Johnson, Seth Condra, Natalie Galvin, and Alex Ingle – let me take a timeout here to thank all of you publicly. You have all helped me to change my life for the better. University of Georgia alumni, Justin Johnson is my current boss and has given me so opportunities to prove myself within the organization. His leadership along with Seth and Alex has benefited me greatly. Go Dawgs!
As the summer was coming to a close, I was feeling a lot more confident and could see glimpses of real progress toward my goals of completing college and working in professional sports. In the Fall of 2013, I returned to UGA, enrolled in five classes, and was admitted to my Sports Management major.
I never liked being treated differently than others despite my learning disabilities but I knew that I needed some help to graduate from this challenging University. Well, it is for me at least. With $500 I had saved up, I paid for additional professional testing. This time the testing showed that I suffered from ADHD. in addition to my dyslexia. Instead of being discouraged at the results, I think I became even more motivated to overcome them, because I had grown to love the challenges life threw in my path. I knew that if I could get through school with these challenges, I could accomplish anything I chose to do in life.
A new opportunity to learn presented itself in the new year when I landed an internship with FundourCommunity.com. My role there was to make social media tweets and to find new sports projects worthy of funding. My boss, Ron Stebenne, took me under his wing and really helped me to learn to interact, both on the phone and in person, with other professionals in the business.
This opportunity later opened the door for a paying job managing the social media account for a show on Fox Sports called “The Real Winning Edge.” As the Spring semester wore on, I was still working two internships – at Dollar General and the Atlanta Braves – and taking a full class load at UGA. It felt like my whole life was just working at part-time jobs and growing my resume. But my life was about to take a turn for the better.
I worked again that summer for the Braves and was rewarded for my work there when I was selected, from a field of 79 others, as the Ticket Event Team’s Employee of the Year. It was a night to remember when my picture and the announcement of the award was showcased on the big screen at Turner Field during a home game!
Things were starting to look up for me. My “contact network” was growing, I was maintaining a GPA above 3.0 in school, and I was having some fun to boot.
As I headed into my senior year at UGA, I continued my second year of volunteering for an unpaid position in the Ticket Sales Department of the Atlanta Falcons organization and was one of five promoted to higher position in that role.
I also took another position with the UGA Athletic Department as a “Student Ambassador;” I believe the work I did in these positions were instrumental in my being hired by the Huddle Inc. Marketing Agency and being promoted to a supervisory position on the Atlanta Braves Ticket Event Team account. Huddle has already helped me so much in sales and becoming a better person. The culture of the company is amazing and like none other.
As I start my last semester at UGA, my goals have changed a bit, as you may have guessed. My longer term goal/dream is to be the president of a successful major league baseball team. Short term, it’s to earn a full time position within a Major League Baseball team.
I hope the takeaway from my story is that you can overcome tough obstacles and achieve much in life by setting goals, persevering in the face of adversity, not taking “no” for an answer, and using the people you meet along the path to achieving your goals as valuable learning assets and helping hands.
“If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”