Essay Non-Fiction posted May 7, 2016

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The power of one, a story of profound influence

A Profound Influence - Janie LaBran

by Mary Wakeford

This speaks to an article I wrote for an employee publication in February 1989 and touched on the message and impact the Special Olympics organization has in fostering the importance of celebrating every life from a global perspective, and the organization's positive influence on my own family.

I am especially grateful for the influence of a woman named Janie LaBran and the impact her life has had on me. I was six years old when Janie was born fifty-four years ago. She survived a difficult birth that left her paralyzed with a severe form of cerebral palsy. Janie is a non-verbal quadriplegic with a bright, witty mind trapped inside an unwilling and spastic body. She is completely dependent on others for every bodily function. In spite of her challenges, she has a spirit and fight within her that resonates with everyone she meets, like Pope John Paul. Yes, that happened.

I met Janie when I was six, and in first grade. Her sister and I became friends while enduring a nun I wrote about in When Hell Found Us. Our families became close as a result of our friendship, and continue to be all these years later.

It was Janie who unwittingly taught me the importance in a human connection in fostering empathy, compassion and the greatest example of love witnessed by her family as they have tended to her every need and whim over the past fifty-five years.

Knowing Janie likely placed me on a path to marry a man exhibiting the same selfless traits and shared devotion in life. My husband has taught the physically handicapped and intellectually challenged for nearly forty years.

Janie's influence in spite of her many challenges have undoubtedly impacted me in a profound way, and guided my instincts in raising a family who embraced the same passion and devotion to those with physical and intellectually challenged. Our son and daughter are following the same career path their father chose decades before, and are steadfast advocates and positive forces in the special education arena.

Today, with my two year old grandson in tow, we'll celebrate athletes competing in the Arizona Special Olympics state games at a high school just a few miles north of the neighborhood where Janie grew up and into my life. Janie's journey undoubtedly holds the key to a third generation sharing her lessons and keeping her story close in heart. My grandson will grow up in a culture of acceptance and inclusion as a result of the seed planted when Janie was born.

As other 'Janie and Jake's' cross our paths along with the remarkable families who love and care for them, we will always remember the first to touch and shape our lives--Janie LaBran. An amazing accomplishment and speaks to the power and influence of one life.

Every life matters and sometimes it is the least likely that make the most powerful statements without uttering a word. Consider finding a chapter in your state and get involved. But be cautioned, the experience and love you will feel is addicting.

This one is for you, Janie. You have in your own unique way created an awareness and fostered the destiny this family has embraced. You are loved, respected and have impacted more lives than you could ever fathom. I love you, brat!



Here is a link that featured Janie in the Arizona Republic after being repeatedly turned down for job interviews. Not one to accept defeat easily, she launched her own business; business cards by Jake.

Janie is #8 in a family of daughters. Her dad, an FBI agent, never got a son, so Janie took the nickname Jake. She is quite the personality, a mix of spunk, determination, and a strong side of sarcasm. Janie is a force to contend with, to be sure. An inspiration impacting lives for over five decades. She has traveled extensively; mingled with a pope; rode the Colorado rapids through the Grand Canyon on a raft. How many unrestricted people can add these adventures to their bucket list? I surely cannot!

Raymond S. Kellis High School in Glendale is hosting the Special Olympics games throughout the weekend. If you have an opportunity, come and witness these amazing athletes, families, teachers, staff and coaches that make a difference in the lives of every participant and by example, are setting the standard for the next generation.

Our son was five years old when I wrote the featured article in 1989. Twenty seven years later, Michael is a driving force for the intellectually challenged and physically handicapped, and has been internationally recognized by Dr. Tim Shriver as a leader in the unified program, teaming regular education and special education students as partners. Dr. Shriver is CEO of the Special Olympics Organization and the son of founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
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© Copyright 2018. Mary Wakeford All rights reserved. Registered copyright with FanStory.
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