Take a stroll with Caroline on her Journey of HOPE with United Ability

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United Ability
The Hornsbys. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

On August 28th, United Ability will hold its annual Journey of HOPE fundraiser presented by Medical Properties Trust and honoring the decades of support from our building and volunteer partner, Brasfield & Gorrie, live from the new Red Mountain Theatre Arts campus.

It is an event like no other in the Magic City. For one evening, our community comes together to celebrate the thousands of journeys taken by loved ones with disabilities and their families who benefit from United Ability.

Recently, I was blessed to meet a family about their own special journey with United Ability. 

Please join me. 

The Hornsbys

United Ability
The Hornsbys strolling Aldridge Gardens. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

I first got a glimpse of Caroline Hornsby, when she stepped out of her family’s minivan at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. 

About to turn ten in October, she carefully walked to the back of the hatchback while her mother, Meredith, spotted her. As I approached, I saw Jonathan, her dad, lift a wheelchair out of the vehicle. Once it was ready, he lovingly helped Caroline climb in. I then introduced myself to the family in the parking lot.  After some small talk, we strolled together around the gardens. 

Gardens and Geese

Aldridge Garden
Frank Fleming’s “Come Along” ducklings at Aldridge Gardens. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

Aldridge Gardens is a special place for the Hornsbys. Jonathan and Meredith went on some of their first dates there before they married. Caroline loves to visit and watch the geese and the goslings. The gardens and the geese are their sanctuary.

Every Step of the Way

Born with damage to her brain due to an intrauterine stroke, and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Caroline was enrolled in United Ability’s Early Intervention and Hand in Hand Early Leaning Programs. Over the years, she has made countless visits to the Ability Clinic and received 100s of therapy sessions. United Ability has always been by their side.

“We don’t know where we’d be without United Ability,” Meredith said, sitting with Jonathan on one of the beautifully crafted Aldridge Gardens park benches.

United Ability
The Hornsbys strolling Aldridge Gardens. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

“We were told Caroline would never walk, never talk and never develop past a cognitive age of about three months. We truly believe that she has come as far as she has, because of United Ability — the services they provide, the care they provided for her and the guidance that they’ve given us.”

Today, Caroline can walk on her own and talk through a speech generating communication device. 

She even has her own Instagram and YouTube account called Caroline Chronicles. On Instagram, she has 1335 followers and her account describes her as a “rambunctious 9 year old diva of magnificent proportions.”  

A pretty far cry from what her doctors predicted.

Caroline's Chronicles
Screenshot of Caroline Chronicles on Instagram

Dad’s Group

The journey is not just Caroline’s. 

“Being a special needs parent is oftentimes very isolating,” added Meredith. “We can’t always do things that other families do. A lot of times we feel very alone and lonely. Through United Ability, we’ve been able to make friends and create those bonds that have given us a lifeline.”

For Jonathan, the United Ability “Dad’s Group” which meets every first Tuesday of every month has been a lifesaver.

Dread River
Dads of Kids with Special Needs at Dread River. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

“As a dad, we kind of think we’re supposed to be able to fix everything — and this is something we can’t. It’s a support group where we’ll get together and talk about football and then the conversation will move to how my daughter needs this or my son needs this from school, how do I get that?”

Meredith insists Jonathan go out with guys every month.

“I tell him he has to go. When he comes home, his entire demeanor, his mood is good. He’s just happier,” she said.

Community

united ability
Teachers and staff at United Ability’s Hand In Hand. Photo courtesy of United Ability

United Ability serves more than 5,400 individuals with disabilities and their families annually. Thousands of children and adults with disabilities and their families and friends depend on United Ability to guide them on their journey.

“One thing that we love about United Ability is that they don’t focus on what Caroline can’t do, they focus on what she can do. It’s always a positive experience, even when it’s difficult, even when there are tears, even when we are confused and at our wits end. They are working hard to make things positive,” concluded Meredith.

Journey of HOPE


Join the Hornsbys at United Ability’s Journey of HOPE on August 28th at 6:00 p.m for a joyful evening of inspiration and more of Caroline’s story .This year’s event will be virtual and live-streamed featuring world-class entertainment and more.

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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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