Ken the Encourager, part 2

BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — When Mike Harris came into Keenan Roger’s life at the age of seven, it was the start of something special. Keenan’s mother, Donna, taught Harris’ young son named Isaiah. Their teacher/parent relationship evolved into a romantic relationship, and a family unit was formed.

For Keenan, the newly formed family brought hope, vision and energy. Of the two boys, who are now brothers, he was the quiet introvert who could spend hours alone. Isaiah, on the other hand, was the social butterfly. The two are best friends and brothers who support each other in their new family.

“At first, I didn’t know how to feel. I was the only child, but now I’m getting a complete family with a mom, dad and a brother,” said Keenan. “It felt good, but it took a while getting used to having a brother. It was a new experience, and we grew together.”

In Keenan’s early years of school, he attended Doug Jameson Elementary. He wasn’t very sure of himself and lacked self-confidence. Many days he kept to himself.

After Jameson, he attended Lealman Discovery School for sixth grade. He was a sweet and well-mannered kid who had trouble focusing academically. He left Lealman and transferred to Imagine Schools searching for a better environment and positive reports.

Then, through a medical check-up, Keenan was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum, at the age of 13.

Ken the Encourager 2Asperger’s syndrome (also known as Asperger’s Disorder) was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who observed autism-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger’s syndrome was simply a milder form of autism and used the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these individuals.

As time passed, Keenan learned to become more assertive and outgoing.  With help from his brother Isaiah, he began to communicate more freely. The two would share stories with each other from their daily activities.

Keenan’s stories often incited laughter. He’s actually pretty funny and aspires to be a comedian, except he fears standing in front of an audience.

To overcome his anxiety, he developed an alter ego named “Ken the Encourager.” One summer, while attending Caleb’s Motivational Camp, a guest speaker needed help with his presentation. He had a cartoon character costume and wanted help from the audience.

Keenan donned the outfit and played the role; he was an absolute natural. From that moment, Ken the Encourager was born.

“When I went to change into the outfit, I was thinking in my mind to portray goofy, but educational,” said Keenan. “Kids at camp can be hard if you are trying to be funny, but you are not funny. It felt good to get the approval of my peers. The people liked it, so I guess Ken the Encourager is good.”

The experience reassured Keenan that he indeed could do whatever he sets his mind to. Upon leaving Imagine School, Keenan went to Community Christian for his high school years.

His parents said that attending Community Christian was one of the best things they did for him. They watched their hesitant son develop into a vocal leader.

“He took ownership in helping his peers get adjusted to the school setting, and he took pride in being a student leader,” said Keenan’s mom. He has never been a troubled child, so his good behavior came as no surprise; however, we were pleasantly surprised at the way he seemed to come from out under a shell and blossom.”

At 14 years old, another challenge was discovered. Keenan was diagnosed with scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. He had major back surgery during his 11th-grade year of high school to correct his spine.

Not only did he recover from the surgery in an amazing amount of time, but he was also determined to finish all the class work he missed so he could walk with his class.

He is a hard working and determined young man who is also an amazing cook. He has since graduated from Pinellas Technical College with his culinary arts degree and is awaiting an opportunity to work in the industry.

To reach Dexter McCree, email dmccree@theweeklychallenger.com

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