Kind strangers already have helped Joe Sanderson keep his job. Now they're helping him go to Disney World.
The 20-year-old Millersville resident has overcome physical and mental disabilities to become a paid employee at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center. After an article last year in The Sun detailed how budget cuts would eliminate his position, donations poured in from people who were inspired by his good spirits and ingenuity.
Now, after learning that Sanderson loves roller coasters, officials at Premier Rides Inc., a Millersville-based theme park designer and manufacturing company, have organized a weeklong trip to Orlando, Fla., with free passes to Disney and Universal Studios theme parks.
"He makes you realize how fortunate you are, and that if he can tackle these challenges with a positive attitude we should all keep that in perspective," said Premier Rides president and owner Jim Seay.
The trip was the second surprise for Sanderson. The donation came shortly after Emerge Inc., which operates the home where Sanderson lives, named him Self-Advocate of the Year. The prize for that award also was a trip to Disney World.
"He's made so much progress in the three years since he's come to Emerge," said house manager Kellie M. Mackey.
Although he has limited strength in his arms, Sanderson finds ways to accomplish many tasks at the center. Most recently, he began to learn to drive a golf cart, said Arlington Echo's director, Stephen Barry.
"It was kind of hard to steer the wheel, but I got the hang of it really quick," Sanderson said.
He also might begin taking an early-childhood education class to assist him with his goal of working with children as a career.
"He's more independent, taking responsibility," Mackey said.
David H. Wamley, Emerge's executive director, said Sanderson was chosen for the award from among the company's 250 clients at 80 sites.
"He has been able to create so many friendships for himself that are based on him as a person," Wamley said.
The company chose to recognize his desire to go to Disney World because for eight months, Sanderson had been passing up movies, new clothes and other treats to save for a trip there, Wamley said.
Sanderson, who will be a high school senior in the fall, will go on the Emerge trip next month with his roommate and an Emerge staff member. He will save the other trip until after he graduates in May.
He said he has fond memories of visiting Florida when he was 13, such as the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios.
"I'm really excited," Sanderson said. "I just liked everything."