Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Morgan Shepherd feels a bit like Santa

JAMIE MARSHALL (l) and MORGAN SHEPHERD DANCE WITH A LITTLE GIRL DURING
ONE OF SHEPHERD'S ANNUAL TRIPS TO THE PARC WORKSHOP IN STUART, VA.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PARC WORKSHOP

Every December, Shepherd feels a bit like Santa Claus


Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 1:23 pm | Updated: 1:28 pm, Thu Dec 20, 2012.



On Monday morning, the folks at the PARC Workshop in Stuart, Va., weren’t listening for reindeer hooves or a hardy ho, ho, ho.



No. They’d been waiting all year for Morgan Shepherd’s big smile.

“(The clients) know when he's coming,” said Henry Ayers, the long-time director for the Patrick (County) Association for Retarded Citizens Workshop, a private non-profit organization that provides handicapped adults with jobs and living skills.


“They see our preparations, so they know. They look at Morgan as a personal friend, and that makes all the difference to them.”


On the annual trips, there’s a lot of smiling, laughing, hugging, dancing and autograph signing. And Shepherd often laces up the skates.


Shepherd’s biggest fan at the workshop may be Jamie Marshall, a client at PARC since the ’80s. He and Jamie dance every year, and they joke and laugh. Shepherd calls her “a very sweet girl,” and one of the highlights comes when Jamie gives Shepherd his present. One year, it was a Bible.

“The gift part is just fantastic, because when she gives me that gift, she’s sitting there clapping her hands, waiting for me to open that gift,” Shepherd has said. “To know that she thinks about me and to know that she waits for that part of the year, that’s something that you treasure. She’s one of the reasons that make this trip so great.”

The trips started small in 1986. Shepherd, the Hickory resident, and his friend Ken Lanter decided to help a man named Billy Shough, who was working for $20 a week at the PARC Workshop.

Shepherd, then driving for Quaker State, called a friend and a painter. They got Shough’s roof fixed, and they took him a bunch of Quaker State racing merchandise. They bought him a year’s supply of gift certificates for the grocery store, and they called the heating-oil company and had them fill Shough’s tank and send them the bill.

The trip grew from there. By the third year, Shepherd and his group ventured off to neighboring Galax, Va.

Each year, Shepherd’s caravan travels to Stuart — just up the road from the Wood Brothers’ old shop — to deliver gift bags to handicapped persons and children. One year they bought a van for a handicapped young woman whose van had worn out. Another year, they built a 1,800-square-foot home for a woman, a polio victim, who had lived in a small shack.

They’ve filled dozens of gift bags with racing t-shirts, jackets, die-cast cars, haulers, hats and more from NASCAR’s top three series. Local companies also contributed socks, gloves, candy, snacks, Goody’s Headache Powder and more.

Naturally, they make sure the bags are safe for everyone.
And there’s even a Shepherd Center named after Morgan, who helped provide the trailer that houses the center for teaching basic home skills.

Ayers said there are probably 30 people in Patrick County who could use the workshop’s services; he says that PARC only has financial resources for “18 to 20.” But Shepherd’s annual trek has helped.

“(Shepherd) takes time with clients, people who need regular attention,” Ayers said. “There’s entertainment, and they’ll dance. The special attention is the big important part of it. We have a nice party, and (the clients) feel important.

“There are nice folks in the racing community, the salt of the earth, who come, too. A lot have been coming for many years, and it’s meant a lot to us as a program. We’ve gotten wider exposure to the community and wider.”
And Jamie and the others appreciate it.

Contact: I can be reached at tgilli52@gmail.com or nc3022@yahoo.com. Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

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