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A Good Neighbor Inspired by God’s Love

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The note arrived for Carl Payton the way Stella Delaughter’s messages always did. In a white envelope. Slipped under his door in the middle of the afternoon when nobody was home. Like they were spies communicating covertly. “Gazebo, 2 p.m. tomorrow,” the note read. Carl marked the day and time in his calendar, chuckling. Only Stella.

They’d met 14 years earlier, back when Carl was new to his role as a facilitator in the Supported Independent Living Services program at Volunteers of America in New Orleans. At the time, Carl had eight clients. All were special. But Stella? She stood out.

Maybe it was her happy-go-lucky personality. Or the way she always called him Carl, as if they were old friends, instead of “Mr. Carl,” the way his other clients did. Or the fact that she ended up living in the same apartment complex as Carl and his wife. Wherever he turned, Stella was there.

Carl looked forward to their get-togethers. Stella had an intellectual disability and struggled with vision, hearing and anxiety issues. He met with her for 10 hours every week. Sometimes she needed help figuring out her bills, other times a pep talk.

And yet she was fiercely independent. She’d venture out into town by herself to get pet food or cross a busy highway to reach the bank instead of waiting for Carl to drive her. After all, she’d managed on her own most of her life.

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