Our guest this week is Robert Hendershot of Irvine, CA owner of Material Engineering, a manufactures’ rep firm, founder of Angels For Higher, a non-profit dedicated to providing employment for young adults with Down Syndrome, and author of the book Angel For Higher.
Robert and his wife, Melissa, have been married for 37 years and are the proud parents of three boys: Tanner (28), Taylor (30) and Trevor (32), who has Down Syndrome.
Trevor is a team greeter for the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Rams and Anaheim Ducks. Trevor’s experiences lead Robert to create Angels for Higher, working with sports teams across the U.S. to provide employment opportunities for dozens and dozens of young adults with Down Syndrome.
Robert talks openly and authentically about overcoming alcoholism, writing the book Angels For Higher, and what it’s like to be know as Trevor’s dad 🙂
That’s all on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Show Notes –
Email – email@example.com
Phone – (949) 910-0477
Website – http://www.angelsforhigher.org/
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-hendershot-a802943b/
The Book – https://www.amazon.com/Angel-Higher-Robert-Hendershot/dp/194487836X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=29E9J2LZ3516X&keywords=Angels+for+higher%2C+hendershot&qid=1681392290&s=books&sprefix=angels+for+higher%2C+hendershot%2Cstripbooks%2C367&sr=1-1
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at HorizonTherapeutics.com.
Robert Hendershot: He’s worked 10 years with the Angels, nine with the Ducks, and then three with the Rams and with the Trojans. He’s become known, admired, and often loved by 2 million people.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Robert Hendershot, whose son Trevor has Down syndrome and is the team greeter for baseball’s Los Angeles Angels, football’s Los Angeles Rams and hockey’s Anaheim Ducks. He’s an outgoing guy and we’ll hear his and his dad’s story this week on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to our founder and host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, father’s mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network. Please support the 21st Century Dads Foundation by contributing to Dads Honor Ride 2023, which is a 3,100-mile seven-day bicycle ride taking place from June 17th to the 24th, starting in Oceanside, California and ending in Annapolis, Maryland. I’m one of the four riders and would really appreciate your support. Please make a tax-deductible contribution by going to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
So now let’s hear this fascinating conversation between Robert Hendershot and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Robert Hendershot of Irvine, California, owner of Material Engineering, a manufacturer’s rep firm, founder of Angels for Higher, a not-for-profit dedicated to providing employment for young adults with Down syndrome, and author of the book, “Angels for Higher”, and that’s H-I-G-H-E-R. Robert, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Robert Hendershot: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Melissa, have been married for 37 years and are the proud parents of three: Tanner 28, Taylor 30, and Trevor 32, who has Down syndrome.
Robert Hendershot: Correct.
David Hirsch: Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Robert Hendershot: Yeah. I was born in San Diego, 1955, and my dad was in the Navy. We moved to Los Angeles early on, two or three, and then 1960 we moved to Newport Beach, California, Orange County, southern California. We’ve lived here in Orange County for the rest, most of my life. So I have one brother, older brother, and my mom passed away about 20 years ago. My dad passed away about two months ago, and my brother is living on Maui.
David Hirsch: Wow. Thanks for the quick fly by. You mentioned that your dad was in the Navy. Was he a career Navy guy or did he have a career after the Navy?
Robert Hendershot: He had a career after the Navy. He was in there for two years. I forget the exact dates, but anyway, and then he went into electronic sales for his whole life as a manufacturer’s rep. And I followed him into that career as a manufacturer’s rep for, gee, 35 years myself. So a family business that was passed on.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So when you think about your dad how would you describe your relationship with him?
Robert Hendershot: Not the greatest. We were never that close actually. We had our moments when we were closer and part of our story is that I grew up in a family with a history of problem drinking going back generations untold. I kid around about it, but our ancestors were from Germany and I always figured that at the first Octoberfest in Berlin in the 1400s, whenever that was, one of my relatives probably crashed the oxcart into the town water well, [laughing] and for there on out we’ve gone through it like that.
So when I was growing up, my father was a heavy drinker. His father was a heavy drinker. And one of my great fears growing up, my first great fear was that I would develop a problem, become a problem drinker. That’s exactly what happened. I became an alcoholic. Started drinking in high school. It got worse in college. And then by the time I graduated, I had a couple car wrecks, nothing major.
But then I was down in Mexico with a friend of mine on a surfing trip. A mutual acquaintance of ours, as it turns out, I don’t, I’m not gonna mention his name because he hasn’t given me permission, but I rolled his car going about 65 miles an hour, a few hundred miles south of the border. And if you saw the car… we had a photograph, it’s gone now, but it looked like Princess Di’s car when she crashed. And so you would think nobody survived that. But by the grace of God, we rolled over several times. We were both thrown out of the car, it rolled over on top of us. And I received a minor scar on my forehead. My friend tore ligaments in his leg.
