Nonprofits Owens started
Challenged Child and Friends: A day care center specializing in teaching children with special needs. challengedchild.org.
My Sister’s Place: A homeless shelter for women and children. my-sisters-place.org/
Heritage Academy: A university model school for homeschooled students in higher grades. www.heritagea.org/
Our Neighbor Inc.: Provides independent living options at three homes and one apartment for handicapped young adults. www.ourneighbor.org/
The Next Chapter Book Store: Provides independence and job experience for young people with disabilities. www.nextchapterbookstore.org/
Randy and Friends: Provides independence, social events, art classes and job training for young people with disabilities. randyandfriends.org
Editor's Note: This is the first in the "Georgia Original" series of stories spotlighting area residents who have contributed to the betterment of Hall County through their community works. In this series, The Times will highlight one person each month.
“I couldn’t plan a life like the one I’ve been given,” Marty Owens said sitting in the corner of The Rooster’s Perch on Wednesday afternoon.
A passing train whistled outside of the small gift shop and cafe as it sped past Main Street in midtown Gainesville.
The cafe is a part of Randy and Friends, a local nonprofit that helps people with disabilities live satisfying and fulfilling lives by providing opportunities for socializing and job training.
Owens, founder of the nonprofit and several others, said she loves coming to the cafe because of the opportunities to get to know people she might never have met. She said it has been because of her son, Randy Owens, that she’s had the insight to try and find ways to meet needs often unseen in the community.
Randy was hit by a car when he was 2 years old. The accident left him with paralysis and a brain injury.
“This is not the life I dreamed of for my son,” Marty said, looking down at the table. “But much has happened in my life and this community because of that incident. When I first found out that his injuries were permanent and that our lives would be forever changed, my first thought was ‘God, if you allowed this, you allowed this for some reason. Please don’t let me miss it.’”
She went on to start several faith-based nonprofits including, Challenged Child and Friends, My Sister’s Place, Heritage Academy, Our Neighbor Inc., The Next Chapter Book Store and Randy and Friends.
Randy Owens also is a very involved co-founder in three of the nonprofits and a board member of Challenged Child and Friends. From watching Randy grow up with the combination of his unique challenges and typically developing needs and desires, such as the desire for independence and friends, the need for more local special needs services became apparent.
“Because of him I’ve received some insight into the lives of those I may never have really known and may not have really seen,” Marty Owens said. “I have learned from him and we have been able to appreciate others with challenges.”
Marty said in a society where fitness, beauty, money and power are so highly valued, people tend to overlook those who don’t meet those standards.
“I have learned that no matter a person’s situation, whether their homeless or if they have significant challenges in life, it could be anything, we all have value,” she said. “We all have things to offer another person. It makes a person whole when we can understand other people.”
Because it’s impossible to understand a person based on appearances alone, Marty said it’s important to take time and get to know people. They could be wounded soldiers home from the war, disabled athletes, an injured child or just a person with a warm smile and a kind heart.
The Rooster’s Perch assistant manager Kalin Lancaster said as a person with special needs she can’t thank Marty enough for the opportunities she has provided.
“I’ve just watched how Marty has raised awareness for special-needs people,” Lancaster said. “She’s helped people with special needs do things in this community.”
Randy said he thinks his mother’s work is “remarkable” and an inspiration to him to give back and keep pushing ahead himself.
“I can’t put it exactly into words,” Randy said. “It blows me away about how much she uses the gifts that God has given her to envision these different things.”
But Marty doesn’t take credit for the success of any of the groups she has started. She instead credits the missions’ expansions to God and the community’s generosity.
“Gainesville is very generous with their time and their money,” Marty said. “None of these things would be going on and successful in their ministry. It is only because the people in Gainesville want the community to be a model community, a good community that values and respects all the members of the community.”
Marty said she doesn’t have to think very much about what to do with the nonprofits; things just come together, and people with specific skills and talents have always shown up to help when needed.
Likewise, she said starting nonprofits was never an intended goal, just a journey she was led into taking.
“It has never been something that I thought ‘When I become an adult, this is what I would like to do,’” she said. “It’s just not in my personality or my education. But just as we believe there is a plan for everyone and a value in every life, this I guess was the plan for my life, to do these things.”