Rewards continuing for disabled student

July 20, 2004|By Liz Kay | Liz Kay,SUN STAFF

Kind strangers have helped Joe Sanderson keep his job. Now they're helping him go to Walt Disney World.

The 20-year-old Millersville resident has overcome physical and mental disabilities to become a paid employee at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center. After an article last year in The Sun detailed how budget cuts would eliminate his position, donations poured in from people who were inspired by his good spirits and ingenuity.

Now, after learning that Sanderson loves roller coasters, officials at Premier Rides Inc., a Millersville-based theme park designer and manufacturing company, have organized a weeklong trip to Orlando, Fla., with free passes to Disney and Universal Studios theme parks.

"He makes you realize how fortunate you are, and that if he can tackle these challenges with a positive attitude we should all keep that in perspective," said Premier Rides president and owner Jim Seay.

The trip was the second surprise for Sanderson. The donation came shortly after Emerge Inc., which operates the home where Sanderson lives, named him Self-Advocate of the Year. The prize for that award also was a trip to Disney World.

"He's made so much progress in the three years since he's come to Emerge," said house manager Kellie M. Mackey.

Although he has limited strength in his arms, Sanderson finds ways to accomplish many tasks at the center. Most recently, he began to learn to drive a golf cart, said Arlington Echo's director, Stephen Barry.

"It was kind of hard to steer the wheel, but I got the hang of it really quick," Sanderson said.

He also might begin taking an early-childhood education class to assist him with his goal of working with children as a career.

"He's more independent, taking responsibility," Mackey said.

David H. Wamley, Emerge's executive director, said Sanderson was chosen for the award from among the company's 250 clients at 80 sites.

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