Fortunately there was a motor home full of missionaries that were coming back across the border, and they saw our wreck and they came out. They put us on our surfboards as stretchers, put us in the back of their motor home and took us across the border because you could get stuck down in Mexico for a long time if you fall into the wrong hands.
So after that, my drinking got even worse and I started experiencing blackouts, which is when after a night of heavy drinking, you wake up the next day and have little or no memory of what you did or said the night before. And the worst thing about that for me was that I never knew the next day when a friend might call or a neighbor might knock on my door, or even as sometimes happened, a stranger might stop me on the street and say, you probably don’t remember me, but I recognize you. I know who you are. And then proceed to elaborate on some embarrassing thing I did at a wedding or at a bar or something. And the only solution I had at the time was when I woke up the next day, I started drinking again to blot out whatever vague memories I had on the night before and fortify myself for whatever encounter I may have that day.
It started the whole cycle again. It went on for many years. And then finally in 1983, I was suicidal. I thought I just cried out to God who I didn’t know for help, and he intervened and I stayed sober for the next 12 years.
David Hirsch: That’s a remarkable story. Thank you for sharing. And there’s a parallel. One of the things that you witnessed as a boy or young man growing up was the alcoholism that predates you, your dad, your grandfather, maybe your great-grandfather beyond, like you said. And it’s easy to fall on the path that was created for you, right?
Robert Hendershot: Sure.
David Hirsch: And I think that one of the things that I witnessed similarly, but not with alcohol, was the issue of father absence. And when I was a young dad for the fifth time in 1996, that was the greatest fear that I had, was that I wasn’t gonna be a good dad or be involved with my kids’ lives because, I’m not proud of this but I was not close to my dad, and I witnessed that my dad wasn’t close to his dad. And sometimes that’s a great motivator to take a different path.
Robert Hendershot: Sure.
David Hirsch: And I really admire you for, first of all, your transparency. You’re just very open and candid about it, and I think that adds a lot of authenticity and credibility to who you are as an individual. Maybe it helps you stay more accountable when you’re talking about it and sharing that with other people and the people that care about you will make sure that you hopefully are staying sober and doing the best that you can be. Being the best Robert Hendershot that you can be. So thanks again for sharing.
Robert Hendershot: Sure.
David Hirsch: So you took a degree from USC in marketing, graduated in 1977, and I think you made reference to the fact that you followed in your dad’s footsteps in the manufacturer’s rep area. Were there any twists and turns, or was that a pretty straight path?
Robert Hendershot: It was a pretty straight path. I graduated…. USC was, let’s just say it’s a harder school to survive. [laughing] The way I did it, it was, if you could fog a mirror and pay their tuition, they gave you a degree. So it’s not like that today.
But I graduated and I went into real estate for a while. And then I thought, let me try what my dad was doing and what my brother was doing. So that seemed like a better career. So I went on that path. And then as I mentioned, when I got sober in 1983, I met my future wife, Melissa, and then we were married in 1985.
We went through five years of infertility. And then finally Trevor was born. And then after that our middle son Taylor was born in 1992. And then our youngest son, Tanner, was born in 1994, and he was born 12 weeks early or something like that. Something pretty heavy and came out like three pounds one ounce or something like that. And we’ve met families over the years that were born later than my son was. And there’s all kinds of special needs issues with them, but he came out fine and he’s healthy now and all that.
So then after that I was overseas on business in March of 1996 and I had a celebratory drink with a customer because I thought it’s been 12 years of sobriety. I can handle this now. But that, unfortunately that’s not the case. And I came back and it started up all over again. And much to my wife’s chagrin, I was drinking for a year and a half. Finally, she had enough and checked me into Hogue Hospital August 24th, 1997. And I’ve been sober ever since. And recommitted my life to God in the hospital and attended 12-step meetings and Bible studies and all that. So I’ve been again sober now for over 25 years, which is, praise the Lord for that, no question.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Quite remarkable that you went for a dozen years, fell off the wagon, if I can call it that, and then somehow some way, Melissa’s the heroine in the story, at least from my perspective.
Robert Hendershot: Yes.
David Hirsch: She didn’t abandon you and did what she needed to do to get her husband back. I just really admire the strength of character, not only that you have, that she must possess as well. And it’s a challenge. Life is a challenge. We each have different situations or addictions that we need to address.
Robert Hendershot: Yeah. In fact, your point is well taken as far as it’s rare to have… You call it “double digit sobriety” means being sober for double digits like I was 12 years, and then to lose that and then come back. Most of the people, when they lose their double digit sobriety, they don’t come back because they’re so embarrassed, so ashamed and all that and then they never do come back.
So I’ve been fortunate to have come back, not only come back, but also to have even more sobriety than when I started. So that’s good. Just by the grace of God, that’s all that is for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks again for your transparency and authenticity. So let’s jump into the world of special needs. Before Trevor’s birth, did you or Melissa have any connection to the special needs community?
