Fighting for Independence

“I see people give up on life when they reach a certain age, when they feel like they can’t do this and they can’t do that,” says Charles Tabor, a 77-year-old music lover who lost his sight at five years old.

Losing his sight at an early age has helped Charles accept being blind. He says if he had lost it later in life, it would have been harder. “It’s hard for an older person to be told he or she is going to be blind because they have seen all their lives.” Though Charles is blind and has cerebral palsy, he has found the supports he needs to live a vibrant life.

Growing up, Charles learned how to live as independently as possible by attending the Missouri School for the Blind. Because of his experiences there, he’s not afraid to venture out on his own and takes public transportation as a means toward greater independence. Yet even with his self-sufficient attitude, Charles needs help tackling small tasks that no longer come easily to him. Through Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, a United Way supported agency, Charles receives the help he needs to continue living life to the fullest.

Cardinal Ritter Senior Services helps Charles with needs like housekeeping, laundry, writing checks for bills and grocery shopping. But the care he receives goes beyond these household chores; it’s about Charles’ greater sense of independence. Because Charles doesn’t need to worry about the small tasks that are out of his control, he’s able to live more independently and remain social through activities and connection with the community. One of his connections is with Geneva, the woman who visits him every week to help maintain household responsibilities. Their bond goes beyond that of caretaker and client — they are friends.

“We talk about whatever book we’re listening to like The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.” The feeling of friendship and belonging Charles experiences with Geneva expands into the community through his involvement with Notre Dame High School, where he attends dozens of events every year. It is a relationship that has spanned nearly 20 years.

Ever since Charles was a young child, he’s been captivated by sports. He loved listening to Cardinals games on the radio when he moved back to St. Louis but wanted an experience he could connect with in person. Because Charles is blind, he relies on touch and sound – the feeling of grass beneath his feet and the scream of the referee’s whistle at the start of a game. He found it at Notre Dame High School when he attended their Christmas concert after hearing about it on the radio. There, the athletics director introduced himself to Charles and welcomed him. The rest is history. Since then, Charles has not only been a regular at the games but has become part of the Notre Dame family. When he arrives at the school, he is greeted by students and staff, who escort him to a special seat. Then, Charles breaks out his kazoo.

“I play it at basketball games and sometimes at the soccer game,” he says. “You have to know when to do it because you never know when the cheerleaders are going to do their thing.” Notre Dame High School has honored Charles’ dedication and their extraordinary relationship by naming the gym in his honor, solidifying his legacy at the school. Charles couldn’t be more proud.

“It made me feel wonderful that they thought of me, that they made me a part of their facility. I think most of the time they wait until you die before they name something after you,” he says. “It made me proud of the school. I was proud to be a Notre Dame rebel.” Feeling a sense of community and connectedness has been very important to Charles. If he wasn’t receiving services that not only afford him more independence, but allow him to engage with life more fully, his experience may be very different. “If it wasn’t for the services, I would probably be in a group home, but thank goodness I can live here. I like being here,” he says.

Being grateful is part of how Charles maintains his buoyant spirit. And in the true spirit of being a Notre Dame rebel, he lives life to the best of his ability and keeps going. And because of the services he’s received, he doesn’t have to keep going alone. When asked about his best advice to those facing life’s challenges, Charles shares the simple philosophy that’s kept him moving forward, “Don’t give up, and do the best you can.”

Watch Charles' Story

About Cardinal Ritter Senior Services

Cardinal Ritter Senior Services (CRSS) provides a continuum of care to senior adults by providing social, health and housing services. The mission of Cardinal Ritter Senior Services is to be a recognized provider in giving person centered care through an integrated continuum of quality residential, healthcare and supportive social services for senior adults throughout the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.