Gordon County Coordinator Roberta Charbonneau named 2014 Georgia Big Sister of the Year

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Roberta and Taylor

Roberta and Taylor
Roberta Charbonneau and Taylor Barton are pictured here. “That lady sitting right there is the reason for so many blessing in my life. I love her.” Taylor Barton said. “She and Brian (Roberta’s husband) have been such a big Big in my life.” Photo by E.K. West

Congratulations to Roberta Charbonneau, the
Gordon County Collaborative coordinator, who was just named 2014 Georgia Big Sister of the Year.

On paper, Georgia Family Connection provides indirect services. But that’s not entirely true. The story behind Roberta’s honor is actually a testament to the heart of the people in this powerful statewide network and your compassion for the children and families you serve.

The unimaginable challenges that face Georgia’s children and families hardly ever occur between 9 and 5, Monday through Friday. So your work transcends the office, and often compels you to get your family members involved.

Roberta’s story is just one in a much larger narrative, and the role each of you plays in your community will determine the outcome. Continue to be inspired to provide those direct services that unleash the unlimited potential of our statewide network.

Roberta Charbonneau named 2014 Georgia Big Sister of the Year
Reprinted from the March 18, 2014, Calhoun Times

by E.K. West, Community Correspondent

Roberta Charbonneau began with Big Brother Big Sisters as an office manager in 2003. She became the match coordinator for Gordon County in 2005. As she began to help with events, she came to know Taylor Barton and her family.

In May of 2007, Barton and Charbonneau were matched. Both agree that this was a match made in heaven. After Roberta agreed to do the interview about being Georgia’s 2014 Big Sister of the Year, it was clear that a truly great Big in Big Brothers Big Sisters starts with a great Little.

“I couldn’t be a Big Sister without Taylor. We’re together forever,” said Roberta.

This is their story.

“Taylor and her sisters were introduced to the program by their mother. Taylor’s father died in a car accident at 27-years-old when Taylor was just 15 months old, and her mother was battling Huntington’s disease,” Roberta said. Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems.

Taylor became involved in the program in kindergarten.

According to Roberta, Taylor, her mother and her three sisters moved in with Taylor’s Aunt and Uncle when Taylor was in first grade, due to her mother’s illness and inability to manage. Her Aunt was battling the same illness.

By the time Taylor was ten her Big was no longer able to commit to the program.

“At that time Taylor was helping to care for her mother and going to school. Taylor’s Uncle took care of both of them, his three children and Taylor and her sisters,” Roberta said.

“There were about 10 of us under one roof. It was tough. It got so hard for me I thought I didn’t want to be part of the Big Sister’s program,” Taylor said.

She added, “So much loss in my life. I’d been through three Bigs between Kindergarten and fifth grade. I’d lost my dad and now was losing my Mommy and my Aunt to Huntington’s. I was scared of losing someone else, but when my Uncle Phil told me that Roberta ‘Berta’ wanted to be my Big I thought, ‘that might be OK,’” Taylor said.

“Roberta had taken me to Tanya’s (my Big’s) wedding. She took me to my first Beauty salon and mani/pedi for the wedding. I felt like a princess.”

“She was so adorable. She looked through a teen magazine, and she chose to have her hair done up just like Hannah Montana,” Roberta said.

According to Roberta, Taylor’s Aunt died in the spring of 2009 and her mother passed in mid June later that year.

“We’d been match a couple of years by then,” Roberta said.

Roberta opened a world of possibilities for Taylor. The two were inseparable from the start.

“I was from Resaca. Our family loved the outdoors. We were outdoors playing all the time. I knew nothing about the joy of reading,” Taylor said.

She added, “Berta shared her love of reading with me and something just clicked. We started with Swiss Family Robinson. I took a few days to get started but then I just read the whole thing in a few days. I’ve been reading ever since.”

According to Taylor, her all time favorite is “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell

“I’ve read it over 100 times. Berta took me to Atlanta for the day and I got to see the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum there. We ate at Buckhead Diner. I had never been anywhere like that and thought it was called ‘the Bucket diner,’” Taylor laughed.

Eight grade was a tough year for Taylor having to start school without her mom, but Roberta was there to make it a little easier for Taylor.

“Berta and Brian came to all my events. They came to track events, everything, even when I got Student of the Month at Ashworth,” Taylor said.