Robert Hendershot: No, we did not. As I mentioned earlier, we went through five years of infertility. When she finally got pregnant, I had all these hopes and dreams that he or she, my child coming, would be everything I wasn’t: scholar, athlete, musician, leader, at the very least comfortable enough in their own skin that they wouldn’t feel the need to use drugs or alcohol to feel better about themselves. And then finally, it came time to go to the hospital. And then, in the delivery room, I saw our first, and at the time we thought most likely only child being born, and the doctor said he’s a boy.
That was one of the happiest moments of my life. But then when that same doctor five minutes later asked me, do you know what Down syndrome is? That was by far one of the saddest moments of my life. To go from utter joy to utter devastation in about five seconds was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, was worse than any morning after a heavy night of drinking.
And I just, I had some faith in God back then, but I was just shocked. So angry. God, why me? I have enough trouble being a father to a regular child, let alone one with special needs. This is a mistake and I don’t deserve a son like this. And David, it’s been oh, 32 years now, when I look back since that day with all the challenges, setbacks, and successes we’ve experienced in our life together.
I stand by my original statement. While I really did deserve my alcoholism, I drank far too much, far too often, and far too long. I really did not deserve, I sound like Trevor, but for a complete opposite reason. And it would take a month of podcasts to share everything that we’ve experienced in our lives together.
But believe me, he’s been the greatest. That turned out… what would’ve been the saddest day of my life and the happiest, the saddest. I now look back on it and it’s really the greatest moment of my life. The practical lessons that God taught me through my recovery helped me to be a better father to Trevor. And then the spiritual lessons I learned as Trevor’s dad has helped me to stay sober now for over 25 years.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank you for sharing. It literally brings tears to my eyes to have you recall that story about the joy, the sadness, and then, with the benefit of hindsight, with years, if not decades of hindsight, to realize that, you know what a blessing Trevor and all three of your boys are, right? But Trevor, maybe in a special or more profound way just because. Thank you for sharing. So I’m wondering was there some meaningful advice that you got early on that you can point to that helped put this challenge in perspective?
Robert Hendershot: Actually no. I did not have a mentor or anybody that could really counsel me and give me the direction of which to go. But I just relied on the grace of God and I made some mistakes. Melissa will be the first person to tell you that if she was here, she would definitely second the statement there.
But it was just trial and error. There’s some things we did that we’re glad we did, other things we did that we probably shouldn’t have done, and some things we wish we had done. So it was just one step at a time and sometimes three steps forward, two steps back. But anything that I learned has been like hard fought and experienced in the school of hard knocks, I should say, I guess. So I don’t know.
David Hirsch: That’s like getting another education.
Robert Hendershot: Yes. I learned more through Trevor than I did for sure in four years of college. That’s definitely true.
David Hirsch: Were there some important decisions looking back on your parenting you can look to and say that you made some important decisions as parents of a child with special abilities?
Robert Hendershot: Yeah. One thing I look back on and I’m glad we did, there’s obviously educational mainstreaming. That’s old hat now. It’s nothing new, but there a young man or woman gets a chance to socialize with “regular kids”, typical kids and they learn how to read and write to the best of their abilities. So that’s very important of course. And that’s offered today. It’s no longer the dark ages.
But beyond that, we found that spiritual mainstreaming was equally, if not more important. And by that I mean taking Trevor to church with us all the time where he could learn at his pace, about there is a God in heaven that loved him and wanted the best for him.
And even beyond that, it was a safe place where he could go and socialize with strangers, so to speak. Now, school is a real constructed, developed place and there’s not a lot of time for doing whatever you want to do. You have to go to class and you have to listen to the teacher. But at a church, it’s a safe place to learn how to interact with people of different backgrounds and ethnicities and all that. But it’s safe. It’s not like you’re taking your son or daughter, at two years or three years old, take him to a park and leave him there and go. But at a church, it’s a pretty safe place.
So what Trevor learned at our church was how to interact, how to worship, how to talk to people and walk around in a safe way. And that spiritual mainstreaming led him to have success in his very public mainstreaming at these venues that he worked at. He learned how to be somebody that wasn’t afraid of people. He had self-confidence. He had all this. Now this is not for every child of course, but it was really a good thing we did. We took him everywhere we went.
Let me back that up a little bit. We had one advice from a guy at our church, I forgot about this. He had an older son who had cerebral palsy and autism, I believe it was, and he told us, take your son everywhere you go. You take him, you make him like a “regular” son, coaches, teams, take him on trips, all that. You’re not gonna hide him anywhere, just take him everywhere you go. And I think most parents do that these days, but at the time it was a different situation back in the early ’90s. So that was some good advice we received.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thank you for sharing. And the two things that I heard were that you tried to mainstream him from an educational standpoint, maybe before it became more widespread.
Robert Hendershot: Yes.
