See how a t-shirt can make a difference in Birmingham with families like the Paynes. Celebrate United Ability Day on May 17.

United Ability Day

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United Ability Day
Jason, Sophie and Morgan Payne wearing the 2019 United Ability Day t-shirt. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

I knew immediately that I was at the right house in Gardendale, when I saw Morgan Payne, proud mother of Sophie, standing in her driveway wearing her 2019 United Ability Day t-shirt.

Morgan greeted me warmly, saying “let’s see Sophie” while walking with me toward the entrance of her home.

I was visiting the Payne family, to take photos and write a story promoting the upcoming 2019 United Ability Day on Friday, May 17 (t-shirts need to be ordered by Friday, May 10th).

Meeting Sophie

United Ability Day
Morgan and Sophie Payne. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Over the past year and a half, I’ve written more than a dozen stories about the inspiring work and people at United Ability. This was the first time I was welcomed into a home to write about a family and their personal journey with United Ability.

It was an unforgettable visit.

Morgan led me directly to Sophie who has cerebral palsy. She is like any other 7-year old who just came home from school; Sophie was watching a popular cartoon with the addictive tune “Baby Shark.”

Using her eye-gaze device, she was changing back and forth to numerous versions of the cartoon and people singing the song.

Initially, she was shy. Let’s get real; I was interrupting her cartoon. However, after it ended, we all said “hello” together, and Sophie looked up at me in the eyes and gave me the most expressive smile, much like her mother’s warm greeting in the driveway.

Payne Family Journey

United Ability Day
Morgan and Jason Payne promoting the 2019 United Ability t-shirts. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

After meeting Sophie, we were joined by Jason, her father. The three of us – Morgan, Jason, and I sat around the kitchen table for the interview.

The first thing I observed was the way Morgan and Jason lovingly talked about Sophie and the family’s journey. They made it clear, it has not been easy, but in every way, they feel blessed and supported.

Before the Paynes discovered United Ability nearly three years ago, Sophie had received treatments and therapies in Central Georgia and Huntsville. While living in Huntsville, they met Dr. Charlie Law, United Ability’s Chief Medical Officer and physician who oversees The Ability Clinic. Along with his work in Birmingham, Dr. Law visits clinics from Huntsville to Mobile supporting places that treat children and adults with special needs.

It was because of Law, the Paynes learned about United Ability and decided to move from Huntsville to Birmingham so that Sophie could access United Ability’s services.

Team of Advocates

According to Jason and Morgan, one of the great things about United Ability is that they have nearly every service a family may need all in one place This includes including speech, physical and occupational therapies, and early intervention. By providing this comprehensive care in one location, families can spend less time pursuing services through multiple agencies. The dedicated staff also advocates and collaborates with other agencies such as Children’s Rehab Services for the children and adults.

It was in therapy services at United Ability that it was determined that Sophie needed a more sophisticated device.

The Paynes recalled how Sophie’s speech therapist at United Ability, Meredith Hankins, helped explore how a more complex communication device would enable Sophie to better connect to her community. After the device was obtained, Meredith then went to Sophie’s school and helped integrate the use of her communication device into her academic and social activities. Today, she has one of the best communication devices available with access to more than 5,000 words and has the vocabulary capabilities of adult speech. It will empower Sophie to lead a more meaningful life.

“She really believes in Sophie, she saw a spark,” said Morgan. “They calm my fears. They are a friend to me.”

Team of Caregivers

Beyond everyday therapy, United Ability also supports children with special needs who require surgery and benefit from support during recovery. Last year, Sophie had major hip surgery. United Ability was there for her.

“They brought our Sophie back,” described Morgan. It was a painful recovery, but we completely trusted them, their guidance and advice. They got us through.”

The Photoshoot

United Ability’s Sophie Payne. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

After the interview with Jason and Morgan, I shot photos of the family and a video for this story. Within minutes, Sophie was no longer shy. We all laughed and smiled while donning the 2019 United Ability Day shirts.

United Ability Day – Order your t-shirt by May 10

For decades, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham, which is now United Ability celebrates one day in the spring – United Ability Day – by wearing specially made commemorative t-shirts at work and in the community.

It is one of the primary fundraisers for United Ability.

“The impact United Ability has on families is profound,” added Jason. “These shirts are made for us. It has a special place in our hearts.”

Whether you purchase one t-shirt or 50 shirts for your entire office, church or community group. it will make a difference in the lives of families such as the Paynes.

Please remember the deadline to order the t-shirts is Friday, May 10th. Send us your photos hello@bhamnow.com or tag us on social @bhamnow on Friday, May 17th in your United Ability shirt!

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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.