By Shirley Ruhe
Alexandria, VA – Carol Bailey has devoted her life to improving the lives of those with special needs. It started when she refused to let her 2-year-old son, Ryan, take the school bus to John Adams Elementary School until they installed seat belts in the bus. She says John Adams was the only school in Alexandria at that time that fit Ryan’s needs in special education.
Her efforts to support Ryan’s special needs continued through his time at T.C. Williams High School. She helped the school raise money for a life skills room to teach challenged students skills such as folding towels, making beds, and cooking. Ryan graduated from T.C. Williams in 2011.
As a result of Ryan’s experience in the after-school program Therapeutic Recreation, Carol got involved with and eventually chaired the Therapeutic Recreation Advisory Council. During her tenure, the council organized the Miracle Baseball Field and League to provide a field for people with disabilities. It included wheelchair access to round the bases for softball and established Angels in the Outfield volunteers to assist players should they need help. Ryan has a bench named for him at the park.
When the Kelley Cares Foundation was founded in 2006, Ryan began participating in various fundraisers, including the Kelley Cares 5K runs. Carol has a picture of Ryan, #22, running to raise money for Kelley Cares. “He raised a lot of money at that event,” Carol said. “Ryan loves to help people.”
During Carol’s tenure at the Therapeutic Recreation Center, another project was a mobile sensory unit located at the Nannie J. Lee Center. It was primarily designed for individuals with autism and incorporated sensory items to soothe the users. Ryan’s picture running a Kelley cares race is displayed on the side of the mobile unit.
Carol worked with the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office on Project Lifesaver, which uses GPS tracking wristbands to locate at-risk persons in an emergency. Her passion for the program came about when Ryan’s school lost him during a job sampling trip in 2006. Ryan now wears the large white band 24 hours a day. The Sheriff’s Office inspects the device and changes the batteries monthly.
Carol and Ryan became a team to promote Special Olympics, with Carol organizing and Ryan participating in events. It began years ago when Ryan played Challenger League baseball in Fairfax. Then Therapeutic Recreation formed a basketball team, which led them to the Special Olympics in 2004.
Ryan played basketball and then moved into track and field events, participating in Special Olympics from 2004-2015. Carol became a Special Olympics coordinator, which involved organizing practices, assuring the athletes had physical exams, and turning in Basketball and Track & Field paperwork. “Ryan has a lot of ribbons for Area 26, and we both have plaques from the Special Olympics.”
Carol and Ryan are also deeply involved in the community activities of Del Ray, providing major support for the Del Ray Business Association (DRBA) through events including the Turkey Trot, Taste of Del Ray, First Thursdays, Music Festival, Art on the Avenue. Carol files city permits for all of DRBA’s events and some 20 other Del Ray events each year.
Carol loves the Annual Tree Lighting, which is always a joyous occasion, but says their favorite event is the Halloween Parade, which she co-chairs with Gayle Reuter every year. Besides regular organizational activities, she helps organize the stuffing of 2,500 goodie bags, giving out Halloween costumes to children in need, serving free hotdogs, and buying lots of candy, cookies, and apple juice for the participants. Ryan serves as the strong muscle man doing the heavy moving and setting up tables. He received the Service Award from the Optimist Club of Alexandria in 2008. “He has participated in so many events,” says Carol, “he just loves to volunteer.”
Carol received a lifetime award for all her volunteering with Del Ray Business Association. For close to 25 years, she has been a leader and has volunteered to make sure events run smoothly and are successful in Del Ray and the City.
Ryan worked at a doggie daycare from 2010-2014 and continued in Special Olympics. In 2014, Ryan had a medical issue and took a break from sports. He is now in the city program to work at the Capital Food Bank. “He can’t just sit; he loves doing that type of stuff,” Carol says.
Carol Bailey has spent her life paving the way for Ryan. She and her family live in the house her grandfather bought in Del Ray in 1900. A historical marker on the front column and a sign in the front yard read, “Spread Kindness, Build Community.”