Photo by Corinne Nicholson
On a recent Tuesday morning, Cecelia Hart shows a group of developmentally challenged adults how to make a Christmas ornament. The decoration is simple, just pipe cleaner and small colored beads. But the act of making it is significant.
"It's theirs. It's not something somebody else created. They are proud of it," said Hart said. "They also learn to follow directions and problem solving skills."
For the past four decades, Cecelia Hart has touched the lives of special-needs children and adults through her volunteerism and employment.
Rockdale County recently recognized Hart's efforts working with the special needs population by awarding her the first-ever Rockstar Award. The Rockdale County Rockstar Award is designed to honor those residents who show extraordinary leadership, community involvement and educational interest, and who have accomplished a unique or heroic act.
Rockstar Committee Chairperson Lamar Sims said the
committee chose Hart from six nominees. He said the committee witnessed the "devotion and love for what she does" when they observed Hart working with the developmentally challenged.
"From that moment on, I was in love with her," Sims said.
Hart volunteers between 20 and 30 hours a week aiding the special-needs community, whether it's in planning, fund raising or coaching for Rockdale Special Olympics or visiting one of four day centers for the developmentally challenged.
Hart is also employed part-time by the day centers that serve the developmentally challenged, including Our Place, I Sign For You, and United Cerebral Palsy, all in Rockdale, and Independent Enterprises in Newton County.
"After my family, they come first," said Hart, who has also served on the Rockdale Cares Board, an organization which provides support for the developmentally challenged, for five years.
She said she considers the people she helps her friends and that she tries to give them the attention they deserve, as they are often overlooked by mainstream society.
"There are so many things I enjoy. It's the unconditional love. When you work with them, it's acceptance, it's a willingness to learn, to take people at face value rather than looking into hidden meanings and agendas. They take you for what you're worth," Hart said.
"They don't look at you for what you can do for them, but what you can do for them is appreciated and accepted. They're non-judgemental."
Over the past eight years since Rockdale Special Olympics has been under her leadership of Hart, the program has not only increased the number of participating athletes from 30 to 250, but has also expanded the sports choices. Athletes may choose from basketball, bocce ball, softball, bowling, aquatics, golf, floor hockey and track and field.
In October, Hart and 82 others, including 30 athletes plus coaches and volunteers, traveled to Statesboro for the Fall Games, a weekend-long event.
"It offers them an outlet for their talent for sports they don't get to do in school," said Hart. "They have the opportunity to be successful no matter what they're doing."
Hart encourages other community members to volunteer, especially with the developmentally challenged population. Bake a cake and bring it to a center, she said, or bring some art supplies and lead a drawing session.
"It's the most satisfying thing in the world because there's so many things you can do," she said.