Por Maria Sonnenberg
Para Al Día Today
MELBOURNE — Charlie Barba is any parent’s dream son. Polite, hardworking, energetic and friendly, Charlie has never allowed disability to slow him down. The son of long-standing area Hispanic advocates Carlos and Esther Barba, Charlie has Down Syndrome, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a productive, happy adult.
“He has some limitations, but he gains the admiration of everyone who meets him,” said Esther Barba.
From his parents, he inherited his love for Latin music and food, but don’t call Charlie by his given name of Carlos Francisco. Charlie is American and extremely proud of it.
“He was born in Melbourne right around Thanksgiving in 1975, so that’s why we think he is so attuned to America,” said Carlos Barba.
When Charlie arrived into this world, few programs existed for children with disabilities. It didn’t matter, for the youngster successfully navigated through school at University Park Elementary School in Melbourne and Southwest Junior High in Palm Bay.
After graduation from Eau Gallie High School in 1997, Charlie worked at special programs for disabled workers at Intersil and Rockwell.
“He did very well, because he is so conscientious,” said Carlos.
“I always tell him that he is picky, picky.”
Fluent in Spanish and English, Charlie has special fondness for Latin music. In fact, he’s gone “professional” by serving as deejay at the last Viva Brevard festivities, as well as at several functions sponsored by the Barba’s church, the Lourdes Catholic community in Melbourne.
“Charlie has more than a thousand Latin cd’s in his collection,” said Carlos.
“He has his own professional-quality equipment.”
Charlie is also a big fan of the Colombian groups led by AL DIA TODAY publisher Javier Molinaries. There is no Hispanic music Charlie doesn’t appreciate.
“He will play paso dobles so loud in the car that I sometimes have to ask him to turn it down,” laughed Barba.
At Lourdes, Charlie serves as “hospitality minister” during 6 p.m. Saturday masses.
“He greets guests, hands out the church bulletins and collects donations for the school and church,” said Barba.
“He’s happiest when presenting the donations.”
With his own family and his church family, Charlie has traveled throughout Europe. A favorite of his is, of course, Spain.
While in high school, Charlie became interested in martial arts, initially at the encouragement of his father.
“I recommended that he take up martial arts so he could defend himself,” said Barba, who was a student of these self-defense disciplines while in his native Cuba.
Charlie took to tae kwon do like a fish to water, earning second place in a regional competition that pitted him against more experienced contestants from throughout Central Florida, including Orlando.
“I cried with joy that night,” said Barba.
A natural athlete, Charlie has earned several medals in basketball and golf during Special Olympics events.
The Barbas have drawn great strength from their son after Charlie’s older sister succumbed to cancer earlier this year.
A few weeks ago, Charlie was again honored, this time for his work ethic, at his current place of employment, Five Guys in West Melbourne. During a special ceremony held at Holmes Regional Medical Center auditorium, the restaurant chain’s vice president was on hand to recognize Charlie’s can-do attitude and his conscientious labor.
Todd Snowden, general manager of Five Guys Burgers and Fries was also present at the ceremony.
“I wish all of my staff had a ¼ of Charlie’s heart. He takes a lot of pride on his work,” said Snowden. “ I feel more successful after knowing Charlie. He has done a lot for me.”
Joan Hurtado, employment coordinator of the Brevard Achievement Center, has worked with Charlie for four years.
“Charlie makes coming to work worth working. Charlie is amazing at this job and I love my job,” she said. “Thank you Charlie!”