David Hirsch: And that you also did the same from a spiritual development standpoint as well, and that, you can only look backwards and connect the dots, you wouldn’t have known at the time. But that’s paid off in spades, if you will. But Trevor developed some self-confidence and maybe ability to communicate in a way that he might not otherwise had you not done that. So thanks for emphasizing that. Not to focus on the negative but what were some, or have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered?
Robert Hendershot: We had a lot of those. I got a lot of stories to tell you, but I don’t know how much time we have to tell ’em all. But I’ll just skip ahead to high school I guess.
And we found out he was, as a freshman, he was being bullied, called the R-word, told he was worthless. And so I called the vice principal up of his school and said, hey, students A and B are harassing my son. You’ve gotta put a stop to this. And she said, okay, I’ll talk to them and I’ll get back to you. And she called me the next day and said I talked to students A and B, they deny everything and I tried to talk to your son. I can’t understand him. He mumbles and so I don’t want a miscarriage of justice, so this case is closed. I said, wow, okay, can I have a meeting with you tomorrow then before you close this case? And she said, okay, fine. Come in tomorrow, eight o’clock. So that night, Melissa, again the brains of our outfit for sure, she said, why don’t we have Trevor write down on a card what was said and done to him, because this could be a contentious meeting and we don’t want him to be cross-examined or something like that. So he wrote down on a card what was said and done to him.
And we showed up the next day, eight o’clock, ushered into the boardroom, I guess you would call it, and there was that vice principal, two other vice principals, the principal, three or four teachers, and a police officer. We go, wow, okay. I said, this is not a deposition and there is not gonna be any cross-examination of my son. He’s just gonna read what was said and done to him, and then you all get to decide what the miscarriage of justice might be. And so Trevor said, I scared Daddy. And I said go ahead. I’m here. You just read what’s on the card and you’ll be fine.
And so he starts reading his card. Says, call me “tarded”, call me worthless, ugly, push me down, pour water on my head. And David, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. And I stood up and said, okay, now you all get to decide where the miscarriage of justice might lie. So we left and went outside.
And it was a pretty big deal at the school. I didn’t know this at the time, but out in the sidewalk, the parking lot, there was about a hundred students out there. They had heard about what was going on. And so the cheerleaders were there and they made a big banner. It said, We love you, Trevor, and you’re the bomb and all that. And I don’t know about you, David. I never got a banner from the cheerleaders in my high school. This wasn’t in the cards for me. [laughing] And then a senior tackle on the football team who knew Trevor well, he pulled one of the boys aside and said if you even say hello to Trevor over the next four years, I’m gonna kick your tail to Riverside and back.
Bottom line of it, both bullies were suspended and one transferred outta school. And that night I told Trev, hey, way to go! You did great today. And again, I didn’t got a banner from the cheerleaders of my high school, and he said, I marry them. I go, which one? He goes all them. No, son. [laughing] That’s not how that goes. We’re still…
David Hirsch: Yeah, we’re not Mormons. You can’t do that.
Robert Hendershot: Yeah. We’re still praying for the right girl and he is getting up in age. But anyway so that was that. And then four years later, every senior’s parent got an email saying, if you want your son or daughter to be on the homecoming court, fill out this five part document and return it two days from now or something. And so I, Dave, I think I’ve filled out loan docs that are less inquisitive than this. [laughing] Part one was scholarship. What classes, honors classes? What’s your pa? Part two was athletics. Were you captain of the football team, captain of whatever. And then part three was performing arts. Were you first chair violin or lead in the class play? Part four was leadership, I think it was. Class president, that kind of thing. And then part five was a hundred-word essay on what you’ve contributed to Northwood High School.
And, I thought about my son, my hopes and dreams for him when he was, before he was even born. And I knew he had made some friends at school, I knew that, but I go, I thought about all the things I wished he would’ve been or could have been. And then, but I knew this wasn’t for us, so I just hit delete and then that was that on the email.
And then the next day Melissa got a call from his special ed teacher and asked her, did you fill out his application? She said, no, that’s not for us. And he goes do you mind if I fill it out? And she said, okay, go ahead. And so the next day, the day after I guess, I went to pick Trevor up at school and he comes traipsing out to my car and he’s got this beautiful white rose in his hand and I go, where’d you get the cool rose, Trevor? And he goes, I on homecoming court. I go, no Trevor, I deleted that. He goes, no, I am. And he pulls out a piece of paper and shows it to me and it says, Congratulations! Trevor Hendershot is on the homecoming court of Northwood High School for 2009.
And I go, wow, okay. And it says the whole school’s gonna vote on the five candidates tomorrow, and then they’re gonna crown the king at the pep rally on Friday at lunch. And the queen of course at half slam of the homecoming game. And I go, how’d this happen? I go, Trev, If you don’t get elected, don’t flip out, because David, sometimes when things don’t go his way, he loses it.
