Malinda Golden is a trailblazer both on the job and in the community.
“Malinda is in the trenches, jumping hurdles, moving obstacles and creating new paths where none have been before,” said Lynne Hughes, special education teacher and longtime advocate with Golden on behalf of the Eufaula special-needs community. “When people say we can’t do this, she says, ‘Oh yes, we can. Just tell me what resources you need, and I’ll make it happen.’”
Golden’s passion for helping improve the lives of children and teens with special needs comes to some as no surprise: Her 20-year-old son, Michael, has Down syndrome and autism. But that’s not the only reason Golden spends her time and energy helping in the community.
“I don’t do it just for Michael. I do it for all the kids,” said Golden, a field service representative in Alabama Power‘s Eufaula State Docks Road Crew Headquarters. “After he graduates, I’ll still be the mother hen for those kids.”
Recently, Golden helped make it possible for Michael and classmates at Eufaula High School to begin learning to cook. Last year, she saw a posted wish list of small appliances and kitchen items that her son’s teacher, Meredith Campbell, had on her classroom door. Golden went into action, promising to have all the items by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Golden turned to the Southeast Division/Farley Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) Chapter, which donated $450 to help purchase all of the requested items.
Among the supplies Golden bought and delivered were a toaster oven, griddle, slow cooker, mixer, food processor, waffle iron, pressure cooker and two fryers. The items included measuring cups and spoons, baking dishes, pans and enough potholders for every student in the class.
Golden said she “had the best time” shopping for all the supplies for the new Special Cooks Program at Eufaula High.
“It’s not just about teaching them to cook,” said Golden. “They learn time management, how to measure and how to plan a menu, and it helps them with occupational therapy. Learning to cook hamburgers, assemble pizzas or fry French fries can help the kids prepare to work at a fast-food restaurant, which may be the only job some of them can get.”
For the first time, the students are taking part in swimming classes at the community center next to the school, thanks to Golden. She worked with the Eufaula School System superintendent, the special education coordinator and city officials to make the lessons a reality, and purchased some of the lifejackets for the students.
“There are no words to express how much Malinda means to our class,” Campbell said. “Being in a rural town, it’s difficult to get the help we need. Without Malinda and her contributions, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
Making the impossible possible
Perhaps Golden’s biggest contribution has been her guiding hand behind the restart of the Eufaula Area Special Olympics when it hadn’t been held in the community for nearly 20 years.
Golden had been volunteering with Special Olympics since 1990 – an interest that developed long before her own special-needs son was born. She had assisted with events in Enterprise and Phenix City but realized there was nothing similar for kids in her community.
“There are no activities for children and adults in the rural area where we live, so why not make one day special for them?” she said. “It’s their day to participate and enjoy themselves without any kind of criticism.”
Golden approached Hughes, who by then was Michael’s teacher, and the adults went to work to make Special Olympics a reality in Eufaula.
Golden helped the Special Olympics apply for and receive a grant from the Alabama Power Foundation to help cover the cost of the event. She and Hughes enlisted support from the school system and called on area businesses to provide donations and volunteers.
“I told the companies, ‘If you don’t want to donate any money, send me an employee that day or come out and volunteer yourself,’” Golden said. “The more we educate people about our children, the better they will understand them, and the better chance the kids will have in the world.”
That first renewal of the Special Olympics in March 2013 drew 40 children and teens from three Eufaula schools. By 2019, it had grown to include 10 schools in three Alabama and Georgia counties, as well as many adults with disabilities. Although the pandemic brought the event to a halt in 2021, Golden hopes nothing will stand in the way of it taking place this spring.
“Malinda is the action person and gets everything done,” Hughes said. “Every year, she spends thousands of hours on her own time and dime.”
Special Olympics allows each athlete to participate in two events. To keep everyone involved throughout the day – particularly children who are too young to compete – Golden and Hughes added other activities, including a frisbee throw, beanbag toss, jump rope and situps.
Roderick Harris, Transmission lineman with Alabama Power’s Eufaula State Docks Road Crew Headquarters, is a volunteer, and his 12-year-old son, Jayven, is a Special Olympian.
“I think I speak for all the volunteers: What Malinda is doing through Special Olympics really helps the kids. Anything to uplift special-needs kids is a plus,” he said.
Along with Harris, many other Alabama Power and Southeast Division/Farley APSO members have worked as volunteers at the event year after year.
“Alabama Power and APSO volunteers have been a real blessing and a backbone of the event,” Golden said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Alabama Power pioneer
When Golden joined Alabama Power as a utilityman in 1986, she had no idea that she was helping to break down barriers. A farm girl who had been raised in Abbeville, she just wanted a good job that would allow her the freedom to work outdoors.
“I was a tomboy and wanted to work outside because that was what I had always done,” she said. “I also wanted a secure, stable future, and Alabama Power had some of the best jobs.”
Golden was among 15 women statewide who were hired to work in the field in Power Delivery. They were the first female employees to have jobs in the traditionally male roles.
Golden and the other new employees started their careers with a monthlong training course at the General Services Complex in Calera, where they learned to climb poles and operate equipment, such as derricks and buckets on company trucks. They were required to take strenuous physical-fitness training, which included bench pressing 75 pounds. That was quite a feat for Golden, who weighed 90 pounds at the time and is 5 feet, 3 inches tall.
After completing training, Golden was dispatched to Enterprise to start learning the ropes. As a utilityman, she was basically a helper, doing everything from cleaning inside the warehouse to working on a line crew to reading meters.
Several months later, Golden encountered her biggest test when she became the first woman on a tree-trimming crew.
“That job made you or broke you,” said Golden, who used ropes to pull herself into the treetops. “It was very hard and very hot. The first week, I would not let my hands touch anything because of the blisters from the ropes. But I said, ‘I’m not backing out.’”
Golden persevered, proving that she had the gumption and drive to make it. Over the years, she has worked at most of the Southeast Division crew headquarters, primarily as a meter reader and field service representative.
Looking back at those early days, Golden said women had to develop a thick skin to survive.
“You had to fight to do what you needed to do to stay here, and you had to be adult enough to take the ribbing,” she said. “Some guys didn’t want you here, but there were others who would say, ‘You’re going to make it.’ The thing that helped me was that I had worked in a man’s world already.”
With her work in the community and her many years of service on the job, Golden has become a familiar face across Southeast Division.
“I love my job, and I love the people I work with,” she said. “They have been like my right hand. We’ve always been family in Southeast Division, and we know we can count on each other.”