why you might need to consider moving to a different state
The second half of 2021 was pretty hectic for our family. After the house behind ours sold for 40% more than we had bought ours for just two years prior, we made the difficult decision to sell our house in the suburbs of Atlanta in order for us to be financially sound enough for me to quit my job and start Three Twenty One Financial Outfitters as I felt called to do. We had bought that house when Emily was pregnant with Luca and we intentionally looked in a specific school district that was known for more experiential learning, especially at the elementary school level. The house was much more square footage than we needed at the time and our plan was to stay there for 20+ years and continue to grow our family. When Luca was born and we received his surprise Down syndrome diagnosis, however, I knew immediately that we would need to reevaluate our plans.
You see, Emily and I both are blessed with mothers that were teachers in elementary schools for decades. When I first met Emily in Cincinnati and got to know her family, we quickly realized how different the education systems that we grew up in were. I had gone to school in the Atlanta area where the high schools were comprised of 4,000 to 5,000 kids and because of that I was really able to specialize in what I was interested in. There were clubs for everything and sports were extremely competitive. As someone who was raised in achievement oriented way, I had always thought this was the best kind of setting simply because it set me up to thrive. Emily had gone to a much smaller school where everyone in town knew each other and it had a much more close knit community feeling. When we started considering Luca’s education (which we of course had to do very early since he would start at 3), it became obvious that a close knit community with focus on integration of atypical students with the typical students was of extreme importance to us. Unfortunately, in the school district we were in and way too many other school districts across the United States and the South in particular, we knew that Luca would for the most part be siloed in a separate part of the school with the other children with special needs and would rarely interact with the typical students in his grade. This was untenable for us. So we started looking at places to move.
“When we started considering Luca’s education (which we of course had to do very early since he would start at 3), it became obvious that a close knit community with focus on integration of atypical students with the typical students was of extreme importance to us.”
Our first leaning (and probably how I convinced my wife to uproot our lives) was to move to Hawaii. We had spent two weeks in Hawaii back in 2018 and it is a truly special place. The schools there are mostly much smaller than anything in Atlanta and the children with special needs are integrated with the other students. We really value being in nature and the weather permits that year round in Hawaii and it is hard to beat the many beaches and mountains Hawaii has to offer. However, the more that we dug into the details, we decided it was not the right time to move off of the mainland (maybe some day!) primarily due to the relatively small (but growing) Down Syndrome support system and community as well as a high cost of living for a time where we are trying to be super conscious of that while I built Three Twenty One.
Next, we shifted our sights to Colorado. Neither Emily nor I have actually ever been to the state but, in researching online and talking to people in the Down Syndrome community there, it became obvious that it is a place where a lot of families are able to thrive. Though it certainly gets colder than Hawaii, the 200+ days of sunshine was a big draw to us as well as the outdoors oriented culture there. We identified several school systems where we knew children with Down Syndrome were integrated with typical students and started looking at houses. That quickly changed from looking at houses to buy to places to rent instead because the Denver area is so damn expensive. Those additional costs became less of a concern though when a friend told us that there is a waiver program in Colorado where Emily could get certified as a “Personal Care Attendant (PCA)” for Luca and she would actually get paid to take care of him at home. This would have provided somewhat substantial income and further confirmed that Denver was the place we wanted to move. We were actually under contract to sell our house in Atlanta with a couple weeks until closing and we were telling family and friends that we were planning to move to Denver. Then, life happened.
One of the things that has lingered since the trauma of Luca’s birth and some Health issues Emily experienced around that time is ongoing anxiety and occasional panic attacks. They have been under control for the most part in recent years thanks to doctors and therapists but it is something that we certainly have to be mindful of. In the midst of packing our things and getting close to pulling the trigger on a specific rental in Denver, Emily had a panic attack. Her family was actually in town helping us out and thankfully her sister was with her in the grocery store when the attack came on. It eventually passed but we really took some time to dig in and unpack what specifically was giving her overwhelming anxiety. Of course moving is stressful for anyone and especially when you are thinking of going somewhere you have never even visited but when we got into it her real concern was not having a family support system. You see in Atlanta my parents were only a 5 minute drive away. They were incredible and kept Luca two days a week which let Emily run errands and have some time alone to decompress. When we were in the hospital they would take care of our dogs or if we needed any help at all they were just a text or a phone call away. We wouldn’t have that in Denver. We had a few friends out there but no one we were super close with and no family at all. So, after much debate and careful consideration, we decided to move back to the small city where we met, Cincinnati.
I’ll spare you all of the details of our home search in Cincinnati but, everywhere that we had looked into moving, we knew we wanted to live somewhere that had a really tight knit community and it had to be walkable with access to trails, etc. in nature. We loved the idea of being able to walk our kids to school and knew how much we hated the car dependent suburbs like we experienced in Atlanta. We landed on a perfect little area in Cincinnati where the schools, grocery store, farmers market, restaurants, brewery, bike trail, and river are all within a 5-10 minute walk. The school system is great and Luca will be fully integrated with the other students and we could not be happier with our choice. It was a tougher decision than I had planned though. We identified this part of the city for all of the reasons I just mentioned but in the midst of our search a family friend who has a son with Down Syndrome let us know that 15 minutes away, across the river in Kentucky, they had a waiver similar to Colorado where we could likely get a comparable level of funding compared to Ohio where they do not have that type of program. So we had to weigh everything we loved about where we ended up in Ohio versus about $40,000/year to live in Kentucky where we knew there was nothing that checked all of those boxes. It is the type of decision that only those of us in this community have to even think about and unfortunately many of us don’t realize what other states might offer compared to the state that we live in. This was a driving force in my decision to start Three Twenty One and attempt to compile this difficult to find information into a clear and concise form.