published Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Neediest Cases Fund helps 'Miss Margaret' stay on the move

Mary Margaret Watson, 88, talks in her home in Chattanooga on Saturday. Watson uses a wheelchair bound because of cerebral palsy and relies on Special Transit Services for transportation to Signal Centers.
Mary Margaret Watson, 88, talks in her home in Chattanooga on Saturday. Watson uses a wheelchair bound because of cerebral palsy and relies on Special Transit Services for transportation to Signal Centers.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

THE NEEDIEST CASES FUND

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The Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund enters its 100th year helping those in need with donations from readers who generously give to a unique resource available year round. Contributions, which are acknowledged in the newspaper, will be accepted through Dec. 31.

NEED HELP?

United Way of Greater Chattanooga will work with partner agencies in the area to help people with emergency needs as well as provide services, if possible, to help them become self-sufficient and stable. Call 423-752-0353 if you or someone you know could benefit from the Neediest Caseses Fund.

Miss Margaret — technically, Mary Margaret Watson — lives on $730 a month.

"Well, I make it," she said Saturday afternoon.

She gets an additional $54 monthly in government food benefits, even though she doesn't have a birth certificate because someone in 1925 forgot to count her on a census.

She's 88-years-old, spunky and bound to a wheelchair by cerebal palsy. And Miss Margaret is so opposite of what you might expect -- cheerful, optimistic and never slowed down for a minute by her disability.

"Honey, I'm not scared of anything," she said with a scrunched-up smile inside her little white Woodward Avenue home, where she was born and raised and hopes to be born again into whatever comes after this life. In her opinion, by the way, eternal paradise.

For some reason, people gravitate toward her. She's picked up on her own popularity.

"I reckon I am [popular], because everybody I meet always wants to come back," she said.

Miss Margaret goes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to Signal Centers of Chattanooga's adult day program, hours of socializing for folks with disabilities.

Courtney Chandler, director of Signal Centers' adult services, said the programs are great for getting locals such as Miss Margaret out of the house. And there are simply great times to be had, to boot.

Card games. Pet therapy. Art. Music. General hanging out and talking and laughing.

"That's part of what day programming is about for individuals," Chandler said.

She said the day programs are income-based, so there is a sliding scale of costs. Special Transit Services picks up clients from all around the city and carries them to Signal Centers day camps or doctor visits. United Way of Greater Chattanooga helps fund the Signal Centers programs.

This year, United Way hopes to broaden financial and social support to its funded and partner agencies with money raised by the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund. Beginning annually at Thanksgiving, the Times Free Press asks readers to donate money to the Neediest Cases Fund.

Hundreds of individual donors -- many of them repeating every year -- donate thousands of dollars to help local people in need.

Miss Margaret, as a matter of fact, uses STS for all her traveling except to and from church. The church has a special van to help her. Signal Centers pays for all of Miss Margaret's transportation to and from their center.

That's good, she said, because her monthly Social Security benefits and her cut of her father's railroad pension are just enough to get by as it is. And she said only special vehicles can get her around like she needs.

"That would be the only way I would go because nobody could pick me up and put me in a car and go," she said.

Being out of her chair is not a familiar spot for Miss Margaret anyway. She's had the same wheelchair for 77 years.

Her first was a wicker rocking chair that an uncle converted into a wheelchair when she was a child. There's a photo of her in the little wicker chair on the wall of her living room. It's next to a 1980s photo of her sister and brother-in-law and a framed Presidential Sport Award from the Reagan administration.

Saturday, her phone rang several times in just an hour or so. She was preparing to have company over for Christmas, to have an aide come over and to do an interview with the Times Free Press.

And her door lock got stuck, which required a neighbor's help.

But she doesn't mind the bustle. Especially since she won't get to visit her friends at Signal Centers this week because of the holidays.

"I don't know what I'm going to do this week and a half," she said. "Because I'll be right here in this house."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 as a region business reporter. He is a native of Dayton, Tenn., located 35 miles north of Chattanooga, and he is a fifth-generation Dayton native. Alex came to the Times Free Press as an editorial intern in July 2013. He was previously a correspondent at The Herald-News, located in Dayton, through college and editor-in-chief of the Triangle, Bryan College's student-led media group. Alex was ...

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