Now, I don’t know where he gets that, but it just happens. [laughing] I said, just be cool, Trev, this is a great honor. And so I wasn’t at the the pep rally on Friday. There’s 1200 kids and the band was playing and the cheerleaders are there cheering and all that. And at the end of it, the emcee goes, our homecoming king for 2009 is Trevor. And it didn’t even get to our last name. It was this long, tearful standing ovation. And so that was really cool. And then when I found out about that, I go oh man, he’s getting in front of the whole school today. So I raced out, we rented him a tuxedo [laughing] and I was buttoning it up on him. He’d never had one on before, of course. But he goes, I kiss the bride? I go, son, [laughing] you’re homecoming king. You’re not getting married. And for sure there’s no kissing in this ceremony. Let’s keep your hands in your pockets and we’ll be fine. And so at the halftime that night, everybody came out of the stands, take a picture of him and the queen. He had more pictures taken of him in 15 minutes than I’ve ever had in my lifetime.
But after the game, one of the vice principals from four years earlier said, as four years ago, if Trevor was a freshman, he found out he was being bullied. And with your measured input, we put a stop to that and he was bullied not only because of his disability, but also he has this annoying habit. He loves to sing Christian songs, Christian hymns, before, during and after school, [laughing] and he’s not a real good singer. So we tried to get him to stop over the years, but to no avail. But we came to realize after four years that his faith is part of who he is, in which in addition to singing Christian songs off key, it also comes with a high five, a fist bump, or a hug for those truly fortunate enough to have crossed his path at school.
So we thought it’d be a nice token gesture if we just drafted him on to the homecoming court, but little did we know the votes tallied up. It wasn’t even close. He got more votes than the other four combined. It was by far the greatest landslide in our school history. So we’re very grateful for him to be at our school and for him to have this great honor, as were we for sure.
David Hirsch: Wow, that’s just an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing. Again, I’m wiping these tears from my eyes just trying to imagine what that must have been like for you and Melissa, your family, and just everybody in the school, right? It’s just a celebratory moment, right? All the way around. So you take my breath away.
So I’m thinking about the impact that Trevor’s had and I’m wondering what impact he’s had on his two younger siblings, your marriage, and your extended family for that matter.
Robert Hendershot: Yes. He’s been great. His brothers at first were not too sure about what he’s all about. When they saw him make the homecoming king okay, he might be a good guy to have around, so [laughing] they’ve come to love him and all that. And one thing, they’re both married now. Both been married, Tanner for five years, and Taylor for four. Taylor, our first grandchild, a boy, was born about a month and a half ago, so that was great.
And one thing we made sure of was that any woman coming into our family better be all on board for her brother-in-law. [laughing] And that has been the case. And in fact it was funny. Taylor’s wife Jocelyn, her mom and dad live in Pennsylvania, so they really didn’t get a chance to meet Taylor till later. But her dad told her, if you find somebody you like, find out how he treats people with disabilities. That’s important. So, we had that covered, but so they’ve been very great with him. They’ve been great.
And one thing for sure, we remember when Trevor was born and we thought, wow, we had that same kind of a thought, you know, what if he has brothers or sister. But we discovered early on that if there’s any way to guarantee, and there is no guarantees, but if there was a way to guarantee whether a brother or sister or any kind of a young person was gonna turn out right and have their head on straight, it would be having a sibling with special needs that mom and dad love and part brought into the family. And our boys grew up, they weren’t always looking for the fastest, the biggest, hip looks and cool type stuff, but having their brother Trevor with Down syndrome has really got them pretty squared away. And for sure, they’re in a better place now than I was at their age, which that’s a small, that’s not a big deal, but we’ll take it. [laughing]
Yeah. So it’s been great for them. And for our marriage, Melissa and I, he’s kept us together. Sometimes we thought if we get divorced, you know, who’s gonna get Trevor? I am. No, you’re not. I am. Okay. We, let’s kiss his makeup then. So that’s always been good. It’s been a tremendous blessing to our marriage and we wouldn’t know where we would be today if we didn’t have him, just not only through my alcoholism, but having Trevor a part of our family has been the glue that’s kept us together even today.
We go down he lives with us and the other, obviously the other two boys are out on their own with their wives, but every day, Daddy, you’re my hero. I go, oh boy, man, that’s hard to live up to when somebody tells you their hero every morning. You go, wow, okay. I better shape up. And then he always says, beautiful mommy, and all this. So it’s been great. It’s been wonderful.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about Angels for Higher, first the organization and then the book. So my recollection was that this all started circa 2016, and I’m wondering what was the backstory that led to Trevor getting a job with the Angels?
Robert Hendershot: Yes. That’s a good question. When Trevor graduated… Schools these days, high schools, they’re great at the school. As long as you’re in the system, you’re doing well. But once you graduate, they go, here’s a flag. They give you a Viking swim lesson and throw you off the dock and swim for the best you can. But they told us that the best job Trevor could probably hope for would be folding towels in a hotel laundromat downstairs.
