A passion for helping others has presented to Catherine Patten many opportunities.
Patten was born and raised in Bradley County.
Her first paying job came at the age of 15 working at Sara’s Hallmark.
At 16, her passion for working with those with disabilities began to develop.
“When I was in high school, I worked as a peer tutor,” Patten said. “When I was 16, a junior in high school, I started working under Sandy Young. She was a special ed teacher, and I just fell in love with it.”
Patten said Young was an “amazing teacher.”
“Working with people like that … you just find your passion,” Patten said.
Patten graduated from Cleveland High School and Cleveland State Community College.
After receiving her degree, Patten worked at Lake Forest Middle School as a teaching assistant for Nancy White in the special education department.
One summer she began looking into camp opportunities to serve those with special needs.
“I helped a friend of mine move to New York, and decided to look for a camp up north to be kind of close to her, and I love the city,” Patten said.
What she found was a camp in New Jersey run by New York Service for the Handicapped. She applied for and was offered a job at as a camp counselor at Camp Oakhurst. She enjoyed the experience so much that she wanted to continue working at the camp.
Patten applied to be a part of the year-round program, which provided camps for children and adults with physical disabilities.
“It was a summer camp but it was also a respite program. There were four-, six- and eight-week sessions for children, and then a two-week session for adults at the end of the summer,” Patten said.
The schedule at the camp had her working every other week allowing her to visit family in Bradley County often.
“It’s just like summer camp. It was awesome! It was the best,” Patten said.
The camp staff were from all over the world.
“You are all there for the same purpose,” Patten said.
Patten became good friends with Martí Toth from Hungary.
Patten said she felt the camp was “like a second home” for her.
“I decided to put school on hold and I stayed up there for about six years, off and on,” Patten said.
She eventually became the programs coordinator.
Toward the end of her time at the camp, Patten enrolled at Austin Peay State University to complete her bachelor’s degree. She considered becoming a professional counselor.
“I enjoy talking to people and people talking to me, and coming to me,” Patten said. “I think I’m a good listener, but I didn’t go that way.”
However, she did remain a camp counselor.
“I was still doing summers up in New Jersey,” Patten said.
She did her final semester online, so she could work at Camp Oakhurst while finishing her degree. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in special education.
Soon after graduation in 2007, Patten made the decision to move home to take care of her mother Nancy who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
She said moving back “was hard,” but now believes “ultimately I was supposed to be back here.”
“Being a caregiver was natural (for me),” Patten said. “Caring for your mother is always hard, or for (either) parent, but I enjoyed it.”
Patten also returned to Sara’s Hallmark, a job she had never really given up.
“I always had a job there, no matter what,” Patten said.
She continued to work there off and on until it closed when the owners retired last year.
A few years after returning to Bradley County, she began looking into special education opportunities. Bryan Gentry, whom Patten had known since she was a child, helped her find employment in the field.
Patten’s mother died in 2013.
Catherine Patten’s passion for helping others had surfaced in new ways as she took care of her mother, and eventually led her to want to help others facing the situations she had gone through.
From this desire came her establishment of the nonprofit Love Nancy.
“I wanted to help people that were going through the same thing I was going through. It is such a huge undertaking,” Patten said.
She said at times being a caregiver was overwhelming.
“I remember sitting at my mom’s house and we were trying to … get it ready to put it on the market,” Patten said. “And I was sitting on the living room floor and I was just crying and I looked out the window at the backyard and my neighbor was mowing our grass.”
Patten said she had not asked for help, but her neighbor saw a need and took care of it.
“She saw what we were going through and she took it upon herself to do this. We were caregivers we were taking care of our mom in our 20s and she helped us out … just thinking about that moment, there are just so many out there who are underserved. I just want to help,” Patten said.
Love Nancy has begun a “care package” program, and monthly activities for those with early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are being planned to give caregivers a break.
Even as Love Nancy programs are launching, Patten is continuing her work with adults with special needs through Fun With Friends. Patten will help adults with special needs pursue employment and social opportunities.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the overwhelming love and support from my family, friends and the community,” patten said.
When she’s not working, Patten likes to travel and spend time with her family and friends. Visiting her friend in Hungary was the last big trip she took with her mom.
“It was amazing. We were gone for three weeks,” Patten said. “We got to travel to many different cities. It was beautiful.”
She has two sisters and one brother. Her father Lou also lives in Bradley County.
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE