Pictured are, back row, left to right: Debbie Harden, Darla West, Marcus Mattison; front row, left to right: Jana Shelton, Neil Putman, Barry Willingham (Christy Perry for The Tribune)
CULLMAN – When Neil Putman was just shy of 2 years old, he was involved in a horrific car accident. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, and doctors did not expect him to live past his 19th birthday.
Putman maintains, “I am living proof that doctors don’t know everything. Nobody can know everything except GOD.”
He is now three weeks away from his 46th birthday and describes himself as “living testimony of God’s goodness.”
Recently, Putman’s aunt, Theresa Mann, learned of Flourish of Cullman, Inc. and suggested that he reach out to them. Flourish is a nonprofit organization founded in October 2016 with the mission “to optimize each individual’s potential in personal, social, and vocational competencies and to partner, facilitate, and provide lifelong support.”
Little did Putman know that his connecting with Flourish would be a life changer.
Many words can be used to describe Neil Putman: joyful, funny, unique, determined and inspirational are just a few that come to mind. But despite all his positive attributes, he struggled to find the same happiness for himself that he gave to others.
Prior to participating in the Flourish program, Putman described his life as “unbearable” and recalled, “I did not have a job. I hated myself, and some days, I didn’t want to live. There was a piece missing in my life: not being active!”
In early June, Flourish found the perfect job for Putman: working at the Cullman County Courthouse in the revenue office. He has many responsibilities, including maintaining all the printers, restocking paper, sorting mail and assisting people in line.
The Tribune stopped by the courthouse to spend some time with Putman.
Cullman County Revenue Commissioner Barry Willingham described Neil as “a quick learner and very hard worker.”
The mere mention of Putman brought smiles to the faces of his coworkers.
Putman said about his new job, “I am learning something new every day. Each day is like opening up a birthday present. Having a job here is nice and I meet so many nice people. My life is complete once again.”
Putman has a new-found optimism, confidence and determination. He has set many goals since finding his new job. He is currently studying to receive his driver’s permit and his GED. He plans on taking health and fitness classes to achieve his dream job as a Certified Personal Trainer. He is also looking for an opportunity to become certified in CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator).
When Putman is not working, he said, he enjoys working out at the Cullman Wellness & Aquatic Center. He works out three days a week at the gym and is a strict vegan. He said he especially likes Mae’s Food Hall because of the vegan ice cream and veggie tacos.
Putman also enjoys Heritage Park where he “jogs, walks or sits with my Bible. I like to meditate. Just me and the Lord sitting together enjoying nature.”
Lighthearted exchanges between Putman and Willingham demonstrated a great mutual appreciation.
Willingham laughed as he shared, “Neil loves hot peppers. Eats one every day!”
He also described a recent trip to Taco Bell with Putman, “He ordered a soft taco with no meat and no cheese. I said ‘Neil, you ordered a lettuce taco!”’
Regardless of the topic, Putman always came back to how Flourish has given his life new purpose and meaning.
Sharon Kane helped create Flourish after 21 years as a special education teacher. Flourish helps guide participants with job skill training, resources for independent living and social group activities. For those with developmental disabilities, Flourish helps in overcoming many obstacles they may face.
Kane explained, “Jobs builds confidence, and confidence leads to learning independent life skills.”
Flourish currently has approximately 25 participants, and 12 of them are now employed. Three participants were hired at the Cullman Applebee’s within the last week. Flourish hopes to find more area businesses to partner with, so it can help more participants.
The organization is funded by donations and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. It has weekly planned events and dinner parties. Last week it had a karaoke party. Past events were held at Karma’s Coffee House and Smith Lake.
Flourish will be hosting a golf tournament in late September as a major fundraiser. Putting Fore Independence with be held at the Cross Creek Golf Course on Sept. 29. Flourish is currently looking for volunteers, hole sponsors and community sponsors.
For more information on Flourish of Cullman’s services, visit www.facebook.com/flourishofcullmaninc/.
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