Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Texas grandmother praised for stepping up, raising granddaughter with Down syndrome to be successful high school grad

From Jon Mark Beilue's column in the Amarillo Globe-News:

Somewhere among the seats of the Clarendon High School auditorium on May 29 will sit Donna Hall (pictured). With five grown children, she's been to a few of these graduations before, but the last child graduated more than 20 years ago.

It's graduation season. Go to to see photographs of graduates from area schools. Also, you can upload your own photos. Be sure to include your name and caption information.

She'll be there for her granddaughter, Sabra Ann Patton (pictured). But it's more than that. Sabra Ann has Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome.

But it's more than that. Though Sabra is her granddaughter, Hall has had full custody of her since she was 5 years old. But it's more than that. For 12 years her husband, Billy, was disabled and he died in January 2007.

"I will say this," said Hall, who is 75. "I would not trade the last 15 years for the world, but I do understand why people have children when they're young. When you start when you're around 60, it's totally different."

Sabra deserves all the accolades she can receive. She has been part of Laura Hummel's functional living class at Clarendon, is mainstreamed in a couple of classes, has a job at the Dairy Queen and has become increasingly independent. Her diploma May 29 will be every bit as genuine as valedictorian Amelia Taylor's.

But here's to her grandmother, too. Donna Hall deserves a hug of the neck for a job well done. How many Donna Halls will anonymously sit in commencement exercises this weekend, content to sit in the background with a camera and a smile with their reward in a cap and gown?

It's challenging enough these days in a two-parent family to get a teen through graduation. But what of the single mom, whose deadbeat husband left her years ago to raise the kids for herself? What of the dad, whose wife died when their children were in junior high? What of the aunt, whose sister is strung out on drugs and she is now the guardian? Now that's a challenge.

And what of this great-grandmother who gets partial custody of her 2-year-old grandchild because of a divorce, full custody three years later, and has to not only care for an ailing husband, but now has the challenge of a special-needs child. How easy it is to say that it's not my job because, really, it's not. How hard to persevere and make sure this child gets to this moment on Friday.

"I feel I've done what I should have done," Hall said.

She got custody not long before a photo of Sabra was printed in the paper in January 1998. Hall, at that time, was basically at retirement age. She said she was looking forward to sleeping a bit later, but then she had to be a mother all over again. At that time, she knew she was the best option to raise Sabra.

"I'm sure a lot of people think there's a great deal of difference, but to me, except for my age, it's almost like raising my other five," Hall said. "I just made sure I was there for her, that she was involved in the right things in church and school, met people and did things others did."

Sometimes the best thing a parent - or grandparent - can do is be a rudder, guiding a child through life's turbulent waters. To do that takes energy, for the waves can get rough. To do that takes commitment, especially for a Down syndrome child.

"I have a lot more stamina than I thought I did, and actually more patience," said Hall. "I've learned that I can take things as they come and not let it totally get me down. Some things come along and you wonder if you can handle it, but you can."

Sabra loves school, and loves country music maybe more. She was on the basketball team in junior high, works part time at Dairy Queen and has had dates for the last two proms.

"Yes, I went with Andrew Adams," Sabra said. "Andrew Walter Adams. He's a junior and my boyfriend."

Sabra is at a point where she could be independent, and that is Hall's biggest blessing. It makes every day of those 15 years worth it. Certainly teachers, like Hummel, helped tremendously, but it started with a grandmother who did the right thing, maybe the only thing.

"I love my grandmother so much," Sabra said. "I take care of her. I'm always doing errands for her."

While it can take a village to raise a child, sometimes it takes just one person to make certain above all else that this child won't fail, won't be neglected. Not on my watch. To all the Donna Halls sitting in graduations - and there are more than we think - take a bow. This is your weekend, too.