Many friends and members of his church were on hand at the Mandalay Banquet Center in April to honor Bill Eakman upon his induction into the Developmental Disabilities Hall of Fame in the area of Community Service. Bill lives at Resident Home Association’s Garber Road home. He works three days a week at Goodwill and two days for MONCO Enterprises at their Jergens Center.
It is what he does away from work and who he is at his deepest core that earned him his prestigious honor. Without giving it a second thought, he is a man who consistently makes the world around him a better place. Every year he participates in fundraising walks for the Down Syndrome Association and Breast Cancer Awareness. He has volunteered in elementary schools in the community in their school reading programs, reading to children and answering questions about his life and his disability. He has volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House, where his duties have included cleaning the facility, preparing meals and helping with yard work. He even helped set a record for the most ‘hands’ sold at a McDonald’s for World Children’s Day. He helped collect 70 teddy bears for Care House. He has appeared in television interviews to advocate for himself and others on behalf of services and programs.
There is this community-minded Bill that we know about, but there is another side of Bill as well, a side that we do not usually equate with a man with Down Syndrome. Bill is a man of deep and abiding faith, with a call to ministry that has been with him since he was a young man. He has ministered at the Jergens Center as part of their Agape group. He is an active member of Cornerstone Baptist Temple and rarely misses a Sunday.
He is part of their choir and while he doesn’t do a lot of singing, his very presence inspires both those who sing and those who listen. As services begin each Sunday, Bill comes forward to stand beside Rev. Jerry Silers. They spend a few minutes talking together, things as simple as what Bill did during the week. These conversations have become something the congregation looks forward to, always touched by Bill’s words and where those words come from. According to Rev. Silers, the right words always seem to come to him. His sense of faith and spirituality is open, honest and deep.
His story focuses on that one sacred area where some of us have not yet given people with developmental disabilities the full measure of our understanding, that sacred place where we see them fully as people of faith, as capable of having a deep personal connection to God, as people God may not only seek to minister to, but people worthy to be called to minister to others.
Bill will tell you that he has known this since he was a little boy – that he has a calling and that his dream is to follow that calling to be a minister, perhaps not realizing that he already is in the way he serves his community and the way he ministers to the spirit of all who come into contact with him. If we should ever struggle to find just the one right word to describe Bill Eakman, what if we just use this one word – faith!