Roberta added, “Brian and I stepped in to be that advocate and support for her. We love her so much. She has blossomed so, so much. We’re so proud.”

“I became really good at acting like everything was ok but Roberta could tell I was hiding. Thanks to Roberta, some good friends and therapy I was able to stop hiding and look the world in the eye,” said Taylor.

Taylor stayed with a cousin after her aunt and mom died. When her cousin took a job in Chattanooga, Taylor stayed to finish out the first semester of her junior year at Gordon Central. She needed a place to stay and turned to Roberta for help. Things fell into place almost instantly. This is what they have termed the “doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo effect” (twilight zone music).

“The night Taylor called me to ask if she could live with us for the remainder of the fall semester of her junior year, I had been at a prayer group meeting at church and we always prayed for Taylor and her family,” Roberta said. “As I left to go home, Sabrina Dutch said to me, ‘If that child ever needs a place to live, she can live with us.’ (Roberta) thanked her and poo-poo’d the idea. (Sabrina) said, ‘No, I’m serious. If she ever needs a place you let me know.’”

“As I was driving home, Taylor called and asked if she could move in with Brian and me. I knew it was God taking care of this special girl. She moved in with the Dutch family in early November through to Christmas. Then she moved to Chattanooga with her cousin to attend Ooltewah High School,” Roberta said.

Taylor added, “My Uncle had moved to Texas and I didn’t want to go. Then my cousin took a job in Chattanooga and I moved there with her. School was awful. I was alone a lot. I missed Berta and the Dutch family. I was very unhappy there. It was a really dark time for me. After three months, I couldn’t take it. I remember Roberta asking me on the phone, ‘Are you ready?’ I was sooooo ready.”

“The Dutch family kept her room as she left it, had kept some of her things, and were then ready to ‘bring her home’ when she was ready to finally make the break from a very difficult school situation to come home to Gordon County and finish school with her life long friends,” Roberta said.

In March of 2013 right before her birthday, Taylor came back to Gordon County. Within days, court proceedings and paperwork made it possible for Allen and Sabrina Dutch to become her legal guardians. Taylor returned to Gordon Central as a junior with a family of her own.

“It was divine order. God’s hand has taken care of Taylor and we, the Dutch family, and church family members have been guided by him at every turn,” Roberta said.

The Month of March has been a whirlwind of blessings, according to Taylor and Roberta. Taylor was baptized at St. Timothy’s of Calhoun on March 2. Her one-year anniversary of court guardianship was March 6. She celebrated her 18th birthday on March 4 amid friends and family, and was awarded second runner up for Miss Gordon Central on the same day.

“I attended a camp through our church called ‘Happenings.’ It was a great experience. I had never realized all the things God has done for me. Realizing all he has done for me has given me a lot more peace. I’m not stressed,” Taylor said. “I’m happy. Truly happy.”

Taylor believes none of this would be possible without Robert.

“I would probably be at a burger joint, and wouldn’t think I had a future. She kept faith in me,” Taylor said.

Taylor remembers her mom always telling her, ‘If you smile the world will smile with you.’

“I feel like that is her legacy to me,” Taylor said. “As long as I keep smiling the world will smile with me. I felt like she would have been proud of me at the Miss GCHS competition. I think she’s smiling with me now.”

Taylor added that her dark days of the past help her get in touch with her artistic side.

“I still have a tad bit of Goth in me. It comes out through my writing. When I got to write a sequel to ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ in my English class last year, I realized how much I love writing. I also really love studying and reading about Greek mythology. I think I want to be a writer. For now, I plan to go to Georgia Highlands for two years then pursue a degree in journalism with a minor in dance performance. I have a personal project that I’m working on now — writing, photographing, sketching out memories, thoughts, ideas that I may have blocked out from my childhood,” Taylor said. “It is very freeing.”

She added, “I also want to write a self help book for people who live with Huntington’s HDYO, and who care give for loved ones with Huntington’s. There’s not a lot of good information out there about it, and I want to be able to help others go through what I’ve gone through,” Taylor said.

Although Taylor will test for Huntington’s later this spring, she doesn’t want to know the results until after graduation.

“I have a family. A mom, a dad, a little sister, a room of my own, three dogs; and Berta and Brian are my unofficial grandparents,” Taylor said. “I have normalcy and Roberta was the source of it all.”

Read the story on northwestgeorgianews.com.