By MELODY KARPINSKI
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Jake Janowczyk only wanted to go to one school: Cardinal Newman. Born with Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause medical problems and developmental delays, Janowczyk and his family were initially uncertain if he could get into the private school.
“They don’t have any special education courses, so my wife and I met with administrators to see what it might look like for Jake to go there,” said dad Ron Janowczyk. “Everybody at the school went out of their way to accommodate Jake.”
A mainstay at Newman football games growing up and watching his older brother, Joe, play running back, Jake Janowczyk couldn’t wait to begin school. When he was accepted to Newman, football coach Paul Cronin personally delivered his acceptance letter.
“When his acceptance letter came, it was like he had gotten into Harvard,” said Joe Janowczyk, a 2007 Newman grad. “He was so excited.”
Newman principal Graham Rutherford recalled Jake Janowczyk’s positive outlook.
“The thing that stood out right out from the beginning was the enthusiasm he had for being here,” said Rutherford.
Janowczyk’s four years at Newman were filled with activity. He worked hard in academics, wrestling with a different strain of difficulties than his classmates.
“I struggled with reading and sounding out words,” Jake Janowczyk said. His new friends were quick to lend a hand. “Kids would find him in the library and help him out,” said mom Lori Janowczyk.
“I think it humbled the whole culture there (at Newman),” Joe Janowczyk said. “It’s so easy to get stressed out over college prep and all that, but then you see Jake and it kind of brings you back down to reality and what matters.”
Jake Janowczyk delighted in his activities with the student leadership group. During one pep rally his junior year, he made a halfcourt shot sending the crowd into a thrilled frenzy. The football team put Janowczyk on their shoulders, and a YouTube video of the event quickly went viral.
“Jake does not see color, race, age — he sees the world that we’re probably supposed to see, but are just too blinded and jaded to see,” said Janowczyk’s dad. “That’s all I want — to see the world through Jake’s eyes.”
His senior year, Janowczyk was elected “Spirit Leader” and enjoyed getting the school community revved up for upcoming Newman games. He proudly lists his work with Associated Student Body leadership as one of his greatest accomplishments at school.
Janowczyk graduated from Newman in May, receiving a standing ovation when his name was read for his diploma. Dozens of kids showed up to his graduation party, and a friend from New York who also had Williams Syndrome flew out for the celebration.
At a senior awards ceremony prior to commencement, Janowczyk was presented with a special gift. The new Newman outdoor cafeteria would now be named “Jake’s Place.”
Rutherford said then-Cardinal Newman senior Randall Palmer suggested the idea and that it “made sense when you think of the impact Jake has had on the class.”
Following graduation, Janowczyk has kept busy.
This summer, he’s ridden in a NASCAR car going 166 mph, and met the star of his favorite TV show, “Bad Ink.” He’ll head to a Jason Aldean concert later this month.
When he’s not busy visiting his plethora of friends at their new college campuses, he’s helping out at Newman three days a week.
Cardinal Newman teacher Catherine Eggleston, the school’s faculty adviser to the ASB leadership group, called Jake an inspiration to other students.
“Jake is just an exceptional young man, and he makes a difference in the classroom by just being there,” she said. “He breaks the stereotype, and makes a difference because he wants to make a difference.”
His ASB peers agreed. “Jake is inspiring because although he has Williams Syndrome, it doesn’t stop him from being a normal teenager,” said student Merrit Geary. “He never stops cheering us all on at our sporting events and his Newman pride is something we should all strive to have.”
When asked what’s next, Janowczyk said he’s going to wait and see. He’d like to get a job at Walmart or Safeway, places where he can meet new people and help out.
“The joy Jake has brought us has eclipsed any and every limitation or challenge that he might have faced,” said Janowczyk’s dad. “We are a different and better family because of Jake.”
Janowczyk has some advice for other kids dealing with Williams Syndrome: “Work hard, stay smart, do your homework, don’t give up and do the best you can.”
Born: Santa Rosa
Lives with: Parents Ron and Lori Janowczyk in Windsor
Siblings: Lauren, 26, of Santa Rosa; Joe, 24, of South Dakota
What’s on his iPod: Jason Aldean, Bon Jovi, Drake, Johnny Cash, Nicki Minaj
Hobbies: Video games, playing outside with friends, sports
Dream job: Play in the NBA
Favorite TV Show: “Bad Ink”
Favorite food: Pizza
Quote: “Gotta believe.”