Podcast Transcript: Interview with Taylor Westbrook. Part 2 – 2/21/2019
In Episode 4, Jacklyn continues talking with LiveBeyond’s Johnny’s Kids Coordinator, Taylor Westbrook. He shares about the development of specific special needs children in the program and how individuals can get involved with the ongoing effort.
[0:00] JVB: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to another LiveBeyond podcast. My name is Jacklyn Vanderpool Barnett, and today we’re going to be finishing part two of our interview series with Taylor Westbrook, who is our At-Risk Director in Haiti. Today, we’re gonna be talking a little bit more about the transformation that he has seen in some of these kiddos’ lives since he first came down. So, let’s go ahead and jump right in. So, tell me about some of these stories that you’ve seen from maybe the first time that you came in April 2016 versus now. Like, what are some of, what’s the growth that you’ve seen? And, you know, I I always think of Daphne and Bady, and Pierre Richard and Chenielo. Those, those were some of the kids that I first saw coming into our program, and just to see the difference that has been made over the last four years is just amazing. But I want to see or hear how it’s been in the nearly three years that you’ve been coming down to Haiti.
[0:56] TW: Well, I mean, of course, there’s just been so much change, and, and we’ve had kids come and kids go. So, the system, or the, the program, has just really ebbed and flowed and had peaks and valleys and everything in between. But when I’m, when I look at the kids that have, that I can point to with so much change, there’s some different aspects to that. First, there’s Chenielo, you know, not much has physically changed with him, being in the condition he is. He can’t use his lower extremities at all and having to work so much on his upper body and everything he does is, it’s through his arms and through his trunk. But seeing him increase in his ability to move and to get around on his own is amazing. But then, on the flip side of that, his educational side. That, that part that, that wasn’t really a focus for the kids, but beyond that little bit of 1,2,3, ABC type thing. But to see him thrive in a school environment where they told him that he couldn’t thrive. And not only is that with us at our school, which he’s in now, but that it was at a public school in Haiti. And I go to this, this school and, you know, I say I want them to come and they’re independent and they can do everything on their own. You don’t have to help him to the restroom, none of these things and to see him thrive in that environment and then to have the principal sending messages back to me, saying, “Well, we need this for Chenielo,” and me send a message back, saying, “Well, why do you need that? Because he can get out of his chair and come sit in a chair at the blackboard and do all his work.” And, and really talking through with them just a few little minor things of how to work with a special needs child, and again just seeing him thrive in that. Seeing him bring me his report card with a passing grade, and just smiling from ear to ear and so excited that he is finally allowed to do what everyone else around him does and without any exclusion. So that’s amazing. Probably the second one for me on more the physical side would be Bady. You know, we’ve seen Bady for years. I’ve seen him since I started coming to LiveBeyond, but he didn’t truly become a part of our program on base until that June when I moved here. So, we brought him in, maybe that second week, and then we just never let him go. And so, but I know that, you know, when, when he came, he laid on his back and he refused to turn his head from side to side. He could roll over, but that was very labored and difficult, but he could do it. And that was about it. He shocked us all. We were in the room one day working with some students. We had him lying on his right side so he could use his left arm to kind of do some things. And we turned around and he had finished a puzzle that is a big block puzzle. And we just looked at him and then looked at everyone else in amazement because you didn’t know there was anything going on in his head because he’s never been given that opportunity. And clearly, there was a lot going on. So, we started just working more and more with Bady and, you know, as of late, physical therapy has been a little bit on the back burner because we’ve been so focused on the school and getting that set up. But, I had a physical therapist in, and so I was talking to her about some of the things he could do. And so, I got Bady from a laying position on the floor set up to his knees, go up to a tall kneeling position on his knees, put his arm on the chair, pull himself up and turn around and sit in the chair. So that is nothing that anyone ever thought Bady was ever going to do. And that is just amazing. I mean, when you see it happen, and you see his little smile when he sits down and turns and looks at you and then he just laughs because, he’s like, “Yeah, I did it. Okay, what’s next?” And so, that’s just amazing to me. I mean, that is, that is progress, that is, that is encouragement for his mom who works with us. And so, she’ll pop her little head in the room and just pay attention to what he’s doing sometimes, or – We were working with his iPad trying to get him to learn that his iPad is his voice and, control is kind of a bad word, but that’s what the therapist was saying that he could control us with that. So, we were playing a stop and go game, and we were outside going around the inside of the school and he needed to push go and we would walk and then we would just stop. And then he would just kind of look around, and he pushed go again and that’s what we wanted him to do. Like, we wanted him to communicate effectively and easily what he was wanting, and so we would do a couple things where we’d go off and leave him and he had to push stop. But you have to come back to get me, and so things like that. So, seeing his mind start to work with that iPad and really kind of put together some thoughts and some wants and needs and things of that nature. So, all of that combined, you just look at Bady and he is completely different than what we ever thought. The only thing that is the same with Bady is that smile.
