Cubs greeters with Down syndrome spread joy, find purpose with Angels for Higher program
There are some new faces at Wrigley Field, besides some new names in uniform on the diamond.
“I learned about Angels for Higher at our MLB League ballpark operations meetings in the fall of 2019,” Vanessa Ward, Cubs director of guest and associate experience, said. “The founder Robert and his son Trevor spoke at our convention. I met him there and thought it was a great program. They help place individuals with down syndrome as greeters in large venues such as Wrigley Field.”
Angels For Higher was founded by Robert Hendershot and his son Trevor, who is diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. The organization started in the Hendershot’s home state of California, when Trevor was hired as a greeter by the Anaheim Angels in 2011. Other teams followed suit, including the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Rams and University of Southern California Trojans.
“In late 2018, the thought came to our minds that maybe there should be something more to Trevor’s employment than just him having these four amazing jobs in Southern California,” Robert said. “So, we thought maybe we should try and replicate what Trevor does at his venues with other stadiums across the United States.”
The 2021 season is the inaugural season for four greeters hired by the Cubs, in partnership with the Down Syndrome Association of Northwest Indiana. Every one of them soaks up every game day experience at the Friendly Confines.
“I like it when I put smiles on their faces and I get to know them more. I get to show people that I am a happy girl and I work hard,” Olivia Longo, one of the four greeters, said.
Zach Millard, another greeter, said, “I love to sing Go Cubs Go with the fans.”
“It’s usually after the game’s over, especially on a Cubs win. Everyone’s all excited coming out and giving him fist bumps and elbow bumps. It’s great to see that interaction with the fans,” Lynda Kujawa, mother of one of the greeters, Kyle Kujawa, said.
The greeters love working game days for two reasons: they connect with fans every game they work and they get to watch some of their favorite players.
“I like the partnership so we can include people and being inclusive and letting people from an organization help us find a job, especially one with the Chicago Cubs,” Longo said.
“I mean it’s really a great experience. It’s really putting him out there,” Corrine Thompson, mother of Cole Thompson, said. “It’s put other people in touch with Down syndrome. I just love that it’s been a part of his journey and hopefully everybody else’s journey, to be honest with you.”
“Again, it’s to show other people the ability that these kids do have a purpose. They want to be given that opportunity and to show that they can do things. The partnership we’ve had between the two organizations has been great,” Kujawa said.
“They bring some joy and cheerfulness and joyfulness to the stadiums,” Hendershot said. “Over the years, they get a chance to interact with somebody with down syndrome for the first time ever. It changes their mind. It changes their heart to see how there is value to what these young men and women can bring to society.
“We want to eventually help transform the special needs culture one public venue at a time. That’s our long term goal.”