FULL OF HEART

Spe­cial needs East­side stu­dent be­comes hon­orary Wal­mart truck driver

The Covington News - - LIFESTYLE - KAYLA ROBINS krobins@cov­news.com

An East­side stu­dent be­came an hon­orary truck driver for the day when Wal­mart hon­ored him for over­com­ing the many ob­sta­cles life has placed in his path.

Austin Mor­ri­son was given the “Wal­mart Heart” award Thurs­day morn­ing, and Cov­ing­ton Wal­mart em­ploy­ees on In­dus­trial Boule­vard and Wal­mart truck driv­ers from around the state came to honor the 10th grader.

The Wal­mart Heart pro­gram was started by com­pany truck driv­ers who raise money for chil­dren and adults with chronic med­i­cal con­di­tions or spe­cial needs and gives them a chance to be an hon­orary truck driver for a day.

Mor­ri­son is a “mir­a­cle,” ac­cord­ing to his mom, LaDonna Mor­ri­son.

“He wasn’t sup­posed to walk,” LaDonna Mor­ri­son said. “He has Tourette’s, cere­bral palsy, has traits of autism and is also ADHD. He’s been in New­ton County School since he turned three. When he started, he had braces on his leg and wore a hel­met on his head.

“But look at him now. I’m very proud. I used to sit and won­der when he was ever go­ing to start talk­ing, and now he’s never quiet.”

Alisa Echols works at East­side High School’s Ca­reer and Tech­ni­cal In­struc­tion Pro­gram, which helps stu­dents with spe­cial needs find jobs, and nom­i­nated Austin for the award.

“Ever since I’ve known Austin, he’s al­ways asked me to help him do an on­line ap­pli­ca­tion at Wal­mart be­cause he re­ally wants to work there,” Echols said. “He’s al­ways help­ing me and the other stu­dents. He’s re­ally mo­ti­vated to learn and to do ev­ery­thing he can do. When I heard about the Wal­mart Heart pro­gram, he was the first per­son that came to mind. He just has a huge heart and helps ev­ery­one he knows – just 100 per­cent ef­fort and very ea­ger to please.”

Heather Wood, Austin’s teacher, said he is “one of my hard­est work­ing stu­dents. He does a great job in his aca­demics. He’s a great helper, and I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing him in my class.

“My nana has been work­ing for Wal­mart, and I want to see how it is,” Austin said.

Ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease, when asked that type of job he’d like at Wal­mart, Austin said, “It doesn’t mat­ter. I’ll do any­thing.”

Af­ter learn­ing about Austin’s story, Wal­mart As­sis­tant Man­ager Dan Brown said Austin was a per­fect ex­am­ple of a young man with a Wal­mart Heart.

“This pro­gram rec­og­nizes youth for over­com­ing chal­lenges by hav­ing a great heart,” Brown said. “With all he has over­come, we feel Austin epit­o­mizes what the pro­gram is all about, and we are go­ing to make him an hon­orary Wal­mart truck driver to­day.” And that’s just what they did. In front of a large au­di­ence, in­clud­ing Wal­mart as­so­ciates and truck driv­ers, Cov­ing­ton po­lice of­fi­cers, New­ton EMS per­son­nel and Cov­ing­ton and New­ton County fire­fight­ers, Wal­mart Store am­bas­sador and truck driver Tim Gibson pre­sented Austin with an of­fi­cial Wal­mart truck driver’s uni­form shirt, a Wal­mart hat and of­fi­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as well as a gift bas­ket with sev­eral additional items, in­clud­ing a minia­ture Wal­mart truck. Dan Brown then pre­sented Austin with a $100 Wal­mart gift card.

But the fun was only just be­gin­ning. With po­lice cars, fire trucks, am­bu­lances and Wal­mart trucks lined up and ready to go, Austin was asked which one he wanted to ride in.

“The Wal­mart truck!” he an­nounced with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

He jumped into the pas­sen­ger seat of a Wal­mart truck and headed off in a pa­rade of ve­hi­cles led by Cov­ing­ton and New­ton County pub­lic safety ve­hi­cles. Af­ter a cou­ple of laps around the Wal­mart park­ing lot, Austin switched ve­hi­cles and rode around the store again in a Cov­ing­ton Fire Depart­ment truck.

“He was ex­cited and a lit­tle ner­vous,” his mother said. “It was just so overwhelming. It was more than I could even imag­ine. Wal­mart did such a great job. This was right up his al­ley be­cause he loves Wal­mart and he loves the fire depart­ment and po­lice depart­ment. It was all of his likes and in­ter­ests com­bined into one day.”

Af­ter com­ing back in for cake, the Wal­mart store man­ager re­minded Austin if he de­cides to ap­ply for a job to put on his ap­pli­ca­tion that he is an hon­orary Wal­mart truck driver.

“That made me feel so good,” his mother said. “You worry about your kids. With him hav­ing a learn­ing disability, I al­ways won­der how he is go­ing to sur­vive with­out me al­ways be­ing there. He wants to work and do some­thing now that he’s older, and maybe this will give him an open­ing.”

He’s al­ways help­ing me and the other stu­dents. He’s re­ally mo­ti­vated to learn and to do ev­ery­thing he can do. When I heard about the Wal­mart Heart pro­gram, he was the first per­son that came to mind.

— Alisa Echols Em­ployee at East­side High School’s Ca­reer and Tech­ni­cal In­struc­tion Pro­gram

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