I thought okay, that sounds like an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work. He likes sports, he’s friendly. Is there anything else out there? Nah, there’s no jobs like that. But nevertheless, we heard on the last day of the 2011 season that the Angels had an opening for the position of greeter at their team store.
And I thought, this is not corporate council, it’s not even working the cash register. It’s just using his God-given gifts, abilities and challenges to do something that he’s probably qualified to do. So we drove up there and introduced ourselves to the store manager and he said I don’t know. Gimme a call in a week. I called in a week, he goes I don’t know, send me an email and then we’ll go from there. And I send him an email. Nothing. I finally got ahold of him and he said, it’s outta my hands. You gotta call HR. So I called this guy up and he’s a nice guy too, but he said, we’ve never done something like this. I don’t think so.
And David, as you’re probably well aware, back then this is 2011. It’s still like that a little bit, but it’s better now. But back then, large corporations were afraid that if they gave an interview to somebody with a disability, whatever job it was. And maybe they really, you thought they really can’t do this job, whatever it might be. And then you got a problem cuz they could say you’re just being discriminatory or whatever. And then we go, so we don’t even, not giving an interview to anybody because it could go wrong and then we’re stuck. So I told the HR manager, look, just give him an interview. If you don’t think he can do it, we won’t make a fuss, I promise. We walk away and that is that. So he says, okay, great. Come in next Wednesday for an interview. And again, Melissa wisely, we got him a cool Angel tie and a new sport coat and all that and put his resume together. There wasn’t much to it. And so we show up at the office, the HR manager escorts us in there, and he’s a gruff guy at first. He had his arms folded. He goes, Trevor, nice meeting you. Have a seat. Do you know anything about the Angels? And he goes, yeah, he knew most of the current players. This is 2011, and he knew all the 2002 World Championship players. And he goes, he’s naming them off, in his own unique way of talking.
But the guy, the manager goes, wow, that’s pretty good. I didn’t know that. And then he looks down and he goes, what’s this homecoming king think about? And I explained that to him and he said, wow, you’re a pretty popular guy. [laughing] And so he looks down further. He goes, but you never had a job. He, Trevor said, not yet. [laughing]
And then he said, but I see you’ve had training at Trader Joe’s and Walgreens. What’d you do there? And Trevor said, I stock, I face, I do go backs. These are all retail terms. And he looks at his watch and he goes, Robert, Trevor, this interview’s gone on for about an hour, which frankly is about 55 minutes longer than I thought it would. And I could teach anybody how to stock, face and do go backs. That’s nothing.
He paused and I thought in my head I thought okay, Trev, we did our best, you know. We’ll be on our way and thank this guy for the time spent, and we’ll be outta here. But then he said, but I’ve been in retail a long time and I know there’s a few things I cannot teach. That’s an outgoing personality, a cheerful disposition, and a beautiful smile.
And you, Trevor, have all that and more. Our first game next season is April 12th against the Royals. Can you be there? He goes, I’d be there. So he hires him on the spot. We’re praising the Lord, singing worship songs all the way home. And the next year rolls around. Trevor goes to the game, we drop him off and he’s standing outside the store and welcoming people and he’s just saying, hello, welcome to the team store, high five.
So there were some Royal fans in town for Kansas City and they had Royals hats on and stuff like that. And they tried to walk in the store. Trevor said, “Angel fans only, you traitors! You can’t come in here!” [laughing] And his boss said, no, you gotta let everybody come in. And he goes, okay, come on in, buy a hat.
And then a few weeks later, it was Trevor’s birthday and the President of the Angels, John Carpino, came by and we were there and he said, you work your tail off around here. Gave Trevor a ball autographed by all the Angel players. It was like $500. David, I dunno about you, but I never got it. My first job, I did not get an autograph, a bonus, a $500 bonus from the president of my company. That wasn’t in the cards for me.
So that was good. And then, a few weeks later, the Chairman of the Angels, Dennis Kool, he was speaking at the local Chamber of Commerce and he called me up and says, Hey, could you guys come down and share your story? I’ll give you five minutes cause this is good publicity for the Angels. We go, sure. So we go down there. We shared our story briefly. Much shorter than what I’m doing now, of course, but he said that was great. Let me know if you ever need anything. Oh, okay. So a few weeks later I thought maybe the Ducks, the Anaheim Ducks, the hockey team needs a greeter. So they’re right across the street from the Angels. There’s two stadiums. And so I called up the HR manager and said my son’s a greeter at Angel Stadium. Do you think you need a greeter? And so she goes okay, come by next Wednesday and I’ll give him an interview. And okay, so in the meantime, I called Dennis up. I go, Dennis, this is Robert, Trevor’s dad. Oh yeah, what’s up? And I go, do you know anybody that works for the Ducks? And he said I play golf with the president of the Ducks once a month. I go, okay, that’s good for starters.
