By Alyssa Hurst
In what he calls one of his best decisions, The Arc Baltimore executive director Stephen H. Morgan, turned a summer stint as a camp counselor into a fulfilling career. Today, Morgan stands at the helm of an organization that supports more than 6,000 individuals in the Baltimore area with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Through the efforts of Morgan and his team of 800 employees, The Arc Baltimore helps children, families and individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities lead full and enriching lives. For more than 40 years, Morgan has dedicated his time and work to making a difference, and he says it’s the “little things” that keep him pressing on.
How did you decide to get involved with this type of work and The Arc Baltimore?
Morgan: When I was in undergraduate school I had an opportunity to work as a camp counselor at a camp for individuals — adults primarily — with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I enjoyed the experience so much that when I finished undergraduate school and went looking for a full-time job I came back to that same organization, and they had a couple of positions available. The one that I was most interested in was a teaching position in a child-development center, which was a school-like program, if you will, for youngsters and adolescents with pretty severe disabilities. And so that was my first full-time job working with The Arc.
What was it about that camp experience that hooked you into The Arc Baltimore and working with people with intellectual/developmental disabilities?
Morgan: I guess it was really the people themselves. They were just engaging, caring people. Of course, they have the same kind of range of personalities as do people without disabilities. They like to have fun just like the rest of us. They like to learn just like the rest of us. They like to work just like the rest of us. So I guess it was the commonality that made it so appealing. I decided pretty early on that, that was the group of people that I would most want to work with.
What has been your proudest moment in the last year?
Morgan: There was an awards program done by one of the local papers called “Most Admired CEO,” which I was a little bit humbled to be nominated for. I always feel like accomplishments or successes that I’ve had have always been the result of the work of a team. Nonetheless, I have to confess it was nice to be recognized. But the nicest part was that it was a nomination from my peers.
What energizes you and motivates you to keep pushing through challenges?
Morgan: In many companies you could be somewhat isolated from the mission — you know, the real boots on the ground kind of thing — but I’m fortunate enough that I still have a lot of interaction with the folks that we support. They’re in and out of the office for different reasons, so I get to talk with them. And I get the opportunity to see and hear about the successes of the people we support. It’s often simple things. They get a job, or they get the opportunity to take a special vacation or special trip. Sometimes they’ll get engaged or married, or move into a greater level of independence in an apartment or home of their own. And it’s those kinds of successes that really — they do energize me. It just fuels the passion for the mission when you see [that] it works.
Who has been your biggest inspiration over the course of your career?
Morgan: My father had polio when he was five years old. As a result of that [he] had some muscle damage to both of his legs, and consequently had to walk with crutches and then later in life, wound up in a wheelchair most of the time. But the disability never deterred him from achieving what he wanted to achieve. The funny thing was that for years I worked in this field with people with other types of disabilities, and it never even crossed my mind that my father was a person with a disability, because he was just like — he was dad — just like a regular guy. So it’s funny that it was only comparatively recently when I was pretty far along with my career that I connected it and thought, “you know that probably had a real influence on me that I just didn’t appreciate until later on.”
Stanley Herr was an attorney and had a doctorate law degree. He worked for the civil rights of people with disabilities — primarily people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He was just such an inspirational guy. He was so committed to the cause in such a personal way. That’s what always impressed me. Even though he might be working on some class-action suit, it wasn’t just an amorphous class that he was defending or advocating for. It was individuals that have real lives, and he often knew the individuals and would spend some time with them. He was a brilliant guy but at the same time very down to earth.
I miss them both a lot. The good thing about somebody that’s inspiring is that that inspiration lives on.
What do you do to unwind, relax and get away from work?
Morgan: I do enjoy traveling. That can be just going down to Ocean City for a weekend or it might be a little longer of a trip. Actually the past few years my wife and I have had the great opportunity to go to Europe a few times, and we are planning on doing that again this fall. That’s a great source of pleasure. I also love music. I like playing the guitar and singing a little bit. And I do confess to love dining out. I’m not much of a cook. I can if I need to, but I’d much rather eat out than cook my own dinner.
What is the best advice you have received?
Morgan: This field is fraught with challenges. You could be easily discouraged partly because there’s a lot of need for the different services we provide. The advice was don’t get discouraged. Fight hard. And by that I mean advocate strenuously for the needs of people and their families. Success comes when you persist. It may not be all that is needed; it may not be the perfect outcome; but incrementally we always make progress as long as we don’t give up.
About The Human Element:
The Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email firstname.lastname@example.org.