Russell Support Services

by Terry Watson | November 11th, 2011
Russell Morgan

Russell Morgan (Photo byHoward Gaither)

Born and raised in Greensboro, N.C., Russell Morgan, founder, owner, and Executive Director of Morgan Support Services attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He is a loving father, volunteer youth sports coach, an active member of New Light Missionary Baptist Church where his belief and faith in God were instilled in him from childhood.

Russell worked for various established agencies over the years, developing his reputation as someone with the patience and skill necessary to assist people in replacing unproductive and aggressive behaviors with behaviors that help them to function more effectively. He was able to observe both the positive and negative aspects of the industry and, with the encouragement of the people who knew his work, made the decision to start his own agency with an emphasis on innovative services and a heightened level of personal involvement in the lives of the people being supported.

Founded in 2007, the agency has quickly become one of the largest providers of Day Support services to individuals who receive CAP Medicaid-funded services (Community Alternatives Program) in Guilford County. Since opening its doors originally on West Lee Street, Morgan Support Services (MSS) has impacted the lives of over 100 people through direct services. As with many other agencies, MSS has survived through two series of budget cuts which led to having to make some hard decisions regarding staffing and structural changes to the program. Morgan Support Services is an agency whose mission is to raise the bar in the provision of support services to people with developmental disabilities.

A natural entrepreneur, Russell started the agency with the confidence that he was called to do this sort of work. The process of starting, then growing, the agency has been a learning process for him. “While [learning as you go] is a good teacher, it can often be expensive,” he says laughingly. “The move from a mom-and-pop [agency] to a larger, more structure agency has had its share of growing pains. Personal relationships have suffered. In the beginning, the long hours take a toll on family life.” Russell states that growing at a rate faster than the agency’s infrastructure could support, and finding and retaining the right people to do the work have been challenging.

MSS offers experiences both in-house and in the community for its program participants to gain greater independence, discover and develop new talents and interests, and to explore their roles as members of their community. The program has a small recording studio where aspiring songwriters and musicians can record music. A large arts and crafts studio allows for creative expression through painting, paper crafts, and other visual media. The computer lab provides access to various learning and entertainment programs, as well as internet connectivity where folks can complete research, check emails, and explore the world wide web. Participants learn the joy of giving through various volunteer experiences in the community. Vocational opportunities are also available for people who wish to pursue paid work. College instructors provide educational enrichment classes, and in-house life skills classes are offered. MSS is also pursuing additional community partnerships to provide even more enrichment activities, such as Sign Language classes and exercise/sports opportunities.

Russell cites his parents’ work ethic as one of his major inspirations. “Because I think that a person is a sum total of his experiences, I find myself inspired by a lot of people in a lot of different kinds of ways, and in different areas of my life,” he states. Repeated suggestions from professional peers who told him he should start his own agency was also a big source of inspiration, as have been his children. “Realizing that what I do now impacts their future makes me want to keep pushing,” says Morgan. He talks about the pride he feels in setting an example for his children of what one person can create with a focused vision and unremitting determination.

Morgan states that he has been greatly impacted by the people he has supported, both through other agencies and his own, because in them he can see a direct manifestation of his efforts. He tells of one of the first times he was in a position to extoll the virtues of his new agency to the parent of a young woman who was considering coming to the program. The young woman’s recent experiences with other agencies had been less than positive, and her mother saw her deteriorating day by day. “So I go into my spiel, talking about all the wonderful ideas I had for programming, activities, facility beautification, and the like,” Russell said. The mother stopped him mid-spiel and said, “Mr. Morgan, all of that sounds really great, and I have no doubt that you will bring all of that to fruition. However, I have one question for you… I haven’t seen my daughter smile in over a year, is there ANYTHING that you can do to help change that?” The simplicity of that statement, punctuated by the mother’s tears, led Russell to have an epiphany: “This work isn’t about fancy buildings, state-of-the-art equipment, or a limitless variety of activities. It is very simple – if we can do something to put a smile on a person’s face and help them begin to see the world in a way that causes that smile to stay more often than not, then we have done our job. Seeing us be successful at [that endeavor] time and time again provides the inspiration, the motivation to keep pushing.” In addition to the program at MSS, Russell, some of his key staff, and other associates have started a nonprofit venture, called The SHOPPE, Inc., a 501c(3) organization, whose mission is to raise public awareness concerning equality and inclusion for historically disenfranchised people.

MSS currently employs 36 full time staff. The agency’s key leadership, eight employees in management and supervisory positions, have over 100 years’ experience in the field. Turnover at MSS is somewhat below industry average, and Russell attributes it to a positive work environment that offers some flexibility for employees to attend to personal and family matters, and that fosters the professional growth of those employees who embrace and exhibit the agency’s mission. In more than once instance, employees have left for higher-paying employment elsewhere, only to return to MSS requesting to be rehired. They have each stated that they didn’t realize how much working for MSS had come to mean to them. “You can’t buy that kind of loyalty,” Russell states, “especially at the rate that this type of work pays.”

An employee who will be successful in this field “has to know that the most important rewards are not monetary.” Russell strives to make sure his employees understand their importance in the success of the agency. “MSS is what it is largely because we have been fortunate eno

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