And so we go to the interview. And she’s giving us a walking interview. You’re walking around inside Honda Center, which takes five minutes as we go around twice, and he’s killing this interview, I knew he was. I could tell. And so she goes, okay, great. Come back to my office. And so walking up to her office, David, I’ve never worked for a really large company before, but as I understand it, if you’re an HR manager and the president of your company calls you up and says, I understand we have a dad with a special needs son coming in for an interview tomorrow. I think we’re gonna wanna hire this young man. I’ve seen him in Angel Stadium. He’s very spiritual and spirit-filled and he’s cheerful and joyful. And he’s a very nice young man. I think we’re gonna wanna hire him. And so in fact, if you decide you don’t wanna hire him, before they go call me and I’ll come down outta my office and I’ll interview them with you.
So we go back to her office, she goes, here, Trevor, just sign right here. [laughing] Paperwork’s already filled out. She hires him on the spot. And so he’s been working there for a while. And then, a few years later I thought that maybe the LA Rams need a greeter. So we call them up and now we’ve got traction. People know him now, the Angel Stadium. And we got a letter of recommendation from the Ducks, from the Angels. And so they hired him. LA Rams hired him to work at the Colosseum, so that’s good.
And then I went to my alma mater, USC. And that’s a private university and all that. And with all that goes with it. We weren’t wealthy by any means. We got in by the skin of our teeth, but there’s a lot of very wealthy people that go there, blah, blah, blah. So I called them up and I called, said who do I talk to, looked in the phone book. I called the director of auxiliary services and I left a voicemail with him and I thought I’ll call him back in a couple months and see where we’re at. And then he called me back half hour later. He goes, I’ve already talked to HR, I’ve heard your story. I know this Trevor kid. And so we’ll get you into the next game.
They railroaded us through the employment process, so he started working for the Trojans. So over the years that’s been, he’s become known. He’s worked 10 years with the Angels, nine with the Ducks, and then three with the Rams and with the Trojans. He’s become known, admired, and often loved by reliable estimates… Another head of a large nonprofit said he’s known by 2 million people in Southern California. And so that’s a pretty good situation.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now, back to the conversation.
Robert Hendershot: What breaks my heart is that in the United States, 80 to 90% of all babies that are diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in the womb. And then in some European countries, progressive, if you wanna call ’em that, they want to be Down syndrome free by such and such, as soon as possible. In fact, there’s laws pending or even almost on the books already. The moms-to-be face extreme societal pressure. Like Iceland, they’ve had two births of Down syndrome in like 10 years, and those are just because the test came out incorrect. So they snuck in, so to speak.
Then we heard a woman came by the store, Angel Stadium, and she was pregnant with a child with Down syndrome and not sure what to do. But then she met Trevor and she decided to bring her child to life. I’m not saying the whole decision was made, but it played a part in her doing the right thing.
And so we thought maybe there’s something more to Trevor’s employment than just him having four amazing jobs in Southern California. So we thought maybe we could try to replicate what he does in Southern California at other stadiums around the country so that if you’re in New York or Boston, you’re a woman who is pregnant, you find out your child’s gonna have Down syndrome, somebody could tell you before you do anything, go see Tom at Yankee Stadium or go see Susie at Fenway Park, and then the lives of many more babies with Down syndrome would be saved. So that’s the back story for Angels for Higher. So we formed Angels for Higher in 2018, and there’s more to it than that I guess. But that’s where we are at this point.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. What an inspiring story. And just to put a scope or scale to it circa 2022-2023, how many different sporting teams and how many different cities do the Angel for Higher program?
Robert Hendershot: Yeah, we have 19 professional sports teams and three major universities. USC of course, for one, and then Notre Dame and Ohio State. And we have greeters across the country. We’ve got Chicago. We ran the table in Chicago. I have to say that’s your hometown, right? So we’ve got greeters for the…
David Hirsch: Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Fire, Cubs, Sox. You got ’em all. Yeah.
Robert Hendershot: All the big ones. [laughing] We’re coming back for more too. In fact, we’re probably in Chicago and then the Bay Area and Nashville and yeah, some others. There’s more on the way. Our mission is to empower young adults with Down syndrome help them reach their full potential through their employment in public venues where they always positively impact sports fans, fellow employees, team executives, professional athletes, and people living in the surrounding community.
