CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - Recently something different happened as 16-year-old Ryan Cennamo walked through the hallways at Cox Mill High School. Though kids were never mean to him... they started really being nice. Giving him high five’s. Saying hi.
Ryan lives with autism. He also has Tourette’s Syndrome, anxiety and OCD. He’s friendly, but often quiet because being social has been difficult for him for many years. Kids welcoming him in and including him in conversations and in the hallways made a big change in his personality, says his mom, Amie Cennamo.
And that’s not even the best part.
Eight of Ryan’s fellow students recently made his dream come true. Those eight students are part of what’s called a Junior Dream Team, that’s an extension of Charlotte-based charity Dream On 3. Any high school can have a Junior Dream Team. They’ll work with the non-profit to help organize a VIP surprise for one student in their school.
Anchor Molly Grantham, who volunteers with Dream On 3, was honored to be asked to help emcee the moment when they unveiled the surprise to Ryan.
"Tomorrow morning do you know what happens for you?” Molly asked Ryan in front of all 1000+ students at an all-building assembly. Ryan said he didn’t have any idea. She continued. “First off, you don't need to come to school first of all. And secondly, you get to go to Charlotte Motor Speedway and ride, privately, with Bubba Wallace, one of the NASCAR drivers right now who's doing really well. He's waiting for you to get in his car with him and you and Bubba have an entire driving Charlotte Motor Speedway, dream come true!"
Ryan threw his hands up in the air in a sign of excited success.
Afterwards, his friends give gifts and send him off straight from the assembly into a limo, out for dinner and racing at the Dragstrip, as a preview to next day’s fun. His parents were beside themselves.
“It almost seems like everyone rallied around him now and everybody knows him,” Amie said. “It has been tremendous for his confidence. It’s phenomenal." WBTV was there exclusively the next morning when Bubba Wallace walked out on the infield towards Ryan, with an outstretched hand. His friendliness made Ryan feel at ease, and he taught Ryan how to get into a NASCAR, then took him for a few of fast laps.
“Almost indescribable to explain what this does for our son,” dad Vic Cennamo said. “Thank you to Bubba Wallace and Dream On 3, but especially to these kids in his school. To see them trying to understand him and accept him has been the best.”