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John ’00 and Amy ’00 Gayhart devote their lives to raising awareness for special-needs adults

by Coby Sauce, MBA '14

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When asked to share his testimony, John Gayhart ’00 of Prosper always begins with the years just after graduating from Howard Payne University – married to his college sweetheart, career in progress and a baby on the way. Their lives followed the expected trajectory for nearly two years. And then came the diagnosis – the moment life changed forever for John, his wife Amy (Mayberry) ’00 and sweet daughter Mabry. 

“We were the so-called perfect family,” says John. “I had been a captain of HPU’s football team. Amy was president of Delta Chi Rho. We were even named ‘Mr. and Miss HPU.’ If we would have wanted the white picket fence, we could have had it.” 

When Mabry was just two years old, she was first identified as having special needs, a diagnosis which would eventually expand to include non-verbal autism and SYNGAP1, a neurological disorder with only 800 known cases worldwide. 

John and Amy have devoted their time and efforts to creating the best life possible for Mabry, now 18, and her brothers, Jack, 16, and Slater, 11. 

What began as therapeutic horseback-riding lessons for Mabry as a child led to Amy becoming a board member and, now, executive director of Blue Sky Therapeutic Riding and Respite in Prosper. Amy created and directs PURPOSE, a day program for special-needs adults. Through the program, individuals learn and practice a number of life skills and complete jobs for which they earn paychecks. Blue Sky limits the number of participants so clients may receive individualized attention. 

“The need for quality programs for special-needs adults is so great,” says Amy. “And what we would really like is for people to see our model that we have created and realize that it didn’t take a lot to get it started. You don’t need a million dollars to start a program like this. Our goal is for Blue Sky to stay small but for it to be recreated easily in other cities and states.” 

John’s career is in sports flooring, but he has many “passion projects” related to individuals with special needs. He launched The ABLED Movement, a non-profit organization that works to raise awareness of the needs and desires of adults with special needs and the limited options available to them to discover and live out their purpose. Funds raised through The ABLED Movement are distributed to other non-profit organizations that provide opportunities for these individuals. 

John also began completing half marathons while pushing Mabry in a running stroller, a journey they call #runMABRYrun. 

“We weren’t expecting the number of people we’ve met through this and the number of lives we see Mabry touching as she’s out there at these events,” John says. “Everyone just can’t wait to come up and meet her. All of us are created to be in community. Mabry was created perfectly, and part of God’s plan for her is for her to interact with people. She touches people’s lives like nobody else I’ve ever seen.” 

Through all their activities, the Gayharts share the Gospel and the work Christ has done in their lives. 

“Howard Payne is such an important part of our story,” John says. “When we were first married, we had no idea our life was about to get flipped upside down.” 

John says you can’t get lost at HPU. 

“At many larger schools, you can try really hard to fit in and still get lost in the shuffle,” he says. “At Howard Payne, it’s such a tight community that people are going to seek you out, hold your hand and lead you to the place where you’re going to fit.” 

The Christian fellowship and love they experienced at HPU set the stage for their work later in life. 

“The classes that we took, Chapel – everything was a really big part of helping us experience Jesus for ourselves,” Amy says. “We discovered Him and who we are in Him.” 

Photo #1: John and Amy (Mayberry) Gayhart share a laugh with their children, (from left) Slater, Mabry and Jack.

Photo #2: The college sweethearts pose for a post-game photo.

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