Ready, Willing and Able To Serve

By Nancy Pardue

Becky Beasley likes mystery novels, Scotty McCreery, and leading a team of writers and artists in publishing A2S Post, the news digest of Garner-based Able to Serve.

Executive Director Carlton McDaniel Jr. founded this faith-based nonprofit in 2003, to help fill a post-high school void often faced by special needs adults.

“I had been looking for something like this,” said Beasley, 29, and a graduate of Fuquay-Varina High. “It’s a chance to interact with others, and the volunteers are just amazing.
It’s wonderful.”

Forty-plus adults from Garner and surrounding towns take part in ATS’ weekly Service Learning Programs, which combine multisensory educational activities with hands-on service projects.

The diverse group includes low, mid and high functioning participants, most ages 20 to
50. The goal, McDaniel says, is to help them achieve their best and offer meaningful contributions to their communities.

Left: Teresa Champion leads the group with her talents in singing and signing.  Right: Carlton McDaniel Jr., founder and executive director of Able to Serve.

“For example, Becky brings out the best in others through her leadership,” he said. “We didn’t create that leadership in her — we just opened the door. She’s talented, willing and organized.”

Beasley enjoys the camaraderie, too. “I try to sit at a different table each week. To me, if somebody’s not there it feels like something’s missing,” she said.

Service Learning includes units on topics like nutrition, jobs and travel. Local businesspeople offer interactive presentations to help participants foster life skills and enjoy new experiences.

Many continue their relationship with ATS. For example, the Post is produced with help from Garner News editor Kelly Griffith, who presented to the group last year.

McDaniel holds a master of divinity degree in Christian education from Southeastern Seminary, and is a national consultant on special needs ministries. He plans the curriculum with input from other area educators.

Hugs and handshakes are offered to the tune of “Thank You for Being a Friend,” by Able to Serve members Mark, Joseph and Kenny at a recent meeting held at First Baptist Church in Garner.

ATS is also involved in service projects such as assembling kits for church mission trips, handling large mail-outs and sorting for food pantries.

“We’re producers, not just consumers. Able to Serve creates an environment where that can happen,” McDaniel said. “Our goal for 2012 is 12 major giveback projects; we did 10 in 2011. There’s not much we can’t do, if you give abilities a chance.”

A new project offers ATS adults the chance to don lab coats and work as labelers and packers for Cary-based company JustNeem, earning certificates to add to their résumés.

ATS’ Shared Learning Events, in which the group takes part in church and community events, encourage connection with people with developmental disabilities. McDaniel offers training for organizations in developing their own special needs programming.

For fun, the ATS group takes social outings and has a weekly on-site “Intermission,” complete with air hockey, Wii and karaoke.

Community partnerships help fund ATS. With participation doubling since spring 2010, the ATS board is seeking additional grants, fundraising ideas and volunteers.

A core group of about six volunteers helps facilitate programs now. Retired engineer Gary Rhodes is among them, transporting participants in ATS’ accessible van.

“It’s like a big family. You’ve got to be flexible,” Rhodes said. “But I really enjoy talking with them on the van.”

“We often help or minister ‘to’ people with special needs, not ‘with’ them,” Mc-Daniel said. “And realistically, it’s easier and quicker to use the institutional model, where I do it for you. But my friends at Able to Serve have taught me that life isn’t just about doing — it’s about being. Being who I am, contributing what I have, to a community that values what I have to offer."

Editor’s note: Upcoming Able to Serve fundraisers include the Ride for Abilities motorcycle run on June 30; Dinner/Gala on Sept. 14; and Golf “Fore” Special Needs on Oct 5. For details, visit abletoserve.org.

Photography By Jonathan Fredin

 

Tags: Features

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