Chris Woodall said he and his wife, Stacy, both knew Robert well.
As college students, they had both seen the young boy every day as they worked at Vivian B. Adams School in Ozark, a school that serves both children and adults with special needs. “We were both teacher aides. She worked in the class Robert was in, and he rode the school bus I drove,” Woodall said.
“When we met him at 7 or 8 years old, he was in foster care. He was physically healthy and fine; he just had a lot of behavioral issues because of the abuse he had experienced.”
Robert also was being abused in the foster home where he had lived for the past several years, though the Woodalls didn’t know that — until the day Robert was removed from the home in 2006 and social services was looking for a place for him to live.
“One day, Stacy came home and said, ‘This may be a crazy idea, but I’m interested in adopting Robert,’” Woodall said.
By then, Woodall had moved on to a job as assistant director at a Boys and Girls Club in Ozark, but his wife still saw Robert every day at VBAS.
“Our goal for our family was always to pursue adoption at some point. We wanted our family to be a picture of the gospel,” Woodall said. “But my first thought was, ‘This is the Robert we both know, right? There’s no way.’ By that time, he was 9 or 10, and we were 25 years old.”
But as the young couple talked about it and prayed about it, God opened up the opportunity, and they adopted Robert.
Over the years that followed, though it wasn’t always easy, they saw him improve steadily. Woodall also became a pastor, first at a church in the Atlanta area, then at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Elamville, and later Pinckard Baptist Church, where he currently serves.
Along the way, the family adopted another son, Adrian, who now serves in the Navy, and they had two biological children, Judy Beth and Carter. All that change was positive. Then one day they got thrown a curve ball.
During his senior year of high school in 2014, Robert developed an infection that traveled to his brain and caused seizures.
“We spent 10 days in the CCU department at Southeast Alabama Medical Center and another 30 days at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham,” Woodall said. “During this period, we discovered that Robert had an underlying, nonspecific autoimmune disorder that resulted in this episode.”
It left Robert disabled.
“Life was a lot different for everyone after that,” Woodall said. “Since Robert was no longer independent, we relied on sitter services, and I adjusted my work schedule to be close to home to provide care for him.
“Due to his condition, Robert was limited to social gatherings at church or with family. We began to search for services that would benefit Robert and give him a peer group and a sense of independence.”
That’s when VBAS came into Robert’s life again. “We got him connected right back to Adams — they have an adult program,” Woodall said.
He put Robert on the waiting list for the Alabama Medicaid Waiver, which would help cover his costs.
But the wait was going to take a while because there were 3,000 on the list with him, Woodall said.
When he discovered Robert was eligible to attend VBAS through the school’s scholarship program, Woodall decided to do something to help make that same opportunity available for others — he started running and raising funds to go toward scholarships.
“Each year, VBAS hosts the Claybank 5K and Fun Run at the Dale County Lake in Ozark specifically to help fund the school scholarship program,” he said.
“In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race was canceled, and the vital funds were missed.”
So he ran the Montgomery Half Marathon in March and raised about $4,500 from supporters, enough to help 10 adult students get connected with VBAS.
“VBAS holds a piece of my heart,” he said. “This has been an immense blessing for him and for our family.”
Susan Owens, resource coordinator at VBAS, said Woodall has put a lot of effort into making sure Robert and others like him have a place to go and be with their peers.
“In Alabama, if you are an adult on the waiver waiting list, you could be on there up to 10 years,” Owens said. “That’s a long time to be at home, and it’s difficult on these families because these adults often need care and can’t stay by themselves.”
The scholarships help these families fill that gap, said Owens, who also has a child with special needs.
“It really tugged at my heart as a parent to see Chris working so hard to help Robert have a place to go and be with his peer group,” she said.
“We were excited to be able to offer him a scholarship.
“All you have to do is look at Robert to see why the scholarships are so important.”
To learn more about VBAS, visit vivianbadams.net or call 334-774-5132.