[6:38] JVB: And I think what’s so great is it, it’s transforming his family, too. Because I mean sweet, sweet Tamie was so hard-hearted before he started coming to the program because she had another son with special needs, Gorgi, who passed away a couple years ago. And I mean, what a, that’s a hard existence, you know, to, to be in Haiti with two children with special needs and not be able to have a job, not be able to provide for them because you need to be home with the kids. And, and so I think there was just a lot of bitterness and resentment in her heart. But once we finally convinced her, I mean, you know, how long did it take us to convince her to let him come into our program? It felt like forever. But once we got, oh, it’s just a mess. But once, you know, he got into the program and we wanted her to see his work and how he was excelling, and she started coming to work for us. And the pride and excitement and the clear love that she has for Bady. I mean, I’ve loved, I love to see the transformation that has happened in Bady’s life, but I almost love just as much to turn and look at her and say there’s been such a transformation in her life because of the transformation has happened in his. And, you know, I just, it’s so encouraging for me to say, okay, this is a multi-transformational process where it doesn’t just have to make one life better, but it can make the whole family’s life better. It can transform the village that he lives in, and hopefully all of Thomazeau, and then spread to Haiti as well. And so, I just think it’s such an incredible process, and you’re doing such a good job.
[8:36] TW: Well, I mean, when you look at Tamie, another thing I’d like to point out about Tamie and her love for Bady is that I truly believed that she loved Bady and Gorgi, you know, before we came along.
[8:50] JVB: Oh, absolutely.
[8:52] TW: But the value that we have shown her that Bady has, she’s instilled that into him on a different level. It wasn’t just, “I love you just because you’re my son.” But, “You’re my son with special needs, and there will be some things that are different from other kids, and perhaps if, if you have a T-shirt or a pair of shoes or something, those are more likely going to end up for my other kids because they really need that.” And now Bady’s things are Bady’s things. Bady’s his own individual person. And she defends him and she protects him, and I don’t have to worry that if LiveBeyond has a shoe drive and Bady gets a new pair of shoes that in three weeks or so they’re going to end up missing because they’re, you know, torn or something. She knows that her son is worthy of anything and everything that every other child is. And she defends that to the T these days. And, I just love that about her. I just love it. It’s transformative.
[10:00] JVB: I think that’s what’s so important, too, is you have the ‘cocobai,’ the ‘you’re worthless,’ and you’re speaking that name over them. You know, he didn’t, the man that you were talking about in that story earlier (in the last post), the man didn’t even know Fabian’s name. He named her worthless and didn’t even know her, you know, just because of what he could see, you know, with her physical body, he deemed her worthless. And one, that is not who we are in Jesus. And, you know, that is not how we are seen by the eyes of God. And, and I, I love that you, in particular, have taken this “None are Worthless” motto and kind of, you know, made it, you know, just I don’t know, this driving force behind everything that you do is because you’re, I mean, to me, I just have this mental picture of you standing in between the enemy who is trying to call all of your kids worthless, and you’re standing in front of them, and you’re that shield and you’re saying, “No, none are worthless. And I don’t care who you are, but you are, you’re not going to call these children, my children, the children of God worthless because that is not who they are.” So just standing in the gap and fighting that and, you know, saying, “That’s not who you are in my eyes, that’s not who you are in Jesus’s eyes, that’s not who you are in LiveBeyond’s eyes.” You know, I just I love that every step of the way. Every moment that those kids are in school or in the program, they’re hearing how they are valued and they have worth and they’re treasured. And we love them and Jesus loves them. And just hearing that reinforcement over and over and over in the hopes that when they go back to their villages, until those villages are transformed that every time they hear cocobai, they could say, like, “No, like, I have value in Jesus’s eyes, I have value in Taylor’s eyes.” So, keep up the good fight.
[12:05] TW: I’m trying. I’m trying, always trying, to find new kids that I can go see, and just, and be around, and in that environment. So, it’s one of the reasons I love having Ricardo Paul because he speaks English so well. And I can confidently go anywhere, any back road, any small village and know that if he’s with me, I’m gonna be able to communicate effectively. And, you know, I built a great relationship. I know that you know him, Jocelyn. He’s the boy that’s in the market. And so, I knew his favorite story is, is I was driving from Daphne’s house through the market, and Ricardo said, “Oh, your boy’s running” and I said “Who?” and he says, “Jocelyn, he’s coming”. And for the first time ever, Jocelyn was probably ten, fifteen yards from the truck and he was literally sprinting to get to my truck to talk to me, and he doesn’t say a word besides, “drink a Seven-Up” is basically all he says. And, but that’s just a kid in the village, in the city that nobody pays that much attention to. He just kind of wanders around, but I probably had forty-five people gathered around my truck listening to me talk to him, and hold his hand, and tell him that I was going to bring him a Seven-Up, and be watching out because I would have a food bag for him. And, you know, just those things. And all of these people, grown adults and kids, just standing and looking at me, holding this this dirty, filthy hand, and talking with this person who has no language skills and just saying, “I love you, and I’m gonna come back, and I’m gonna have something for you because you’re important.” So, and I just love the fact that he knows who I am. And not only did he stand up to talk to me along the side of road when I stopped, this time he ran behind the truck like “You’re not gonna get by without saying hi to me. I don’t care if you see me or not.” So, I just love it.
