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Working wonders at Baddour.


A Chance to Win

Trying is trying, dear God.

Let me soar in the face of the wind

Up, up like the lark

Let me pose and sing to the cold storm

With wings that endure.

Let the silver rain wash the dust from my arms--

Let me soar, let me sing

Let the storm, like me, carefree and swift.

Let it profit and drive me. Joyce Holaday--Baddour Resident

In Senatobia, Mississippi, directly south of Memphis, Tennessee, 41-year-old Joyce composes poetry with energy and delight. David Trivett, a recognized pianist, scurries to the chapel to practice and compose. And far north of the center in York, Maine, Tom, a recent graduate of Baddour, hurries off to his full-time job in a nursing home.

David, Phyllis and Tom share a bond--they are retarded. They also share a common victory--all were once judged incompetent or at best minimally productive. But they were offered a chance to win, and winning they are.

The founding of the center reads like an old-time folk story. In the early 1900s, Paul Baddour, a tall, dark, zestful man of Lebanese descent with a flair for merchandising, established a chain of hometown variety stores and called them simply "Fred's Discount Store.' Today they spread throughout the South and maintain much of the comfort of the country store. Wanting to leave a meaningful legacy to honor God and serve man, Baddour designated $300,000 in his will for a worthy work to be chosen by his heirs.

Upon his father's death, Paul Baddour, Jr., decided to build a haven for moderately retarded adults. With the support of the entire family and many friends, the endowment was increased to more than $1 million. The Baddour family also donated 100 acres of rolling countryside in Senatobia for the site of the Baddour Center. Today the campus is home, school and work site for approximately 100 people, from 19 states, who live and work together as a large, extraordinary family.

Few medical experts, educators or parents of the retarded believed possible the wealth of creativity flowing from a community of men and women once labeled minimal in intelligence and low in potential. Webster's describes retardation as "limitations in ability.' True, these limitations exist in all the residents but at Baddour do not dictate their lives. When these people find a closed door, they go through a window.

Visitors at Baddour find a community of rolling lawns and gardens, neat colonial homes and a bustling small industrial community. Their greenhouse, one of the largest in the Memphis area, produces flowers by the bushel marketed throughout Tennessee and Mississippi. Their T-shirt factory creates fine-quality, superbly colored shirts. The chapel, set in the midst of the center, is alive with the sound of Baddour's traveling troubadours, "The Miracles.' The atmosphere, undeniably enthusiastic, hopeful and energized, is akin to that of the old-time college campus.

The Miracles are no ordinary glee club. They sing out of gratitude to God for their opportunity to be someone special. Sybil Roberts, their director, puts them through their paces and demands concentration and quality. And quality they give! Tramping to Robert Schuller's in California, back to the "700 Club' in Virginia, wherever people will hear their message --they sing. On buses, in schools, churches--they give their all in an outpouring of song that defies description.

Last fall, just before going on the air at the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club' in Virginia Beach, Virginia, one of The Miracles, a gentle lady with Down's syndrome, led the group in a prayer that told it all: "Thank you, God, for making me just the way I am.' After their performance the TV audience jammed the one-line telephone at the center's switchboard with hundreds of calls, and the post office was inundated with letters of congratulations.

The people behind Baddour are unusual. Dr. Joe Earp, the director, an intense, caring professional, governs the community with an expertise intertwined with constant hope. He emphasizes the feeling of community and the value of work and worship and is fully aware that these special people have families with special needs.

"The parents and family of the retarded often fear giving their family members to any institution. Their feelings of guilt over their inability to care for their own inhibit the most caring from investigating alternatives,' says Earp. Surprisingly, the parents themselves have become the strongest supporters of the center.

Baddour has created an environment in which the residents gain a happy consciousness of who they are. Their self-government--a minidemocracy with mayors and a council-- the daily work assignments, the curriculum and worship are the building blocks of a new experience. Residents become members of a community that recognizes them as persons--encouraging their strengths and supporting them in their weaknesses. They have achieved individual maturity.

The mail brings daily tidings from families--heartrending letters, filled with deep concern for the family members, reflecting the difficulty of separation and filled with gratitude for the alternative to isolated home care.

One mother wrote to Dr. Earp: "My cuddled and hovered-over child has become a responsible adult.' Another confided: "With my second daughter, we thought that she had received all possible medical help, psychological testing and personal care. She and I studied hard together, and she was a happy, well-adjusted child at home, but we came to a point when my husband and I realized that she would have to have care beyond what we were able to offer. . . . When she accepted and I moved her in, I drove from there with tears in my eyes. I have never been disappointed! My special daughter has a full life.'

The townspeople of Senatobia have opened their homes and their businesses to the residents in an expression of care for their neighbors. Ray Starr, a builder in town, became aware of one retarded boy's plight after the deaths of the boy's parents. Starr had persuaded Ricky to work alongside him on construction jobs. But Starr wanted him to have more. He took him for testing and believed that Ricky could be brought back into society with special support. Says Starr, "The entire congregation of our church prayed before we took Ricky to the center for his first evaluation. After his initial session, Ricky told the director that all he wanted was a chance, and Dr. Earp said, "You've got it.' And he took it and ran!'

In many ways the Baddour people shine in comparison to the "normal person.' They see goals and go straight toward them. Tina had always dreamed of being a model. She persevered, studied daily and today models in numerous fashion shows. Jack was told he could never compete in sports. Today, after hours of special practice, he plays football, basketball and softball. Joy wanted to serve the sick but thought that she had little to give. She now volunteers and signs with "The Miracles.' Joyce is a fine poet. It is difficult to read

Joyce Holaday's penmanship, but once it's deciphered, her sensitivity is astounding. Once understood, the retarded are unique, sensitive people who are capable of extraordinary achievement.

The vocationally trained rise early in the morning, work until noon and often go on into the afternoon to complete their tasks. The profit from the sale of the items produced is directed back into the center's operations. Production in a normal community is only 18 percent above the production figures at Baddour. The production efficiency of the center's residents is twice that of retarded workers at other shelter workshops doing similar work.

"Our residents have the same needs as normal people,' says Al Cannon, their friend and chaplain. "They are different in some ways. They do not fake smiles when they dislike you, and they don't hold grudges.'

A growing number of residence homes throughout the country are attempting to solve the problems of retardation. Some are small cottage homes, others enormous institutions. All experience the ongoing challenge of unlocking the gift within.

Buddy is 51, one of the old-timers. He was the first mayor of Baddour's community government. Sitting at a table and gazing out over the green of the Mississippi hills, he confides, "I love the residents and I hope to stay at the center always. Then I hope to live with God.'

Photo: The Baddour Center campus of rolling lawns and gardens and neat Colonial houses is school, home and work site for approximately 100 members of an extraordinary family.

Photo: Dr. Joe Earp, executive director (above left), and Paul Baddour, chairman of the board (above right), emphasize community feeling and the value of work and worship. Martha Waterson and Viola Graham (right), in the Baddour greenhouse, take pride in producing flowers for market.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:community for the retarded
Author:Holt, Carol
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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