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First Challenged Child gives back to community
Randy Owens, 30, was the first student at Challenged Child and Friends. Owens now serves on Challenged Child’s board and currently works at the Gainesville Internal Medicine Group, where his father works as a doctor. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The driveway to Challenged Child and Friends bears the name of the school’s first student, Randy Owens.

The organization started in a room at First Baptist Church in Gainesville with therapy sessions just for Owens. It later grew into a preschool that serves more than 200 students.

Today, Owens, 30, works at his father’s doctor’s office on Lanier Parkway and serves on the board of directors for five different groups, including Challenged Child and Friends and another nonprofit group for adults with disabilities that Owens helped start.

“I don’t think, if I (hadn’t) had that help at a young age, I’d be as outgoing or productive as I am today,” Randy Owens said.

None of that community activism seemed possible 28 years ago. At age 2, Owens was hit by a car. The incident left him in a coma for several months and resulted in a head injury that has made it impossible for Owens to use the left side of his body.

Owens was still in a coma when his parents, Marty and Dr. Roger Owens, brought him home from the hospital, his mother recalls.

As their son began to become more alert, his parents realized his injuries were more severe.

“He still was just like a rag doll,” Marty Owens said. “He had no control over his body.”

The family then learned that Owens’ spinal cord had been crushed in the accident. Doctors did not offer much hope for improvement.

“(They) told my parents I’d be strapped to a chair if I did survive,” Randy Owens said.

Months later, a family friend and occupational therapist, Jean Willers, started working with Owens in a room at First Baptist Church.

Soon afterward, two other children started coming to therapy sessions with Willers.

Randy Owens’ situation gradually improved, and today he says, “I almost don’t let anything get in my way.”

Since Owens’ time in the program, Challenged Child has grown into a registered nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of families in 13 counties across North Georgia. Last year, a staff of more than 70 teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, therapists and administrators served more than 250 children.

“It (has) grown and what a difference it is making in other people’s lives,” Randy Owens said. “I mean, it will change people when they see it, whether they have a disability or not. I mean, it changes lives ... because Challenged Child is just like out of this world. It just meets so many needs.”

For years, Owens has served on the group’s board of directors. He and his mother helped found another nonprofit organization, Our Neighbor Inc., that provides services and independent living for young adults with disabilities.

“Randy has always said that he didn’t believe that it was an accident, but an incident in his life that God allowed so that he could do something special in his community,” Marty Owens said.