LAKE CHARLES, LA - Pat Earle and her son Craig Blackburn were not only guest speakers at this year's Families Helping Families of SWLA education and resource conference, they were an inspiration.
"I loved hearing his mother's story," said director of Families Helping Families of SWLA Susan Benoit. "She doesn't always do that which gave us as mothers of people with disabilities the inspiration to do what we need to do."
32-year-old Craig Blackburn of Luling is a motivational speaker with down syndrome. Blackburn talks about overcoming challenges in life through his positive "we can" attitude.
"Craig gives his message from a person that is walking the walk," said his mother Pat Earle. "He's just not talking the talk. He's not just talking it, he's been through it. He goes through the struggles that he's had in his life and he helps people understand that even though he may have had a rough beginning or some rough patch along the way, he's been able to overcome it and still move on."
Blackburn managed to graduate high school, become a home owner in 2007 and he even propped to his now fiancé Heather Hancock of Oklahoma City, OK who also has special needs.
"He has friends, social activities so, it's possible. It's possible for anybody," said Earle.
Both Blackburn and his fiancé receive help and benefits through the new opportunities waiver, also known as NOW, a state funded program to support those with disabilities.
Since the couple live in different states, getting married may mean leaving home and giving up much needed benefits that help them live.
"Regardless of whether or not you have special needs," said Earle. "You are a person first and everybody deserves to be respected."
Though the process of getting the help both Blackburn and his fiancé need to get married and still receiving benefits, both Blackburn and his mother say they won't give up and help others along the way.
"You can be the best that you can be," said Blackburn.