Justin Shaffer helps to lay bricks at the Foster Joseph Sayers Memorial with his classmates from CPI on May 9. Justin graduated from the horticulture and landscaping program at CPI and will graduate from Bellefonte on Wednesday. Photos by Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com
Justin Shaffer helps to lay bricks at the Foster Joseph Sayers Memorial with his classmates from CPI on May 9. Justin graduated from the horticulture and landscaping program at CPI and will graduate from Bellefonte on Wednesday. Photos by Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Bellefonte

New Bellefonte grad prepares to tackle life outside of academia

June 06, 2017 10:50 PM

Justin Shaffer doesn’t say much.

Laconic is the word that comes to mind. The Man with No Name only prepossessed of fewer identity issues. Shy is for babies and Justin is a man of 19 — and, by the end of the week, a graduate of both Bellefonte Area High School and the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology’s horticulture and landscaping program, to match.

In person Justin is unfailingly polite, amiable and will even answer a question or two when pressed, but seems like he would be more comfortable if he were doing something — anything really — more constructive than telling a complete stranger his life story.

It’s hard not to appreciate a guy like that.

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Everyone likes him there. I mean everyone.

Mike Shaffer, Justin’s father

On Senior Awards Night, BAHS gave Justin a $200 award for community service. Better yet, CPI has asked him back as a part-time employee.

“Everyone likes him there. I mean everyone,” his father, Mike Shaffer, said.

Full disclosure, the two guys do go way back. Mike and his wife Brenda first met Justin when he was 4 years old and a patient at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

His biological mother had struggled with drug addiction and young Justin bore the scars. The boy was sickly, wore thick glasses and required a feeding tube for nourishment.

Brenda and Mike brought him home to Bellefonte, the adoption process already in motion.

I’ve been there for three years and I know all the maintenance guys and all of them seems to know me.

Justin Shaffer

What followed were a series of small milestones. Justin was 8 years old when he started eating without the tube. His parents used to go to school and help feed him lunch.

“He didn’t know how to chew. He didn’t know how to do anything,” Brenda said.

Today, he’s hearty — not big, exactly — but more than skin and bones.

Justin likes to work with his hands. His parents gifted him with a tractor for his last birthday and an ongoing goal is to become certified in the operation of heavy machinery.

Under state law, children with disabilities can remain in school until they turn 21 years old. While Mike and Brenda may have been mulling an additional year at BAHS, Justin was confident that it was time to move on to whatever came next.

All involved seem confident that working in maintenance at CPI should provide just the right mix of old and new.

“I’ve been there for three years and I know all the maintenance guys and all of them seems to know me,” Justin said.

If the rules of the universe hold, they probably like him, too.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready