Hot Springs said goodbye to Pam Bland today. For 34 years Pam Bland gave direction to First Step, Inc. First Step develops resources and provides care and opportunities for special needs individuals from birth through adulthood. When Pam started her job First Step had 11 employees and a handful of clients. When she retired a year ago, First Step had 1100 employees a couple of thousand clients and has spread to other counties in Arkansas. Four of her friends and colleagues spoke at her funeral and described something of the incredible person Pam was. By all means, Pam was a difference-maker. I want you to know her too, so I’m attaching some of my comments from the funeral service.
At the 2013 commencement speech at MIT, Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox said:
When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don't just love what they do, they're obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball: Their eyes go a little crazy, the leash snaps and they go bounding off, plowing through whatever gets in the way … So it's not about pushing yourself; it's about finding your tennis ball, the thing that pulls you.
Pam found her tennis ball. And if she hadn’t been willing to snap the leash and chase it down relentlessly, if she hadn’t been that bulldog that grabs hold of your pant-cuff and won’t let go till you noticed her and heard her out, the lives of so many people and our whole community would be diminished. She saw a need. She felt it on a visceral level, and she took it on with the ferocity of a mama-lion protecting her cubs. There’s just something about people like that, isn’t there? There’s something that causes us to take note of what they are doing. I read about a small town church burning to the ground one night. Most of the community were there watching it burn, watching the volunteer fireman do their best to save the foundation. A prominent church member noticed his neighbor next to him, sort of looked down his nose, and said, “Hmm. First time I’ve ever seen you at this church.” The neighbor replied, “First time I’ve ever seen it on fire.” Pam was a woman on fire for the disabled. A lot of us watched her burn for a long time. And her passion set fire to many of you for the same cause.
And here’s the deal: Pam didn’t just see the cause; she saw the individual. She saw the individual that many would rather ignore. These people matter. These people are not accidents, not mistakes, not rejects or factory-seconds. Our disabled brothers and sisters are people of worth, created in the image of God, with all the dignity and meaning that goes with it. God gives them to us to bless and to be a blessing. That’s why Pam always steered First Step away from only taking care of the disabled to providing them the training, the resources, and the tools to take care of themselves to the upper limit of their capacities.
Pam saw the disabled as Jesus sees them. In Jesus’ story of the judgment in Matthew 25, he describes the hungry, the thirsty, the inmate, the impoverished, the stranger, the sick, as “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” Not the least in Jesus’ eyes but the least in the eyes of most of us. Many of us view such needy people as helpless and even a burden. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is asked for a donation to help the poor at Christmas. “Don’t we have poor houses for such people?” asks Scrooge. The solicitors reply, "Those who are badly off must go there. Many can't go there; and many would rather die." To which Scrooge declared, "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." Though most would never say it, that’s the way many look at the poor, the needy, and the disabled. We are too quick to evaluate people not in terms of being but in terms of doing. That’s not the way Jesus looks at the them. They are his little brothers and sisters. And Jesus said in that parable, “When you love and help them, you love and help me.” Whether she thought about it consciously or not, Pam saw Jesus in those she served. And every time she served them, she served Jesus.
Pam has set a wonderful example for us all. My prayer is that all of us will look at the needy and the disabled through Jesus’ eyes, through Pam’s eyes. And maybe we could be difference-makers too.