Miss Mississippi visits Caring Hands Pediatric Extended Care in Vicksburg

Published 2:37 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Miss Mississippi 2023 Vivian O’Neal is no stranger to the world of disabled children, and she used her platform on Monday to brighten the day of local children at the invitation of Elite Performance and Rehab and Caring Hands Pediatric Extended Care of Vicksburg.

Caring Hands is a day service and educational center for children with disabilities and health care needs, serving people from birth to age 21. The center is staffed with trained nurses and specialists and can provide care up to 10 hours a day. As the sister of a child with a disability, O’Neal said she was eager for the opportunity to visit with the children at Caring Hands.

“Growing up, I saw how a social barrier is still there (for children with disabilities) and that gap is difficult to bridge,” O’Neal said. “I see education as the best path forward to mend that gap. Life, and interacting with individuals of all types of backgrounds and different types of people, is how we learn to work together as a community and bridge that gap.

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“It starts with me,” she added. “I want to live out my mission and practice what I preach, and that starts with learning about different types of disabilities and hearing these individuals’ stories so that I can better serve the community and better educate others on how to be inclusive.”

O’Neal’s social impact initiative is CapABLE, a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower students to embrace their differences and bridge the gap between students with disabilities and students without disabilities through education. Part of CapABLE’s mission is to encourage socialization amongst people of all ability levels.

Cammie Mashburn, Director of Nursing for Caring Hands, said O’Neal’s visit was an opportunity for outreach at the center and provided a special treat for the students.

“We help our patients with their activities and daily living, or things they can’t do for themselves, and also we try to make their days special for the time they’re here,” Mashburn said. “It’s a one-stop shop, and we really love our patients and the way we do things here.”

Fermika Smith, of Elite Performance and Rehab, said her office contracts with Caring Hands to provide pediatric therapy services for clients at the center. When the time came for Miss Mississippi to visit, Smith said she was excited to show the great work Caring Hands does.

“Elite Performance and Rehab pediatrics has had a partnership with Caring Hands since 2017, and we come in through our contract and offer physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy for all the kids here,” Smith said. “It’s so great to have Miss Mississippi here because her platform deals with children with disabilities. We were proud to showcase what we do.”

During her visit to Caring Hands, O’Neal devoted special one-on-one time with each person there, from the smallest child to a 20-year-old client, Amiricle, whom the staff nicknamed “Sunshine” for her happy disposition. O’Neal let blind students touch her crown, and knelt down to eye level with smaller children or sat by their beds.

“I’m so thankful to know this facility is here in the city of Vicksburg and I’m so thankful for the work they’re doing and I can’t wait to see these kids grow and flourish through this program,” O’Neal said.