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Posted: May 31, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Special needs student honorary driver

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.”

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