Disability or Different Ability?
Forty-eight-year-old mentally challenged Hank Nichols has found a warm welcome at St. Francis Episcopal Church. The church is Franciscan spiritually and "takes in everybody." An article by Mary A. Jacobs published in The Dallas Morning News spotlighting Hank quotes Elise Mitchell, a member there: "Among people with disabilities, I think those with mental disabilities have the toughest time being accepted. They can't always communicate well." Periodically, they are asked to leave a church and are often tolerated but not really accepted.
Hank is a one-man campaign for regular attendance. If anyone misses even one Sunday, Hank will call and ask, "Where were you?" Member Ray Pearce Jr. says: "It's very endearing. He cares, and he pays attention."
For over 20 years, Hank has held a job with the grounds crew at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He received an award for punctuality. One morning, he was hit by a car, "got up, dusted himself off and got to work on time," says Sister Mary Alice, counselor-trainer at Storey Lane Chateau, an independent-living center for mentally challenged adults. He participates in drama, chorale and swimming at Bachman Therapeutic Center and competes in the Special Olympics. His "different ability" includes an uncanny gift for remembering numbers. He rattles off the phone numbers of church members and associates without a pause and knows the names and birthdays of each of the church's 50 to 60 children. Church member Tom Pruit says: "I have seven children, and he knows all their birthdays. He always sends cards and calls on their birthdays." Adult church members ruefully add that Mr. Nichols also knows -- and often recites -- everybody's age.
Yes, Hank has a different ability. But the church is richer and better off because he's there. He certainly gives all of us something to smile about!
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