It is with a heavy heart that I have to report on some sad news. In the past couple of weeks Empower Cherokee has lost 3 members of our family. Two people we support and one staff member. Join me in reading this blog and remembering those we have lost. Since January Empower Cherokee staff, participants, and board members have lost 5 supported individuals and 2 staff members along with countless friends and family. We continue to grieve for all of our loved ones as we move forward.
Jeffrey "Jeff" Watterson - Passed 8-17-2019 - A memorial will be held this Friday at 11:00 at Our Lady of
La Salette Catholic Church in Canton GA.
Jeff lived in the group homes owed by empower Cherokee and attended the Main Campus Program for many years. Jeff loved to get out and spend money and was a fierce self advocate. Jeff was not afraid to speak his mind when he experienced injustice for himself or others who he cared for.
Ernest "Ernie" Strickland - Passed 8-30-2019 - Ernie was remembered in a private burial attended by close family and a few friends as was his wishes. Ernie was a long term staff when at the group homes, and most recently he worked at the Main Campus program, Ernie was diagnosed with cancer about three months ago. He was loved by the men he supported and was know as a poet and the music man. He would speak the most beautiful poetry about the people he supported unrehearsed and unscripted. Ernie was a gentle soul and he loved humankind in his own quite way.
John "Lee" Abercrombie - Passed 8-29-2019 - Lee was a long term participant at Empower Cherokee both at the Main Campus and our Eagle Point Location, a memorial will be announced as soon as the family sets a date. Lee's friends and family wrote the following beautiful words in remembrance of the man they loved:
Lee Abercrombie was a very special person to many people. Every time you saw Lee your heart was brightened. There was always a smile. Always a “yes sir” or “yes mam”. He was endlessly happy to see a familiar face and he made you want to be around him. He found joy in small things and let you know it. Lee loved music and to color and to talk with people. He loved getting handshakes from the guys and hugs from the Ladies! He made you want to talk with him.
He went to church at Trinity Presbyterian whenever he could. That is where Lee’s family goes and he will be much missed. Not just by his father Carl but his stepmother Teri, the only real mother he ever had, and brother Mike and by all the Church members. It was always a better service when we saw Lee sitting with his friends from Cherokee House in the front pew smiling at people as they came in.
Lee lived in Cherokee House, a residence for special people who have “challenges”. Lee’s challenge was “Down’s Syndrome”. It may challenge their lives but it creates some of the sweetest, kindest, and most loving and most loved people that were ever born; and Lee was a typical “Down’s baby”. It was usually Lee’s Cherokee House roommates who came to Church with him. Some of the roommates changed but one that didn’t was his lifelong friend DC. Where one was weak the other was strong.
DC would help get Lee’s food at Church functions, helping him to the places he needed to go on occasion when Lee had issues. Lee would explain things to DC. I have never seen two people with more patience or love than these two. I remember one time Lee explaining some complicated building drawings to DC; he did as well as an engineer. In later life Lee became frail and DC was always at Lee’s side supporting him literally and figuratively. Very few people are lucky to have such a strong and complementary friendship as Lee and DC. I worry for DC in his loss and pray he understands Lee is in a better place.
Lee loved music, especially Church music. A few times at Church Lee and his roommates sang in front of the Church, unselfconsciously singing heart and soul to both Jesus and the congregation. While they may not have been the most polished quartet, they had the most heart and feeling; God was singing with them. I cannot imagine the courage Lee and his friends had just to stand in front of our Church and sing. The truth is they sounded just as good as our congregation on a typical song and Lee made his voice heard.
Lee’s life was a good one filled with friends, family and experiences. Lee spent his days at Empower Cherokee (formerly the Cherokee Training Center) where he had a whole other life and set of friends; it was his work life and he colored many drawings and did many word searches. He will be missed there as well.
He led a good and fairly typical life by most standards but it was remarkable in one way for someone like Lee. He got to have both a strong life with his family but also an independent life living in Cherokee House and going to Empower every day. This allowed him to experience so many varied and good things, encounter so many good people, and bring joy into many hearts as an independent person. Lee led a happy life and his father, mother, brother and DC helped him have the best life anyone could have hoped for. We mourn his passing but celebrate his life. We all know that where he is now he is walking with confident steps and very happy in his new life with no limitations. We are better for having known him.