“Serving with Class,” Ensign, Oct. 1996, 68–69
Ever since the birth of her sister Sarah, Evelyn Gabriel has felt a special sensitivity toward those with disabilities, particularly mental. As an adult she used her talents as a hairdresser to serve disabled people in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. “I kept Mondays open to do disabled people,” she says. While Sarah lived at the Midlands Center, Evelyn and her brother set up beauty shops in other buildings.
But that was only the start of Evelyn’s service to the disabled. For five years she was president of the Family Council, a fund-raising organization that helped families become more involved with residents of a home for the disabled. One highlight of Evelyn’s leadership was organizing an event called the “Fun Fair,” which helped raise a large sum for the purchase of wheelchairs and other items needed by residents of the home.
Now Evelyn has taken the initiative to help disabled people enjoy more opportunities for religious worship. “I was taking three or four mentally disabled people to church, and I realized they were not getting much from the classes,” she recalls. “I told the bishop I believed more would come to church if there was a Sunday School class especially for them. I wanted the mentally disabled in my community to have a place where they could learn about religion in their own way and at their own pace.”
The bishop approved her idea, and in 1989 Sister Gabriel began teaching a Sunday School class for the mentally disabled. Today as many as 20 students participate each week, and the class has become a ward Relief Society service project. Sister Gabriel still teaches, and other sisters help with classroom activities and holiday parties. In class the students sing, watch religious videos, recite the Lord’s Prayer, bear testimony, and participate in group discussions.
A member of the Windsor Lake Ward, Columbia South Carolina Stake, Evelyn was recently honored with an annual service award by a local chapter of the national Association for Retarded Citizens.—Linda Franklin, Columbia, South Carolina