And whether they realize it or not, pro-life ambassadors will use their jobs and do use their jobs as pulpits to joyfully preach God’s message that every human being is incredibly valuable, eternally significant, and incredibly precious in His sight. And then finally, our vision is to change the public perception of individuals with Down syndrome through their jobs, their employment, or they use their God-given gifts, abilities, and challenges to spread joy everywhere they go and change the lives of everyone they meet. So that’s our mission, vision, and values.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Let me just say that for anybody who’s interested, in addition to listening to the story that you’ve just heard I can highly recommend the book that goes by the same name, “Angels for Higher”. It’s a blueprint, right? That’s what I think about the book. It’s a blueprint for how to go about this and I think that there is strength in numbers, somebody should reach out to you and to connect so they can put this idea on a fast track for their son or daughter, grandson, or daughter, or loved one who might qualify. And I’m hoping from your lips to God’s ears that the program continues to expand and engage people who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged. That’s not only the individuals with Down syndrome and their family, but the broader community, because that’s what I see you’re doing. You’re bridging the gap between the world of Down syndrome and disability, if you will, and the broader community. And we’re all better human beings for being aware of and helping create opportunities along the lines of what you’ve just described.
So I’m thinking about advice now and I’m wondering if there’s any advice you can share, particularly with a dad, who maybe has learned that his son or daughter has a diagnosis or is gonna be born with a certain condition. Not only Down syndrome, but beyond. What advice can you offer?
Robert Hendershot: I would advise them to take their child home, bring them home, and that they will never ever regret bringing their child to life and the blessings that will come out of their life with their son. Just quickly on my story, through my alcoholism, I think I mentioned this earlier, the lessons that God taught me through my alcoholism helped me be a better father to Trevor.
The spiritual lessons I learned from my son Trevor, helped me to stay sober for 25 years. Part of a program I’m in is that you have to make amends to people that you may have harmed under the influence. And so I’ve been sober now for 25 plus years and I had 12 years originally and then 25 plus years now. So I figure anybody I may have harmed or hurt while under the influence has either gone away or forgotten what had happened to me.
I feel like I could walk anywhere, in Irvine where I live now, or Newport Beach where I grew up. And then a few years ago I was at Costco loading stuff in the back of my car and a woman was pushing her cart by, and she gave me a funny look and she kept on going. Then she came back and said something like, you probably don’t remember me, but I recognize you. I know who you are. I remember you. And immediately, like I shared earlier, I was transported back to the years of mornings, of pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization. And I thought, wow. Then she asked me, you’re Trevor’s dad, aren’t you? And I said, that’s me. And she goes, I heard you sharing at our church a while back and you shared about your recovery from alcoholism and your special needs son. And it always, it really struck me because I had an uncle that died of alcoholism, and I had a cousin, my nephew rather, has cerebral palsy. So I always wanted to thank you for that. And she gave me a big hug.
And I’m not telling you that, David, I’m not telling your audience that I’ve reached some spiritual path plateau where everything is great and everything’s wonderful. But if God can take a hopeless, helpless, suicidal alcoholic like me, which I was, and then lift me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, and set my feet on a rock and give me a firm place to stand, and then together with my special needs son, make a positive impact on the life of that one woman so many years ago at one church service, what can He do in all of our lives? All the lives of men that have a child with Down syndrome or any other disability coming or on their way or in their lives right now when we cry out to Him for help. And because I have that hope, I have that belief, and I do have that much faith, I’m able to say that I wouldn’t wish a disability on anybody per se or alcoholism for sure. Anybody’s, their son, their daughter, grandson, granddaughter. With all the prayers, support and love we’ve received from the community of faith, from our friends and our church congregations over the years.
And then lastly, absolutely, positively not least, I’m so very grateful, David, for your opportunity you’ve afforded me to share our story on your podcast and by extension to declare to the world outside the scope of this podcast perhaps, that we just love our special son, Trevor William Hendershot, with all of our hearts. And the whole earth as my witness, I would not have traded him or what God has taught me through his life for anything, or with anyone in the world.
And that is why I could finally say today that while I still would not consider myself to have been the best choice to be the father of a special needs child, no way, au contraire, truly just the opposite. But by the grace of God, with the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, we do consider ourselves as Robert’s son with Down syndrome, Trevor’s dad, alcoholic, most richly blessed. May the name of the Lord be praised.
David Hirsch: Amen. Thank you for sharing. So let’s give a special shout out to two individuals, Doc Hunsley at Soar Special Needs in Kansas…
Robert Hendershot: Yes.
David Hirsch: …and Special Fathers Network podcast ad number 122, as well as Cy White, a long-term friend of yours from Los Angeles, and more recent acquaintance of mine who I met in India, for helping connect the two of us.
Robert Hendershot: Yes. Thanks guys.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about your work or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Robert Hendershot: The best way to do that is to go to our website: www.AngelsForHigher.org.
David Hirsch: And if they wanted to contact you directly, is there another way to do that?
Robert Hendershot: Yeah, they can call my cell phone actually: 949-910-0477
David Hirsch: That’s very generous of you. We’ll be sure to include both those pieces of information in the show notes, so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody to follow up with you. Robert, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Robert is just one of the dads who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did.
As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax-deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support. Robert, thanks again.
Robert Hendershot: Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch.
Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at HorizonTherapeutics.com.