THOMASVILLE -- Helping those less fortunate is Carl Washington Jr.'s calling.

All except one of his immediate family members work in the social services field and, for most of his life, Washington has been helping those with mental challenges find ways to function in the world.

"I believe sharing experiences and being there can help them a lot more than giving money or materials," he said. "I work with people, try to make a difference and give of myself. I have found there is nothing more rewarding than someone who remembers your name from helping them and comes back to say 'thank you.'"

Born in Queens, N.Y., Washington moved to Bainbridge with his family at age 12.

"It was a culture shock," he said of the differences between a large city and a small town. "It was a big transformation."

Washington is married to wife Marie and they have five children ranging in age from two to 21.

They moved to Thomasville seven years ago for a change of pace and scenery.

"I want to get out and live life," he said. "You cannot do it if you stay one dimensional."

His job in social services is more than just a career for Washington; it's a part of his life.

Washington's younger brother had a developmental disability and, until his death, the entire family took part in caring for him.

He is proud that he had a brother who allowed him to see the need of those with disabilities for someone who cares.

"It was ingrained in us to take care of those less fortunate," said Washington. "My mother had the ability to unselfishly give of herself."

Although he was worked with all age groups at agencies such as Georgia Pines, Bainbridge State Hospital and Thomas-Grady Service Center, his favorite group to counsel is teenagers.

"I think it's important to work with teens because people are the most impressionable at that age," said Washington. "They decide whether to fall back into regular patterns of life or become productive members of society."

The job at Georgia Pines started as a part-time position working with children in 1993.

Since then, Washington has worked in various other parts of the agency and currently serves as a social service technician.

"I teach those who are mentally challenged how to live and adapt in the community," he said.

This includes teaching clients how to pay bills, set up doctor's appointments and how to clean their residences.

"My job is to show them that they can live and function in 'normal' society regardless of stereotypes," he said.

Washington is also a pastor for New Hope Church in Boston and Oak Grove Church in Camilla.

"It's an awesome responsibility because it entails everything from spreading the word of God to individual counseling," he said.

But, spreading the word was not something Washington planned; it just hit him one day.

"I was riding down the street when I heard a voice say 'preach the word,'" he said.

Washington said he was not sure he had the ability or could do it but has proved himself wrong.

"I have earned a great understanding of the calling and the end result is being a vessel," he said. "When you can share the word of the Bible and make people see it and understand it in their lives, it's good to know."

According to Washington, in order to be a pastor one must be humble and know that the job is to serve the people.

"My personal belief system is that every experience brings about a lesson and I think if we learn from those lessons, it adds that much growth to life as well as being able to enjoy life," he said.

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