Monday, March 5, 2012

A Special Birthday: "Santa's Helpers" Honored by Arc Foundation

In a tradition that has spanned well over a decade, Cheryl Morrow hand-delivers thousands of holiday gifts one-at-a-time to her friends and peers at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's Hilltop Industries workshop, where she works three days a week assembling instruction packets included with Crosman air guns.  In 2011 alone, Cheryl, her mother, siblings, and extended family purchased, wrapped, and distributed Christmas presents to more than 300 developmentally disabled adults who work or receive day habilitation services under the Hilltop umbrella.

The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Foundation gave back to the Morrow family Saturday evening, February 25th, during Cheryl's 50th birthday party at Leisure's Restaurant and Banquet Facility in Lakeville, by presenting them with its Hero Award.  The award is the Foundation's highest honor, recognizing local community members for enriching life for individuals with developmental disabilities.

"If you've ever wondered how Santa Claus must feel during his busiest time of the year, consider spending some time with the Morrows," said Arc Foundation President Tim McCallum.  "Year after year, their growing group of family and friends – let’s call them elves – have brought hundreds of gifts and countless smiles to Hilltop Industries, complete with all of the joy and generosity of the North Pole's most famous resident."

Hilltop Industries is a private, not-for-profit program providing gainful employment and habilitation opportunities to a diverse workforce.  Cheryl, who has Down Syndrome, has been enrolled at Hilltop since 1983.  Her holiday gift-giving tradition began quietly 15 years later, in 1998.  That year, Cheryl, her mother Fran, sister Terry, and Terry’s husband, Jeff Popp, gave about 60 gifts to their extended Hilltop "family."

In a practice that continues to this day, the Morrows personally greeted each person, wished them a Merry Christmas, and presented them with their gift.

“The best part is seeing the smiles on people’s faces, and the way that they come up to you and give you a big hug,” Fran has said.  “It’s something that you just can’t describe.”

“For some people, the Morrow Christmas, as it has become known, is a much anticipated event that they look forward to for months,” Arc Executive Director Chris Peterson added.  “I think it is one of the most gratifying things that occurs in the entire Arc.  It is done quietly, and clearly the Morrows are not seeking recognition.  Instead they just want to brighten the lives of people.”

In recent years, the Morrow's team of elves has grown to more than 20 people who contribute either time, money, or both.  In addition to Fran, Terry, Jeff, and Cheryl, those recognized by the Foundation for their efforts included Patty Morrow; Vicki, Jim , Lindsay and Lauren Jewett; Brenda Morrow; Gary, Chris and Jennifer Morrow; Donna Cottone; Dick Farrell; Jerry McCollumn; Karen Gentile; Jovon, Brian and Nolan Saunders; Joe Maggerine; Morgan Cooley; Donna Morrow; Marty Zuber; and Veronica Pinto.

Cheryl accepted the Hero Award on behalf of her family while celebrating her 50th birthday in grand style, complete with a Mardi Gras theme.  The party, which was organized by Cheryl's seven sisters and brother, drew family members from as far away as New Jersey, New Orleans, and California.  In total, about 220 people attended, including 70 of Cheryl's friends from The Arc.

"Cheryl had such a great time," said her sister Patty, who lives in Avon with Cheryl and their mom.  "She was so excited that she danced all night and only stopped when the party ended at midnight."

As she clung tightly to the crystal Hero Award, Cheryl showed no signs of slowing down in her efforts to spread joy to those around her. According to Hilltop Director Kellie Kennedy, it's that Morrow family enthusiasm that is, quite possibly, the greatest gift of all.

“It is a wonderful tradition that the Morrows have started,” she said.  “Their family really enjoys handing out the presents and the consumers are very excited to receive gifts from the family. It has become a holiday tradition that everyone looks forward to at Hilltop. For some of our people, the Morrow's gifts are the only gifts they receive, and they are very meaningful.”

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