One Monticello Life: Angela ChildressOctober 24th, 2010 by Mandy Moss
Vernie and James Childress welcomed their first and only child, Angela, into the world on September 27, 1965. Angela’s household was a very stable environment where spirituality was prevalent and everything was in order. With a reverend as a father, and a mother with the same strong Christian values, she was raised to be mannerly, thoughtful, and to depend on God for everything.
“In our household you treated people the way you wanted to be treated,” Angela explained. She went on to say, “My dad gave me what I wanted, and Mom was the disciplinarian. She wanted me to learn how to earn everything. I was a big daddy’s girl, so Mom became the more strict one. Dad was my best friend.”
This close relationship with her pastor father made telling her family she was pregnant, out of wedlock, a very difficult event for Angela.
“I was an adult, but it was still so hard. I was so scared to tell them but Dad said, “You’re mine. You are my child.” Angela’s father explained that forgiveness is always there for mistakes with God, and with him as her earthly father. Her parents loved her, and supported her.
With the birth of her son, Michael, life changed a lot. But, the biggest change would come in 1992, with having her 17 month old son diagnosed as autistic.
“I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn’t know what. He would lay flat on his back and watch the ceiling fan for what seemed like hours. He wouldn’t roll a truck like a normal toddler would, he’d flip it upside down and spin the wheels. He didn’t walk or talk, and he acted as though he couldn’t hear. That’s when I took him to the doctor for testing.”
Angela learned that her son had autism at the James L. Dennis Developmental Center in Little Rock. She said her reaction was, “What is autism?” “They gave me a big packet… that’s how I started my journey.”
One of the hardest parts of having her son be autistic is the way society views him. “He taps and talks to himself, and the way society sees him… they say “he’s crazy!” We know he’s not crazy, and he knows he’s not crazy.”
Even normal events for most families, like attending church, can be very hard for families with autistic children, according to Ms. Childress.
“Going to church is hard because of the noise stimulation and he can’t sit still. And, I can’t tell you how many horrible times I’ve had in Wal-Mart with all of the people, lights, and stimulation in there. People would look at me when he’d start screaming or having a tantrum like, “get that kid under control” and some would say I should spank him, but they just didn’t understand what was going on. He just had to get out of there.”
Angela said that her son going to school was full of challenges. As she learned more about autism, she was able to advocate for her son, and she had a lot of help along the way.
“Our angels in the school were Angela Jackson, Annette Knowles, Vera Owens, and Kenny Pennington. They understood, they were there as a support system in the school, and they didn’t see everything he did wrong as a negative. They would just call and explain the situation to me, and we would work together to solve problems.”
Angela is proud of her sons recent graduation from Monticello High School saying, “He graduated from high school… do you know that when we first found out he was autistic, I thought he would end up in an institution? Honestly, if I didn’t have family support, I don’t think he would have done so well.”
Today, Angela pays it all forward as an advocate for a family in Woodlawn and their autistic child.
“I help them get what they need from the school. The mom called me after I told her exactly what to ask for from her school and said the school asked her, “How did you know all of that?”"
Her advise to parents of autistic children in school? “Make sure to document everything you want them to do on the IEP, and hold them to it.”
Angela uses all of her upbringing and life experiences in her daily job at the Department of Human Services. She began working there in 1991 as a clerical secretary. Two months later she was approached about working the window at the Department of Children and Families. She laughed and said, “At the time I didn’t want to work the window, because honestly, I didn’t like people very much. I wasn’t social like I am today.” When Angela explained this to her boss, Judy Ferrell, Mrs. Ferrell had a very easy answer to the problem. “She told me to start greeting our customers or pack up and go home. So I started working the window! I did it for two months. If she wouldn’t have forced me, I wouldn’t be here, in this job, today.”
In 2007 Angela began working as a Health Service Worker for DHS, and this is her current title.
“I maintain medical records for foster children as soon a they come into care. It’s really important to be meticulous in this job because let’s say a child comes into care, and I put them into your home, and I never found out they are allergic to strawberries. That would be horrible! I’m not perfect, but I’m a perfectionist. So, I go back and forth talking to the children’s doctors, parents, and anyone that has cared for them to construct the most clear medical history I can to present to their foster families.”
Angela says she loves her job and helping children.
“I love children, they draw towards me, especially special needs children. I thank God for putting me in this job. If I had more people to help advocate for special needs children, we could help the problem.”
She looks at her family and life growing up and says that it helps her sympathize with the families she works with. “I realize that I was never brought up around drugs, alcohol, or abuse… and these people just need to be taught how to be good parents.”
Angela has even gained a god-child from her work with families. “He came through and I got really attached. I talked to his mom and she agreed to let me be his god-parent so I could keep a close relationship with him.”
Advocating for foster and special needs children isn’t the only thing Angela is passionate about. With the death of her father in October of 2009 from congestive heart failure, she explained that he had medications he had to take, and how expensive they were, even after insurance helped pay for them.
With the help of Reginia Hawkins, the Foster Care Liaison at DHS, Angela is creating a non-profit titled the James H. Childress No Troubled Hearts Memorial Fund. She said that she knows her father would never want anyone’s heart to be troubled, physically or emotionally, because of not being able to afford their medications. All donations to this fund will go directly to helping needy families afford their heart medications.
“People won’t have to wait to get their medications. We’ll be able to just pull out the checkbook.” – Angela
Angela Childress dedicates her daily life to serving her community, her family, and everyone in need. This is why it is our honor to present her as this weeks One Monticello Life.
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