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COLUMN: Thankful for helpful groups

Last week, the local United Way kicked off its fundraising campaign for the year and I was tremendously impressed — not only by the fabulous food catered by Taylor Grocery during the campaign luncheon — but also by the enthusiasm of those involved with raising money to support all the outstanding agencies that depend on the United Way for funding.

Several members of those partner agencies, as well as individuals who have been assisted by the Oxford-Lafayette County United Way, stood before a large crowd to provide testimonials of what “Living United” means to them.

One in particular that stood out to me was a young man — and I wish now I had jotted his name down — who took the microphone and told the throng in attendance that without the United Way he would not be able to participate in the Special Olympics. His words touched me in a way that brought back a flood of memories of my cousin Jim who was born with Down syndrome.

Jim was the kindest human being I have ever known and his mother, my Aunt Evie, was the sweetest lady who must have been born with more patience than Job.

As a youngster in the ’70s and ’80s, my family would visit Aunt Evie and Jim at their home in Drew. Aunt Evie was my Dad’s aunt and more like a grandmother to my brothers and I. And boy, could she cook. She came up with food to this day my Mom still makes. Now I’m distracted.

At any rate, we would visit Aunt Evie and Jim, who was in his 20s, and had some of the coolest toys that a 9-year-old boy could play with. Jim, who always seemed to have a smile on his face, was not shy about sharing them, although on occasion, my youngest brother who was around 3 at the time, would often get in the way of our playing in the floor and Jim would yell “Jan, come get baby” to my mother. Jim would, of course, give my brother a toy to play with while he and my younger brother continued our playing.

Back then, Jim stood out in a tiny town like Drew and I’m sure he was not totally welcomed and I’m sure he was picked on by other children in the neighborhood because there were not many others “like him” despite his kind disposition. There were no Special Olympics for him to participate in and he lived out his days with my Aunt Evie until he passed away at nearly 30 years of age.

That’s why when I see or hear stories like the young man who stood on that stage last week and showed such enthusiasm for the generosity of the United Way, I am thankful for such organizations and the kindness of individuals who support the United Way and agencies such as the Special Olympics.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of the EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com.