Although his eyes often struggle to see it, the glass is usually half full for Marcus Wooten.
On most days, in fact, his cup runneth over.
He devotes his hours in service to others. He opens doors for children in the carpool lane at Gray Elementary School by the dawn’s early light. He keeps law and order in the parking lot at Jones County High School, deposits smiles in the hallways and has fetched water bottles and other equipment as a manager for the football, basketball and track teams.
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In the afternoons, he volunteers at Stone Brooke Suites assisted living center in Gray. He does everything from vacuum the floors to tend to the garden to help the senior residents play bingo.
At night, he is one tired puppy.
Takers eat well. Givers sleep well.
Marcus doesn’t use his poor vision -- or any of his other physical challenges -- as an excuse to miss life’s roll call.
“He is an inspiration,” said his mother, April Wooten. “He never meets a stranger. He loves everybody. He is outgoing, upbeat, affectionate and always willing to help. He can change the feel of a room.”
A few years ago, Marcus volunteered for the role of Jesus in a living Nativity display at Gray United Methodist Church, where the Wootens are the congregation’s only African-American members. In one of the scenes depicting the life of Christ, Marcus was depicted as Jesus with his feet and hands nailed to the cross, the pain and suffering evident on his face.
Most everybody in Jones County knows him and, if they don’t call him Marcus, he does answer to “Scooby.”
Kurt Greene, a former basketball coach at the school, gave him that name a few years back after the beloved “Scooby Doo” dog cartoon character, and it stuck like mud on his paws.
It has absolutely nothing to do with the school’s mascot, the Greyhounds, and perhaps everything to do with Marcus, a real Scooby Do-Gooder.
April Wooten and her husband, Terry, have three children -- all born the same year. Their daughter, Monique, arrived on Groundhog Day in 1991. Six weeks later, April found out she was pregnant with twins.
That wasn’t so much of a shock. There are seven sets of twins in her family.
What stunned her is when the boys were born three months premature on Oct. 5. Michael weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces and remained in the hospital until Dec. 18. Marcus weighed 2 pounds, 10 ounces and was not released until Jan. 18.
At 8 months old, Marcus was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Doctors told his parents he might never walk. He had breathing issues and was visually impaired.
“Even though he was in special ed, we didn’t treat him any different than the other two,” April said. “Whatever they did, he did. We challenged him. It made him the kind of person he is today.”
‘Got to get out’
Marcus calls his parents his “No. 1 supporters.” But “challenging” him presented its own set of unique challenges, especially after his sister and brother left for college. Monique is at Miles College in Birmingham on a softball scholarship and is majoring in education and history. Michael is studying business management at Morehouse in Atlanta.
“When Monique left, it was OK because he still had Michael, and they are very close,” April said. “But when Michael left, he was the only child at home. It was difficult for him. He looked at me one day and said, ‘Mama, I’ve got to get out and do something.’ ”
Although Marcus walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma with the rest of his class in 2010, his parents wondered what script would follow after the curtain dropped.
“It was bittersweet when he graduated, because none of us knew the next step,” she said. “You always have high expectations for your children, but with Marcus there was a question. I knew we could see it. But, outside this community, who would?”
After 18 years as a paraprofessional kindergarten teacher, April was named parent mentor for the seven schools in the Jones County system. Not only has the Individualized Education Program allowed her to assist the families of children with disabilities, she has learned about the resources available to young people like her son.
In short, Marcus went back to high school, where he helps principal Chuck Gibson, assistant principal Dean Hintz and others, as well as attending classes on life skills.
“He’s a legend here,” Hintz said. “The students respond to him because they respect him. We give him a lot to do, and with those tasks comes responsibility. He listens well, does what he is told and doesn’t stop until he is finished. He pays great attention to detail.”
Chance Scott is a special education teacher at his alma mater and considers Marcus as “part of our family.” When Scott was a student, he would give Marcus rides to school in the morning and home from football practice in the afternoons.
Now, Scott said, he sees Marcus as “the bridge between the students and those with disabilities.”
Teacher Leah Bodnarchuk began a Unified P.E. class at the school several years ago. Marcus has been one of the major reasons it has grown from around 20 volunteers to a waiting list with more than 200 mainstream students. The class pairs each of the two dozen special ed students with a partner in competitive sports events.
Scott laughed and said Marcus not only knows most people in the community, but knows everybody’s business.
“We call him the Frank Malloy of Jones County,” Scott said. “If it’s news, Marcus knows about it.”
Marcus said students sometimes ask he why he’s still there, a 22-year-old walking the halls of the high school with 1,100 teenagers in grades 10-12.
They know he has already graduated. They ask him if he’s working on his doctorate.
“He’s got more tenure here than a lot of us,” said Scott, laughing.
April Wooten said her son has applied for the adaptive program at Clemson University beginning this fall. Jones County school Superintendent Bill Mathews, who often goes to the high school to have lunch with Marcus, has written him a strong recommendation, and the family is hopeful something will work out.
As for Marcus, he is eager to turn the page and begin the next chapter of his life.
But Scooby does wonder.
“What is Jones County going to do when I leave?”
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.