Staff at the Birdie Thornton Center have gone to great lengths to provide plenty of opportunities for the people they serve to still interact and explore during the COVID-19 pandemic, and when a staff member was injured during a recent outing, one of the adults in their care came to the rescue.
The incident occurred during a visit to what BTC visitors and volunteers call "Fireman's Park," because of its close proximity to Athens Fire & Rescue Station No. 1. Officially labeled the Athens-Limestone Fitness Park, it's a favored stop for the adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities that make up the BTC community.
Justin Kennedy is a member of that community, and he said he was with two other people and his driver, Rita Enskat, when they stopped at the park last week so Enskat could eat breakfast. When she finished, she asked Kennedy if he minded staying with the others while she took a bathroom break.
"I said, 'Sure, I'll be OK with it,'" Kennedy said. "Then I looked down at my phone, and I heard a big thump, and she had fell face-first on her face."
Kennedy said he tried to ask her questions, but Enskat wouldn't respond at first. When she did lift her head, Kennedy said her nose "was pouring blood."
Luckily, in addition to getting to visit BTC, Kennedy has spent "a long time" working with the Elkmont Volunteer Fire Department and took first aid classes at the Limestone County Career Technical Center, so he knew just what to do.
He rushed to the Athens fire station next door and enlisted the help of first responders there to tend to Enskat. Enskat told The News Courier she had broken her foot and nose in the fall, and she praised Kennedy for his help.
"Justin was right there," she said. "He jumped right up and took charge."
While Enskat was being encouraged to visit the emergency room for additional treatment, Kennedy called the BTC to let them know what had happened.
"I called Miss Joy (Cox) up here and told her to get there quick because Miss Rita (fell)," Kennedy said.
When word of Kennedy's actions got round, the Birdie Thornton Center decided to honor him by naming him their new safety officer. He also received a certificate of heroism from the Limestone County Commission.
"I was really thankful for it," Kennedy said. "I was surprised that I was getting that other award, because I never knew I was going to get that other award. ... God blessed me with family and friends to come see me get that award."
Cox, who serves as the acting program director at BTC, said Kennedy will get to help the center with required emergency and safety drills as part of the center's safety committee.
"I will train everybody how to help people," Kennedy said. "I'm so glad they named me that here. I can help them on points about safety and all, too."
He said his time at the tech school and with the Elkmont VFD are a big factor in him being able to help others now.
"I appreciate what they have taught me to help people," Kennedy said. "I love to help people that's either hurt or in need and stuff like that."