Be inspired: Six 2019 United Ability stories to make you smile


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She meeting America’s Got Talent finalist Brian King Joseph at the 2019 Journey of Hope. Photo from United Ability’s Facebook page

I’ve got to admit it. I’m hooked.

Out of the more than 1300 stories I’ve written for Bham Now, the ones I enjoy most are about the people at United Ability.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote my first United Ability story after taking a personal tour of the campus with 2017 Journey of Hope honoree Dr. Mark Cohen.

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Dr. Mark Cohen, this year’s United Ability Journey of Hope honoree. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

We visited Hand in Hand Early Learning Program, the Ability Clinic under the direction of Dr. Charley Law, and the LINCPoint Adult Day Program. A tour that was supposed to take 30 minutes to an hour lasted 2 hours.

This might sound a little corny, but that day I fell in love with the people at United Ability.

Simply put, it is the most inspirational place in Birmingham.

Learn how you can support United Ability  – HERE.

Stories that touched us in 2019

In 2019, I wrote 11 stories about United Ability. This holiday season, we wanted to share the ones that touched us the most deeply in a year review.

Join us on that journey. Here are my favorites

Story #1—Move over Bo Jackson. Meet two-sport athlete Chris Biggins at United Ability’s abiliTEE on April 25

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United Ability’s Chris Biggins (in the center) readies for the abiliTEE on April 25. Photo courtesy of United Ability

Calling Chris Biggins the next Bo Jackson is not hyperbole. Name an athlete that is both a professional golfer and downhill skier? What I liked most about this story is the friendship between Chris and Dr. Charlie Law, United Ability’s Chief Medical Officer.

“He’s like a doctor and a friend at the same time. Our appointment doesn’t end when I leave his office. He’s always constantly thinking about what he can do. You can tell he’s not just showing up and blasting through patients. He genuinely cares for all of us.” ~ Chris Biggins

Story #2—United Ability employs over 70 people with disabilities in Birmingham. Find out how they do it.

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Two of United Ability’s most beloved employees Little Ced and Big Ced. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

As an avid recycler, United Ability’s Gone for Good program interests me. It was a real treat to be given an insider’s tour of their operation. Several numbers impressed me most about the program.

70 employees.
44,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds of paper recycled weekly.

I also loved meeting Big Ced and Little Ced.

Story #3 —‘It’s Me!’ Four-year-old Claire Haynie, the face of the United Ability car tag campaign

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The Haynie family. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

One of the biggest perks of working on United Ability stories is meeting the kids and their families. This year in particular, two girls were a joy to work with this year—Claire Haynie and Morgan Payne.

One of my favorite stories I heard from a parent in 2019 came from Claire’s dad when he described  Claire’s daily reaction seeing herself on the banner at United Ability.

Here is an excerpt from the story:

“Claire’s father Jason concluded, there is a big banner out in front of United Ability with Claire on it. Every time we drop her off she points at it and gleefully says… “it’s me.”

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Claire Haynie

 Story #4-See how a t-shirt can make a difference in Birmingham with families like the Paynes. Celebrate United Ability Day on May 17.

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

I will always remember my visit with the Payne family and watching (and singing) “baby shark” videos with Morgan. I didn’t want to leave.

Her mom and dad are so proud of her.

Story #5—See how Project Search with United Ability finds success in jobs and life

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Ethan Major, Aaron Grant and CamRon Hamilton working at UAB Hospital. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Through Project Search, three young men—Ethan Major, CamRon Hamilton, and Aaron Grant are making sure patients throughout the UAB Hospital System receive the appropriate medications.

The work they do is remarkable—remembering all the codes and steps to get in many cases life-saving medicines to the right place.

Story #6—Dorothy Levy, founder of United Ability turns 107 this week. Wish her a Happy Birthday Birmingham!

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Dorothy Levy helped found United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham, which is now United Ability. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

In 2019, United Ability founder Dorothy Levy passed away at 107 years old. I had the pleasure to celebrate Dorothy’s 106th & 107th birthday. This year, I will always remember her outlasting me—dancing with all the adults at LincPoint for a full hour! Nobody was going to pull her away. It was like she knew this was going to be her last visit at LincPoint and United Ability.

It was a celebration. One United Ability has been having for 71 years.

And More…..

I can’t omit the other stories.

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Spastic Aid of Alabama (now United Ability) telethon “fishbowl” in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of United Ability

Amazing Year

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United Ability superheroes at Hand in Hand. Photo from Kati Maddox

It has been an amazing year. An unforgettable year. And I can’t wait to write more stories for 2020.

The best journey I’ve ever taken was that morning at United Ability with Dr. Mark Cohen.

For 2020 join United Ability and if you can support them with an end of the year gift. They need our help. Take it from me, it’s the best journey you will ever take.

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Pat Byington
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.

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