As a volunteer at the Frankie Lemmon School for special needs children I didn’t want to infect my little friends with my horrible cold. So I stayed home, opened the newspaper and read about “Ms. Pearce”.
The lead sentence read: “In 50 years working at Hilltop Home, Etherlene Pearce missed so few days of work, her employees swear she never took a sick day.”
“For shame, Mr. Pat!” said the voice in my head. The article went on. “She came rain, snow, sleet or hail… It didn’t make a difference if there was two feet of snow…”
“Hang your head, Mr. Pat!” said the voice. But I read on… I learned that Ms. Pearce spent 50 years caring for the developmentally challenged at Hilltop Home (www.hilltophome.org), a private, nonprofit residential center that serves children with severe developmental and medical disabilities. Ms. Pearce retired only last year as the home’s director at age 89. But she’s still going!
“For shame! Look away! Don’t look at Mr. Pat!”
Raleigh is just full of inspiring people like Ms. Pearce….For example, Dorothea Dix. In 1841, while teaching Sunday School to a group of women in prison, young Dorothea found her calling. The prisoners, a mix of criminals and the mentally challenged, were kept in dark, damp cells with no blankets or furniture. She was horrified! Dorothea spent the rest of her life lobbying for better conditions for the mentally challenged. She never gave up and in 1856, largely through her work, Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Hospital opened for the care of mentally ill patients. By the 1930s there were over 2,000 patients on a site that at one time included 2,354 acres. Even though she was weak and suffered from tuberculosis, Dorothy never gave up.
“Oh me! Oh my!” said the voice. “You can never be like Dorothy!”
And then there’s Frankie Lemmon – the son of Frank and Georgia Lemmon, a Presbyterian minister and his wife. Young Frankie was born with Down Syndrome. In 1965, the Lemmons were appalled to learn there was no kindergarten in Wake County that would enroll a child like Frankie. So, with help from members of Raleigh’s Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church, they opened a kindergarten class for children with mental retardation. Having outgrown the space at the Hudson Memorial Church, the Hayes Barton Baptist Church congregation offered to house the school free of charge within its facility; their mission now expanded to include special-needs children ages 3-5. In 2015, the school got its own facility where in three years, 125 students will be able to benefit from Frankie Lemmon’s life-changing education and services.
Starting this fall (2016), Frankie Lemmon School expanded its services to offer inclusive classrooms educating children with and without disabilities. They participate alongside each other, in a setting that provides rich language models and opportunities for developing social skills within a “global” community.
The Lemmons knew that Frankie would never get better, but they never gave up.
Neither do the teachers. If you’ve wanted to meet a saint, visit the Frankie Lemmon School. They are ALL saints!.
I vowed to never give up, either. There is no shame in failure. The shame is in the not trying…sometimes again and again.
Be still, stupid voice.