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Brooks describes Norris as a unique combination of passionate advocate and gifted bridge-builder.

“We are bringing together faith communities of different denominations with secular groups in a meaningful way around issues we all share,” says Brooks. “Not everyone has the calling to work with such diverse groups—to step out and go beyond their safety zone—and find what brings us all together. Sonia has a different kind of gift.”

Twohig says Norris is different from when they first met. Before, she had desire, but no idea how to fulfill it. Now her passion and her ability have come together.

Family photographs of Elizabeth as an infant and toddler line the hallway of the Turners’ north Durham home.
Megan Morr / Duke University Photography


Family photographs of Elizabeth as an infant and toddler line the hallway of the Turners’ north Durham home.


“With this model [for care teams] and Sonia’s work, you see how transformational this ministry can be,” says Twohig. “When everybody is bringing what they can to the table, magic can happen.”

Elizabeth’s health has declined in the past year. When her vision failed in elementary school, she learned Braille, and then used books on tape to continue her education. For many years, she accompanied her parents in a wheelchair and enjoyed Girl Scouting. She attended a self-contained class at Riverside High School in Durham and had hoped to graduate in 2005, but an infection put her in the hospital instead.

Last September, doctors inserted a feeding tube. Her mother worries that she needs to gain weight, and is hopeful she will. “Elizabeth is a fighter,” says Toni. But the Turners know there is no cure for Batten disease.

“Elizabeth’s dad said to me ‘We know there’s no happy ending,’” says Norris. “The Turners have become my friends. We sit and just talk, and what I’ve learned is that when you give, that capacity expands—to do more and to do it better. There’s a sensing of God’s presence.

“I like bringing people together for a common need. As Maya Angelou says, ‘We have more similarities than differences.’ From a theological perspective, we are all created in the image of God. And it’s amazing to see people put aside their differences and stretch—and get stretched—for a common need.”

Project Compassion

Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life

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