- Associated Press - Saturday, March 14, 2015

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Sharon Steed takes her position next to Cullen Crosby, 10, as they load foam darts into a plastic shooter.

Steed then puts her hand up to her mouth and says, “Let me hear your ‘sh.’ Let me hear your ‘shoot.’”

They both aim the plastic shooters, something like a Nerf gun, at a stuffed octopus that’s hanging on a door in the room.

Over and over, they play and practice saying the “sh” sound. A few minutes earlier, Cullen was on the wooden swing hanging from the ceiling and was practicing saying “push.” When he would say the word in a way that allowed Steed to understand it, she would push the swing so he would float over the towering, soft colorful blocks in front of him.

For an hour, he and Steed work together, practicing words and sounds and playing. Nothing on his face, or in his demeanor, shows that he is tired or sees this as work. Steed has dedicated her entire career to this work.

She has been a speech therapist for more than 30 years. It is her passion.

It became her life’s work after she saw a speech therapist working with a child at a hospital where she was volunteering. Steed said she was struck by how difficult it would be if she had no way to communicate.

“I think I was born running and talking,” Steed said. “I can’t imagine not being able to talk.”

So, she decided to help.

Steed grew up near Aiken, South Carolina, in the small town of Jackson. Her mother, Sarah Sullivan, was a teacher, and her father, owned a business. She said she was surrounded by a family and a community who helped her believe in the power of helping others.

She said her father volunteered with the March of Dimes. He helped lead an effort to raise money to eradicate polio in their town and to get people the medical equipment they needed.

When lung cancer took the life of her oldest brother, her whole family responded by raising money for cancer research.

Steed also can remember seeing people care for their own family members, those who had special needs, at home rather than sending the loved ones to stay in an institution or other facility, she said.

So when she saw that child working with a speech therapist, unable to communicate the most basic and yet valuable feelings - love and pain - she wanted to do something.

“I love science and math,” Steed said. “I like the human part of science. Even when I was young, I was very taken by how the body was put together.”

She studied biology as an undergraduate at Winthrop University and then earned her graduate degree in speech pathology from the University of Arizona.

Since then, she has worked with hundreds of children and adults, helping them to use technology, hand gestures or their own words to communicate.

She has worked at Pediatric Therapy Works in Anderson since 2001.

Steed and her husband, her childhood sweetheart Stephen, moved to Anderson that year. He served in the Army, and for about 20 years they lived in Alaska.

They came back to their home state and thought they would retire.

But her husband started the 40-acre Merry Christmas Tree Farm. A chance encounter at the Anderson Area YMCA led her back into the career that she has worked in her whole life.

Steed met Kim Shore, a woman who worked at Pediatric Therapy Works. There children receive physical and occupational therapy, and speech therapy now, thanks in part to Steed.

“I thought I was going to retire,” Steed said, laughing. “But I remember mom telling me, ‘When the Lord gives you a talent, you can’t hide it under a bushel.’ So much for retirement.”

In her time in Anderson, Steed has helped children and adults learn how to communicate in all sorts of ways.

She has worked with veterans at the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home, and she works with other medical professionals all across the country who go to her with questions.

“She helps people all across this community who have fallen through the cracks,” said Belinda Bracher, the center’s director. “She comes up with out-of-the-box ways of working with people to help them express themselves for the first time ever.”

Like one 13-year-old boy who could not speak. Steed watched the boy and noticed that he could squeeze his hands.

Bracher said Steed taught him how to use those hand gestures to communicate.

“She looks for something they can do, and she builds off of that,” Bracher said.

Like with Cullen, for example.

“Sharon is creative,” said Cullen’s mother, Tresh Crosby. “Rather than sitting him at a desk and asking him to imitate sounds, she lets him play, and they make words while he’s playing. That takes the pressure off.”

The best moments, Steed said, are when a child can express their love for their parents.

“There’s no child who is ‘too’ anything,” Steed said. “We’ll find ways around that.”

She works - even when she’s not at Pediatric Therapy Works - to find ways and new technologies to help the children who come through the office doors.

That is why she is here every day swinging and tumbling and shooting little plastic darts at doors. It is also why she, and other members of the staff, are spotted at birthday parties and fundraisers and other celebrations with the children here.

It’s always about doing what she can to help others.

“Every night, mom says, ‘I know you are tired. I know it has been a long day, but isn’t it wonderful that you did something for someone else?’” Steed said. “It is that daily feeling of helping somebody.”


Follow Charmaine Miles-Smith on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Charmaine_AIM


Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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