[14:13] JVB: I love that, I love that so much. Well, Taylor, thank you so much for joining us today, I am so encouraged in hearing the stories I had to hold back a lot of tears, because…
[14:28] TW: Oh, I did, too.
[14:29] JVB: I just I just I love this program. I love what it’s about. Yeah, I love the transformation that’s happening. And I’m just I’m really proud of you and the work that you’re doing. So truly keep up the good fight. You’re making a difference. And just I’m encouraged by you, I know, people who come on teams are encouraged. And so, I’m just, you’re a good one, Taylor Westbrook, you’re a good one.
[14:53] TW: Thank you.
[14:54] JVB: But I do have a question for you. How can we support you? How can we help you? What are the things that the program needs? What can what can we do to, to support and impact of this program?
[15:09] TW: Well, right now, the biggest thing that that the program needs for a full-rounded program, I’m, I’m going to be needing funding to get in that therapist or that therapist assistant or something of that nature. So that is really what I’m looking forward to. So, funding for that, you know, with any other program that we do, you know, we have the complete building or structure whether that is paid off, plus two years of operating expenses. So, I would love to find someone that is willing to step up and support a therapist and, and come in and have, you know, a couple years of salary expenses, you know, treat it like a building structure, treat it something of that nature and where that is off the plate and we can move forward with bringing that side of the program in on a full-time basis. Other than that, it’s just, you know, there’s, there’s just to sponsor a child. Our children as you know, I have three that are waiting to come in. I have three people that if I had a sponsor for, they would be in the program. And so, we’re just waiting for that. And when you sponsor child, you’re sponsoring the teachers, you’re sponsoring the assistant, you’re sponsoring, getting, you know, a mat, a new mat for therapy, or getting new books for school because all the things tied in together so just to say, sponsor child, is great. But then we can break that down. If your heart is for education, if your heart is for therapy, if your heart is for helping a therapist in Haiti find a sustainable job, so, you know, we can break that down in any way that we want to and really focus on those areas. And, of course, just praying. Praying for the program, for the kids that are in the program, praying for my teachers and assistant just that their heart will continue to enlarge for the program, and that God will just continue to bless it, and it will grow.
[17:18] JVB: Absolutely. And I think what’s so awesome, and I have talked about this in other podcasts, and, you know, if you join a team to come down to LiveBeyond, we take every gift and skill set and passion and hobby and do our very best to apply that to every aspect of what we do. So, if you’re medical you can come work in our clinic. If you are a physical therapist, a speech pathologist, if you are an occupational therapist, if you have worked with children with special needs, all these things, you can come and you can join our Johnny’s Kids program during the week. And you know, we’ve been, you know, I’ve loved it in the past. We’ve had welders come down, or someone just says, “I just really like welding.: And so, they, you know, help weld on our base and teach, you know, the Haitian people who want to have the skill set in welding, and they help do that. So truly I mean, it’s any and every skill set. You can come down and you can join us, and you can join a team. All of our dates are listed on our website livebeyond.org. But if you, if you’re listening to this and you love children with special needs or if you have a particular, you know, certification or anything like that, that could help us, we would love to have you come down and join our program. You could work with Taylor every single day, work with these incredible kids that we have in our program, and so I know that’s just another way that you could help get involved and really be involved in this program, transforming not just the lives of our kids, but the family members, villages, and hopefully all of Haiti for the Kingdom of God. So, Taylor, thank you so much. I’ve loved having you, have, I’ve loved chatting with you. It makes me so happy. But we’ll be praying for you and just, just thank you.
[19:17] TW: Thank you. We will talk soon.
[19:20] JVB: If you’re interested in learning more about LiveBeyond you can go online to livebeyond.org where you can sign up for our newsletter, check out our mission trip dates, or if you feel like the Lord has been putting it on your heart, you can sponsor some of the kids that Taylor was talking about in this podcast. It’s just for forty-five dollars a month, and that includes all the necessary expenses. Thank you so much for listening to this podcast, and go out and LiveBeyond.
Learn more about our Johnny’s Kids program here.
Changing Lives in Haiti and Beyond. Here from one team member about her experiences with LiveBeyond and more specifically about her experience with one of Johnny’s Kids.
More from Taylor Westbrook: What does a missionary look like?
Coach Gene Stallings remembers Johnny on World Down Syndrome Day. Learn more about the Johnny’s Kids program’s namesake – John Mark “Johnny” Stallings from his father, legendary football coach Gene Stallings.
Become a Johnny’s Kids sponsor here.
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.