Jed Morison's entire 40-year career has been dedicated to improving the lives of others, but that didn't mean he wasn't surprised when the United Way presented him with this year's Champion of Children award.
The Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities CEO and former Bexley city councilman received the honor in February for the partnerships he's built within the community and his quest to provide education and jobs for children and adults with special needs.
"I'm overwhelmed by it and I think it's quite an honor to be mentioned with some of those people who have received the award in the past like Gordon Gee and Yvette McGee Brown," Morison said. "I was very surprised when they announced it."
Morison, who has served as the disabilities board's leader for 13 years, started his career with the agency 40 years ago as an instructor and supervisor.
His interest in special-needs issues took off when he joined the Special Olympics from 1974-77. He became the organization's executive director and watched it transform from a track and field event to a multisport program.
Morison said one of the highlights of his career was being able to spend the 1980s introducing countries such as Brazil and Belgium to the Special Olympics. Another highlight was when the Kennedy Foundation asked him to author the Event Directors Guide to Coordinating the Special Olympics, which is still used.
Following his Special Olympics tenure, Morison headed back to where his career first began to serve as assistant superintendent for what was then known as the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities for the Mentally Retarded. He stayed in that post for 23 years before being named CEO and superintendent in 2000.
"What's happening in our field, it's been almost like a civil-rights movement for people with disabilities. Educational programs weren't even mandated," Morison said, remembering that when he first started with the agency, there were more than 2,500 residents living at the Columbus Development Center. Today, that number is closer to 90, because there are many more opportunities for residents with disabilities to live and work on their own, he said.
"People in our community today are so much more accepting and people are able to look at more of the capabilities of people rather than the disabilities, so it's really been interesting to be a part of that for 40-plus years and to see people be much more accepted and living conditions are much better and families are supported throughout the process," Morison said.
"I think it's been a big transformation and that may have been much of the attraction for people like myself to stay in this field and see that kind of growth," he said.
Since beginning his career with the county board in 1971, Morison has been making community connections so that organizations providing services can collaborate and give residents better quality assistance. It's because of that collaborative spirit that Goodwill Columbus President Marjory Pizzuti decided it was time to nominate Morison for the Champion of Children award.
"Nominating Jed Morison for this prestigious award was a slam dunk, given his longstanding background as a passionate champion and nurturing 'gardener' by sowing the seeds of diversity in our community," she said. "He has spent years cultivating acceptance of children with disabilities. They are top of mind every day, as he works closely with parents, his staff and community partners like Goodwill to deliver on the promise of services that make it possible for children with disabilities to live, work and engage in Franklin County."
Pizzuti also heralded Morison's work with the state's new Employment First initiative, which is working to increase meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
It's not the first time Morison has worked to create concepts that are adopted statewide. During his 12 years serving on Bexley City Council, from 1998-2006 and again from 2008-12, the city banned texting while driving as well as smoking in restaurants, and also made it a requirement for children to wear helmets when riding bikes. All of those policies that Bexley adopted later became state law.
When giving his acceptance speech Feb. 13 at the Champion of Children's 20th annual Signature Event, Morison said he's sharing the honor with his fellow former council members and everyone who has worked with the disabilities board throughout the years.
"It's really a reflection of the good work of all of our staff and that others have done as related to our agency -- and my work on City Council, that was a team effort as well," he said. "I happen to be the head of the organization, but there are a lot of people who have done great things over the years to get us to this point and that's what I'm most proud of."