Making a difference: Carolyn Early

Published 4:16 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Volunteer work started at a young age for little Carolyn Early. People described her as active and self propelled in those days — it is still an accurate description.

It was in her 7th grade year that a team from the Red Cross station came to her school and explained the devastating effects of Polio.  At that time, Polio was rampant, it had affected many children her age and younger.

Early said, “The Red Cross team encouraged the young students to come and volunteer at their local station.  I didn’t hesitate to do so.”

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Early described how volunteerism was a way of life for her through out her school and college years. “I was a Candy Striper,” she says, “and I also volunteered at nursing homes.  Later in high school, I started a group that organized a support group for the March of Dimes, at my school. We did can shakes at local venues and drive- ins.”

It is no surprise that Early was soon chosen as a Teen Representative for the Jefferson Parish March of Dimes. She went around speaking at schools and encouraging young people, like herself, to volunteer and make a difference.

When asked what shaped her the most in those years, she said, “A girl in high school had polio. I saw for myself what it was like to live that way, and not to be able to participate in things that other people our age were able to enjoy.”

After the IPV (Inactivated Polio Vaccine), or the Salk vaccine (so called because it was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1952) was proven effective; March of Dimes had a change of mission.

“The March of Dimes National Foundation for  Polio changed it’s focus to the Research and Education of Birth Defects,” Early said. “Tulane was to have a Birth Defect Diagnostic Clinic and they looked me up to see if I would be interested in coming to help it set up. I was so honored and it came at a really good time in my life.”

Early explained through tears, how she knew first hand how birth defects and loss could take it’s toll on a family. She had an opportunity to learn about her issues and help others learn about theirs.

Early said, “I was able to work in public relations for the clinic and when it opened, they offered me a job and a scholarship to Tulane.”

She went to Tulane and continued working. During this time she conceived another child. Even though her last pregnancy had ended in tragedy, Early said, “I felt that between modern medicine and God, this baby was going to make it.” She almost did not.

But in the end, her daughter did make it and despite challenges that resulted in her close call, she has double degrees in Psychology and Counseling. Today, Early’s daughter is working on her third degree in engineering.

The early challenges of her daughter is what led Early to become a big influence for good in the Picayune community in the years to come. Through significant progress displayed despite her daughter’s Attention Deficit Disorder in reading and the teaching of phonics, Early came to teach reading challenged students, that were being forced from 6th grade into the 7th grade, enrolled at Picayune Jr. High.

There in the library, the students met with Early three times a week to go over phonics and foundations of reading. “By the end of the semester, these children were mainstreamed,” Early said. “I see them from time to time and have the privilege of knowing them many years through working with young people so long.

Another group of children that Early worked with for many years, were through her service as a Juvenile Court Judge with the National Peer Court System. Early said, “I’ve always been concerned about children who are in trouble. I have always believed that at some point and time there must have been an opportunity to reach them, for someone to do more. If someone had done everything that they could have, would the path of these children be different?”

 The purpose of the National Peer Court System is to sentence first time offenders of certain misdemeanors to programs that would hopefully turn them around. The Peer Court closed in 2006. Early said, “things have been tough since Katrina. People were displaced and programs dislocated because of that disaster.”

Early feels that the blessings of her serving in this capacity follow her everywhere. “It thrills me when someone comes to me and says, “Judge, I am going to college,” or “Come see my baby.” You never know what could have happened if the Peer Court was not there to intervene,” she said.

Early is currently involved in the Friends of the Library, the Arboretum Group, Habitat for the Humanities, The Lions Club, and the Shriners Organization. She is sure there are others but those are the ones that come to mind first.

Asked if there was one statement that could sum her life up, she said, “We’re all here for the same reason. We all have gifts. A gift is not a gift until it is given. Use your gifts”