Originally created 03/22/03

Founder's outreach thrives



As a teen, Kathy Cawley delivered holiday turkeys to the disabled, working alongside volunteers organized by the Rev. Jerry Taylor, founder of Community Outreach Program for the Handicapped.

He retired in October after 20 years as the nonprofit's director and passed the job to her. With nearly eight years on staff behind her, she now heads an agency that combines the practical and the profound - from a wheelchair ramp to a shoulder to cry on.

One of the greatest needs for a disabled person is support from family and friends, said Mrs. Cawley from her office at Sacred Heart Cultural Center. "We do not have the answers for everything. Sometimes they need a hand to hold when they cry. We try to let them be free to do that crying with someone who has a heart and can understand."

More than 650 clients have contacted Community Outreach for help in building ramps, installing grab bars, widening doorways or making other home modifications. Calls also come for help with emergency food, housing, prescription or utility needs, transportation, adaptive equipment or life-skills training.

The Rev. Taylor - now catching up on reading, sports, computer skills and writing a book about his life - knows many of those difficulties firsthand. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler.

Doctors sketched a bleak future for him, telling his parents he likely would be mentally retarded and never walk or talk. Many "'normal' people think that just because our bodies don't work, our minds don't work either," he said.

His parents had him evaluated at a school that specialized in children with disabilities. The school encouraged him to do whatever he wanted.

He enrolled in public school and graduated from the Academy of Richmond County. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1974 from Mount Vernon College in Ohio. He also learned to drive a car as a college student.

"Ever since my childhood, I felt the call to help handicapped persons," said the Rev. Taylor, who formed Augusta's Exceptional Bowling League, the first in the United States sanctioned by the Men's National Bowling Congress and the Women's International Bowling Congress.

As a youth, he first thought the best way to help handicapped people was through changing laws, so he wanted to be a lawyer. But as he grew older, he decided attitudes, more than laws, needed changing. "Thus I chose the ministry as a profession," said the Rev. Taylor, who was ordained in 1984 after graduating from the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio. He affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1989.

Doctors, parents, teachers and others tend to emphasize disabilities, rather than the abilities of handicapped persons "to the point that such a person actually believes he/she can't do anything," he said.

He saw early in his career the need to meet the spiritual needs of disabled persons in an organized way. "One of the first things I did was to help my clients memorize a 'Special Person's Creed,"' he said. "It goes, 'I thank you, God, that you so loved me that you created me special, with talents and abilities that no one else has to give to the rest of the world."'

Community Outreach's mission is mostly to adults with restricted mobility and lack of independence because of difficulties such as cerebral palsy or paraplegia. Each request is evaluated individually. It receives support from private or church donors, rather than agencies, such as the United Way, or the government.

After more than 20 years of ministry, Mrs. Cawley sees no need to change that, she said. "God is still blessing us greatly."

Louise Taylor, the Rev. Taylor's wife, also has cerebral palsy and has shared his ministry with Community Outreach. She retired from the agency in February.

"Louise writes beautifully. Therefore she was a natural for all my correspondence and writing our newsletter," he said. She also used her accounting background to keep the agency books and her experience as a special education teacher - she holds a master's in education - to help outreach clients.

"What one can't do, the other one can," said Mrs. Cawley, their friend. "It has been amazing to watch the two together. She has more trouble speaking. He has trouble with the movement. She is still able to get the meals on the table and things like that. The two together make a perfect whole."

For more information, call 826-4725. The Community Outreach office is located at Sacred Heart Cultural Center, Suite 308, 1301 Greene St.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.