Maureen Morrell, State Chapter Director for the Autism Society of North Carolina, was awarded the Helen C. “Holly” Riddle Distinguished Service Award by the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities on Nov. 19 in Cary.
Morrell has advocated for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families for more than 30 years. She has worked for the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) as part of its leadership team, as a board member, and as a volunteer. Morrell, who began her working life as a nurse, was motivated to advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities after the birth of her first son. Justin, now 36, has autism and lives and works in a residential farm community.
Morrell has worked with many North Carolina agencies and organizations over the years, serving on boards of directors and consulting. “Maureen is one of those rare individuals who has the ability to blend her personal experience as a mother of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder with the role of an informed advocate who can speak to public policy and system issues,” wrote Karen Luken, disability and health consultant, in her nomination. “She has a strong commitment to health across the life course, and her background in public health broadens her approach to how our state can address health concerns.”
Morrell said she was honored to be nominated by her colleagues, who inspire her. She also expressed admiration for the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD) and Holly Riddle, who served as NCCDD’s Executive Director from 1990 until 2013. “The Council on Developmental Disabilities is a very important group of self-advocates, parents, and professionals that work very hard to not just advocate for the needs of people with disabilities but also to talk about their strengths and their unique gifts. I have always admired that about the council,” Morrell said. “Holly Riddle is a very passionate, persistent, committed advocate for people with disabilities. She’s done a great deal to advocate for people with disabilities.”
In her current position, Morrell works with ASNC’s 50 support groups and chapters across the state. “There’s nothing I like better than having the opportunity to go to different parts of the state, meet with parents who are trying to help their own children and yet also have the generous spirit to organize and help all the families in their community. It is so inspiring,” she said.
Terri Meyers, one of ASNC’s regional chapter directors, said Morrell’s colleagues appreciate her can-do attitude. “Maureen’s kind and sharing spirit is infectious,” Meyers wrote in her nomination. “She is one who will not only organize and plan, she will roll up her sleeves and get right into the trenches for the cause.”
Morrell also is a well-known speaker and co-author of the 2007 Autism Society of America’s Outstanding Literary Work of the Year: Parenting Across the Autism Spectrum: Unexpected Lessons We Have Learned. In 1998, she received ASNC’s Parent of the Year Award.
Morrell said she was honored to provide a parent’s viewpoint to the work of ASNC. “The organization was founded by parents who were my mentors, and it’s always been a valued voice. I’ve been glad to have the opportunity to look at our strategic plans and add a parent perspective.”
The longtime advocate has no plans to slow down anytime soon; she said there is plenty more to be done for individuals with autism in North Carolina. When asked their greatest need, she replied: “Being welcomed and included in all aspects of life in their community, whether that’s their family, their neighborhood, church, their parks and rec, their school, or employment. And also recognizing that while they have needs, they have strengths and gifts to offer us when they’re given the supports and services that they need.”
The North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities is a 40-member, governor-appointed body with 60 percent of its members mandated as people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities or family members of people with disabilities. Its activities are guided by the federal mandate to “promote self-determination, independence, productivity and integration and inclusion in all facets of community life” for people with developmental disabilities and their families. NCCDD also works to promote a community service delivery system that is personalized to meet the unique needs of each individual with a developmental disability through funding diverse grantees. For more information, please go to its website, www.nc-ddc.org.Tags: ASNC, asnc chapters, Asperger Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism advocacy, autism awareness, autism north carolina, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, autism support, autism support groups, Developmental disability, North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities