A stellar work record, community involvement and the willingness to give back are commendable traits for anyone. Sagamore Hills resident Angel Russo exemplifies all of those qualities, which is even more inspirational when you consider she is a 29-year-old diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a neurological disorder that is part of the autism spectrum.
A 2004 graduate of both Nordonia High School and Cuyahoga Valley Career Center, Russo is was the 2015 recipient of CVCC's Distinguished Alumni Award, an accolade granted to only one person each year based on an alum's career and personal accomplishments.
Dan Hughes, Russo's former teacher in the career center's sales and service program, nominated her for the award. He felt that she deserved the honor based on the strength of her work record, her impact on and involvement in the community, and her charitable work for Autism Speaks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research and advocacy.
Russo has worked for the last nine years at Wendy's in Macedonia as a dining room attendant. Her duties include washing dishes, vacuuming and cleaning the dining room and bathrooms. She is well-known and well-loved by both customers and supervisors.
"Angel is a hard worker and is very customer-oriented," said Hughes. "She's the face of the store, in a way. Her bosses agree that she is a very consistent worker. People know her."
Russo enjoys her job and feels that her bosses have helped her to be successful. She also credits Hughes for what she learned through the sales and service program and to her mother, Denise Donaghue of Sagamore Hills, who taught her how to work and be persistent.
Russo says that she likes the people at Wendy's and that the best thing about working there is "just being around everyone."
Wendy's customers aren't the only ones acquainted with Russo. As a member of St. Barnabas Church, she has sung with the Prayersong Choir for the past 15 years. A highlight of her choral involvement was performing at St. Peter's Basilica in 2006 along with The Three Tenors.
But perhaps the most impressive facet of Russo's accomplishments is the $45,000 she helped raise for Autism Speaks over the last eight years. A large portion of this money was generated by Angel's Army, a team of up to 180 friends and family members who participated in the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks in Northeast Ohio.
Russo's involvement with Autism Speaks is an area close to Hughes' heart, as he has a son who has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
Being awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award also is encouraging for loved ones of anyone who has been diagnosed with autism. For these family members, both Hughes and Donaghue feel that it is inspirational that Russo has held her job for nine years and also has a life that includes extracurricular activities and giving service.
Like many young women, Russo is an avid shopper, concert-goer and dancer. She is the aunt of six nieces and four nephews. She attends Cleveland Browns and Indians games along with her independent providers, Sue and Ron Majewski of Hinckley. The Majewskis are certified through the State of Ohio as part of a program that makes independent providers available to special needs adults through Summit County.
Russo said she felt "really excited" that Hughes nominated her for the award, which was given to her at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center's Senior Recognition Ceremony in May.
Accompanying her was an "Angel entourage," which included her parents, Hughes, and Cathy Miller, owner/operator of Wendy's in Macedonia. Having family, a former teacher and a current boss present to see Angel honored was priceless to all of them.
"Angel was always a hardworking young lady in the classroom and at job sites," Hughes said. "She's a very customer-oriented worker who has continued with that behavior. This shows that special needs kids and adults can be distinguished, too."
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433