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All-Star lineup discuss, life, love and faith at YMCA Prayer Brunch

Wampsville, N.Y. — While they all have different lives and backgrounds, the guest speakers at the fourth annual YMCA Prayer Brunch share a message.
Charles Garrison, Sammi Tucker, Loretta Claiborne and Elliott Small each found faith, life, love and togetherness through God, they explained Saturday to those assembled at the New Beginnings Church in Wampsville.
Garrison is the lead pastor of the New Bible Genesis Church in New Orleans, whose church was ravaged during Hurricane Katrina. He's known throughout New Orleans as the "Appointed, Anointed and Approved Preacher, Orator, Evangelist, and Teacher"; or A.P.O.E.T.
"One of the things that I've gained is a great appreciation for diversity," Garrison said. "There was a group of people from Sandpoint, Idaho and when Katrina hit, these people were not used to dealing with people with 'dark suits'. I got it for my birthday. My birthday suit. The people in northern Idaho, when Katrina hit, they were genuine Christians. They went past sympathy, past empathy and all the way to compassion."
Garrison said those people who left Idaho to come down to Katrina to help people like him and in his community realized the people affected are just like them.
"We ended up crying and hugging each other and asking each other for forgiveness for being prejudiced," Garrison said. "Because all of us have prejudged one group or another at one time or another in our lives. After we finished hugging and crying, the spirit said 'tear down the walls'."
Garrison recited a poem to better drive his point home into the hearts and minds of attendees.
"It's happening on the avenue and all across our towns," Garrison said. "People from every walk of life, working to tear it down. Down the walls of prejudice, unfairness based upon race. Working together hand in hand that all can keep the pace. Things been done to change our towns, for the better or the worse. Some things have been done to make you mad. Mad enough to curse. But it's time to move ahead and make the wrong things right. To appreciate our differences without getting in a fight. So let's go forth on the avenue and all across our towns and usher in that glorious day when we all help the walls come down."
Tucker is a Paralympic Archer, communications coach, resilience mindset trainer and consultant, author, and US Air Force veteran. Tucker visited Central New York in April and held an archery workshop with the YMCA and Warrior Archery in Sherrill.
"You guys got to be the coolest church ever," Tucker said, holding up her bow. "You let me bring a loaded weapon in."
Tucker said she just turned 49, but became 'alive' on Oct. 8, 2010.
"It was the day I lost my arm, but it was the day I gained my life," Tucker said.
Tucker said she lived a troubled life after high school; drugs, alcohol, theft and other crimes. She said she broke all Ten Commandments, including the first when she had an abortion at age 19. Tucker’s life changed when, after going through her third divorce, she got on her motorcycle and drove off, upset.
"I got up after fighting with my husband, went to work, fought with my coworkers all day and hated my life," Tucker said. "I got out of work and got on my motorcycle. I lived in Kentucky and the beautiful fall colors were the only calming thing in my life. It was a Friday and I didn't want to go home."
Tucker said she was driving down the highway and wasn’t paying attention when she hit debris in the road, losing control and crashing. Her jacket sleeve caught in the bike chain and the accident cost Tucker her arm.
As she lay in a ditch feeling like she was going to die, Tucker said she didn't see all the good time she had like in the movies.
"I didn't see a lot, but I felt everything. And what I felt was regret. Remorse. Forty-one years of life and this is what I leave behind?" Tucker said. "But I also felt relief. The pain is going to end and it's going to be over.
"Then it's like a veil parted. The lights changed, the colors change and I hear a voice, very clearly say three words. 'You are mine'," Tucker said.
For the first time in her life, Tucker said she felt that she mattered and started getting excited for life. She started doing things she never did before and it was there that Tucker found, through archery, inner peace and a form of meditation.
She went on to prove a retail worker wrong who said she could never shoot a bow and went on to be the first woman to represent the United States in the Open Compound Para Archery Division in the 2016 Paralympics.
Claiborne is an American global speaker who competes in the Special Olympics. She has been honored with the 1996 Arthur Ashe ESPY Courage Award presented to her by Denzel Washington. Claiborne was the first Special Olympics athlete elected to the Special Olympics International Board of Directors. Claiborne was born partially blind and wore diapers until she was 30 years old. She was unable to walk or talk until the age of four. She has completed more than 25 marathons and has placed in the top 100 women finishers of the Boston Marathon twice. In 2000, Claiborne's life was the subject of "The Loretta Claiborne Story", a television film.

"I serve on the board of directors for the Special Olympics. I don't sit because I open my mouth when there's a problem," Claiborne said. "Now I serve on the health committee for people like me. And I work for unified sports and unified clubs, where people go to school and at early ages, learn about each other and play sports together. We're in God's world. We're not in the black world, we're not in the white world, we're not in the Spanish world, we're not in the able world or the disabled world. We're in God's world, one world."
Claiborne said when she looks back, people with intellectual disabilities were institutionalized. Today, she owns her own home, something she was told would never happen.
"It's about faith, faith in God and faith in myself," Claiborne said. "That's what Special Olympics taught me. I once had no faith. Coach once looked at me and said 'Loretta, if you take all the energy that you put running around the city, being so angry and have little bit of faith in yourself, you'll go places'. And I took that option. And today, I'm here."
YMCA CEO Hank Leo said the Prayer Brunch has to end on a celebration and so "Grandpa" Small took the stage.
"I've been travelling in New Orleans for about 30 years. I was married there, engaged there, we had the whole family there and my best friend is the bass player at Preservation Hall," Leo said. "Over those years, I can't tell you the amount of times I've walked down Royal Street and seen him perform. You always know him, because you could be two or three blocks away and hear this golden voice that resonates through the whole quarter. And there's this whole crowd that gathers around him."
Grandpa Small has been a New Orleans street icon for decades. His music and comforting presence have touched countless hearts throughout the years. When people think of the French Quarter, a soulful neighborhood of New Orleans, people think of Grandpa. Many locals and frequent visitors to the Quarter consider Grandpa the saving grace and passionate force behind the revitalization of the city since Hurricane Katrina. His voice reminds people that music can help the soul persevere through many hardships.
"You know, ladies and gentleman, we had rehearsal last night and let me tell you something. I love this place," Small said. "People are so kind, generous, moral, considerate and hospitable."
Small played a number of songs to end the event, including "Old Man River" and "This Little Light of Mine".
The YMCA annually celebrates its Christian heritage and mission with a Prayer Brunch and scholarship fund raiser at New Beginnings Community Church in Wampsville. 
"Every time this is done, the Prayer Brunch seems to set a new high," Victor Ramirez, co-owner of the Madison Bistro said. "And this year, Hank Leo really put an all star team together. Even though they all have different backgrounds and messages, they're all coming from the same place in their heart, and that's through Christ and being a believer. It's very inspirational."

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