Written by Ken Garfield
The story of Taylor Gamwell – love and acceptance for all God’s children – is the story of UMAR.
UMAR was founded in 1983 to serve adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities in 11 western N.C. counties. The Charlotte-based nonprofit served 325 adults in 2019 through its 22 group homes and other residential services, job training, three arts centers and more.
Taylor Gamwell’s first experience with UMAR came in the summer of 2017 as a student at the Charlotte Arts Center. Upon his arrival, a challenge presented itself: Taylor, 29, the oldest of Richard and Cynthia Gamwell’s three children, finds great comfort in action figures. His mother says they are his gateway to the world. Many of them spring from the movies he loves, like Star Wars. At the Arts Center on South Tryon Street, instead of painting, he’d retreat to a corner, clutching his “friends” and talking to himself.
That’s when art teacher Lynette Cartwright got an idea. “I’ve always felt a pull to Taylor,” she says, “and that I wanted to help him.”
One day, Taylor came to class with his SpongeBob SquarePants action figure. Lynette greeted Taylor with a question: “Do you think SpongeBob wants to paint?” As quickly as Taylor could say yes, Lynette attached a paintbrush to SpongeBob’s hand.
Taylor was off and painting, using his beloved action figure to make art.
Taylor hasn’t looked back.
He paints on his own now. He’s getting better at his craft. He interacts more with the other art students. His witty personality has endeared him to everyone. And the love and acceptance he found in art class has empowered him in other ways. He’s more outgoing. He’s taken UMAR dance classes. And on Dec. 1, 2019, he moved out of his family’s home and into a UMAR group home in Charlotte. There he has found his place, sharing a home with five other residents and filling his room with those familiar action figures.
“I’m in the way when I go over there,” says his mom, Cynthia, laughing. “This has been more than we’ve ever imagined. For Taylor, UMAR gave him a community he lacked.”
Love and acceptance. That’s the story of UMAR.
The last word goes to Taylor Gamwell, budding artist and satisfied UMAR resident.
“No one wants to be alone. Not even me.”
To learn more about UMAR, visit www.umarinfo.com or call (704) 659-7636. The annual Friends of UMAR Luncheon is March 31 at Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte. The popular event features a silent auction and sale of clients’ artwork, crafts, jewelry and more. Learn more, and register for the luncheon, online. UMAR depends on financial support from the community to help sustain its programs.
DID YOU KNOW: UMAR is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!