Meet Mahria Morris, the new executive director at Center for Independent Living of Bucks County
By Samantha Bambino
This was the driving force that guided Mahria Morris along her journey of hardships and self discovery. Though she never envisioned herself in a management position, she always had a love for the disabled community and a drive to help. As the new executive director at Center for Independent Living of Bucks County, a Bristol-based nonprofit that helps disabled individuals live independently, Morris is thrilled to be able to use her skills and experiences for the greater good.
Morris was immersed in the disabled community from a young age. Her mother, Anne Mauro, became involved with a project through her church where she formed relationships with innovative people in the community. In 1966, Mauro and the group formed Handicapped Crusaders, an organization that provides a social outlet for locals with disabilities.
Throughout her adolescent and teen years, Morris was constantly volunteering and helping with her mother’s project. After befriending so many in the disabled community, she was able to get a firsthand glimpse into their world and how they fought to make the best of their given situation.
“I learned responsibility and gained an appreciation for diversity in the community,” she said.
Despite her involvement in the creation of Handicapped Crusaders, Mauro never pursued a full time career or degree in the field, and maintained an office manager position for 30 years. This was almost the case for her daughter as well.
Morris married young and had her first son in 1997. After gaining so much respect for the disabled community as a child, it was important for her to raise her son the same way. She started bringing him to Handicapped Crusaders events and had him assist his grandmother Mauro.
While raising her son, Morris worked a variety of jobs. She was heavily involved with the Pennsbury School District where he attended, but her passion for the community was still alive. Taking on a few entry-level jobs, she worked directly with local families who had a disabled loved one. As she started to gain insight into the struggles of the system, she began to think how she would do things differently if she had the power.
In 2012, Morris’ reality was shattered when her husband took his own life. At the same time, she was working at a post office that was going through major restructuring. Unless she reapplied and accepted a job at much lower pay, the company threatened to cut her job. As a single mom with three kids, less money was unacceptable and she knew her time could be spent doing something more valuable.
On a whim, Morris read Andrew Solomon’s “Far From the Tree,” which discusses how although someone has a disability, loved ones unconditionally care for them. The book resonated with her and after a period of reflection, she realized her purpose was clear since childhood.
“I had a greater calling than what I was doing,” she reflected.
To equip herself with the tools to have a full-time career helping the disabled community, she turned to higher education. In only three years, Morris received her associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.
While earning her bachelor’s at LaSalle, Morris completed a placement at Center for Independent Living of Bucks County. At the time, her predecessor, Josh Pittinger, was just starting as executive director and needed assistance. Using her personal relationships in the community, she was able to help him settle in. When Pittinger’s career goals led him away from CILBC, Morris was recommended for the job.
“Mahria is very familiar with Bucks County. She’s lived here all her life,” said Board President Frank Keating. “More than anything else, we know her.”
Since she started her position in May, the new exec has been working to create a robust network of community partners. According to Morris, there are a lot of agencies doing tremendous work, but she doesn’t want CILBC to duplicate their programs. She wants to fill in the gaps.
Over the next few months, Morris will work to improve programs for disabled locals wishing to live more independently, including those about to finish school and nursing home residents who have a desire to move back home.
The most important thing for Morris is connecting to the disabled in the community and helping them find where their strength is, because more often than not, their strength is their disability. They just haven’t realized it yet.
“How is their voice valuable?” Morris asked. “How do we make sure the community sees them as valuable?”
To learn more about Center for Independent Living of Bucks County, visit www.cilbc.org.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com.