A life-changing organization. Be a part of United Ability’s Journey of Hope Gala

United Ability
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United Ability
Left to right: Mark Cohen, Cedric Scott and Charles Hood. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

It was a typical assignment. Interview Dr. Mark Cohen, this year’s honoree at United Ability’s Journey of Hope gala slated for August 4th at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center.

We sat down at his home, I turned on my tape recorder, and Cohen politely asked me, “How much time do you have?”

Taken a little bit aback, I stuttered and answered, “I’ve got time.”

Cohen then said, “I was just thinking, the best way to do this would be for me to take you out there and give you a tour and let you see what United Ability does and what this Journey of Hope is trying to accomplish for our technology and therapy and why technology and therapy is so important.”

He then added, “You can put it on a brochure and you can send it in a letter, but it doesn’t really convey what is done. How our early learning program is able to care for the children that have the most severe disabilities and the most need. And how important it is for them to start receiving therapy and educational services as early as six weeks.”

He was right.

So, instead of a quick 20-minute interview in a living room, Cohen and I jumped into my car, and after a few minutes talking with him, I recognized that I was about to embark over the next 2 hours on my own personal Journey of Hope courtesy of Mark Cohen.

How Mark Cohen’s Journey began
United Ability
United Ability’s Mark Cohen. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

While traveling to United Ability’s campus, Cohen described how he first got involved with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Birmingham (which is now named United Ability) through his wife Lynne’s work with The Civiettes Club. Those early volunteer efforts led to the Cohen’s serving on (UCP) boards.

In 2000, Cohen retired from the practice of medicine.

“By then, I really had the time to devote to United Cerebral Palsy,” he said.

For the next few years, Cohen became UCP’s first medical director, and it was in that position he hatched a plan to help consolidate medical services for adults and children with special needs.

“I saw that there really was a need for care of adults with special needs. It was not easy for them to access medical care.”

Using connections with UAB, Cohen’s initial efforts led to dental and optometry care programs. Today, as a result of Cohen’s foresight and vision, the Ability Clinic, which Cohen helped establish serves 1500 patients a year. The one-stop health, wellness, and therapy center is efficient and a godsend for families, saving them precious time and resources.

On-campus tour
United Ability campus. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

After a 15 minute ride to the United Ability campus, Cohen and I began our whirlwind tour visiting their facility for children which houses the Early Intervention and Hand in Hand programs. Arriving near noon, the place was quiet. It was nap time. Cohen showed me the state of the art classrooms, the world-class playground with its spongy surface and even the playful sidewalk chalk etchings.

We came upon three therapists having lunch. They talked to us about the holistic family centered care United Ability provides all under one roof, which includes physical, speech and occupational therapies.

Cohen drove home the point about United Ability taking a holistic approach to taking care of the children.

“When I say, we take a holistic approach, They are really serious about it. It is just not lip service. All of our therapists are so enthusiastic. They love what they do. They see the impact . These are life-changing measures that are so amazing.”

Meeting United Ability staff along the way
United Ability
Mark Cohen with United Ability staff. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

Walking alongside Cohen from building to building, when people saw him, it was like a celebrity was spotted. There was a genuine joy in seeing him.

One administrator we saw was Tina Shaddix, United Ability’s Chief Operating Officer, who has been with the organization for 38 years.

“Ever since, I’ve been here Mark Cohen has been involved. He has been available to do anything we needed to do. During his stint as medical director, he helped me incredibly. His knowledge and expertise is invaluable. His passion is truly here and for those he serves,” she said.

Visiting LINCPoint Adult Day Program

We ended our tour at LINCPoint, a facility that works with about 160 adults with all kinds of abilities ranging from training classes that provide social and soft skills to job placement and the Good For Gone document destruction and recycling program.

Dr. Cohen was treated like a rockstar when he entered the building and was greeted by Cedric Scott and Charles Hood. After receiving bear hugs from both gentlemen, he looked over to me, smiled and said you better get used to hugs! Cedric and Charles then gave me strong handshakes, followed by hugs.

United Ability
Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.
Ride home

Even though the tour lasted only an hour and a half, it was life-changing. Instead of me reporting on Dr. Mark Cohen’s Journey of Hope, he shared it with me.

What a gift!

On the ride home Cohen summed up why United Ability means so much to him.

“I believe this work is important because we all have our unique abilities. we need to work with each other. Experience each other and really help each other. You gain so much for being involved, you get so much out of it. To me, it is so important. That’s why I choose to spend my time doing this. It is why I’m so honored to be this year’s recipient of this year’s Journey of Hope.”

Join United Ability in honoring Dr. Mark Cohen at the Journey of Hope on August 4 at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center. Get your tickets – HERE.

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Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.