The holiday season is a time for selfless acts of generosity and making the world shine a little bit brighter. The employees of The University of Alabama’s REACH Program took full advantage of the spirit of the season by giving back to a man and his family who have meant so much to them over the years.
Employees of the REACH Program, part of UA’s RISE Center, traveled to Dallas over the weekend to deliver stockings filled with items they donated to LiveBeyond, a faith-based, humanitarian organization that provides aid to the people of Thomazeau, Haiti. The organization was founded and run by Gene Stalling’s daughter, Laurie, and her husband, Dr. David Vanderpool.
Stallings, a former UA head football coach, and his family have been longtime advocates for the RISE Center because Stalling’s son, John Mark, was born with Down syndrome.
“Six of the eight REACH employees are former RISE students and the two who didn’t attend were good friends with Johnny,” said Joylyn Boggs, family service coordinator at RISE who oversees REACH employees. “This is the first time we’ve been able to give to LiveBeyond and we hope to make it an annual tradition.”
The holiday stockings included toiletry items, coloring books, crayons and socks for the boys and girls who are part of Johnny’s Kids, a LiveBeyond program that is modeled after the RISE Center. Johnny’s Kids provides support for children in Thomazeau who have various types of disabilities.
“Giving to the children of Haiti shows love and compassion to those who don’t have as much as we do,” said Brittney Latham, a REACH employee. “I get excited thinking about how happy their faces will be when they open their stockings.”
REACH, which is an acronym for Recreation, Employment, Activity, Community and Health, provides part-time employment to adults with disabilities at the RISE Center.
“Our REACH employees are an integral part of the RISE staff,” said Boggs. “Aside from helping our students in the classroom and performing other duties around the center, they also participate in many group activities in the community.”
In addition to delivering the holiday stockings, REACH employees enjoyed a few fun excursions along the way. The group made a pit stop in West Monroe, Louisiana to visit the Duck Dynasty facility, as well as country musician Miranda Lambert’s store in Lindale, Texas.