Monarch helps man reunite with family after 15 years
It sounds like a made-for television movie on the Hallmark channel, but Ernest Hargrove’s tale is real. After 15 years, Ernest, who has been supported by Monarch for more than 10 years, was finally reunited with his family. This extraordinary, joyous reunion was a long awaited dream come true.
Excitement and anticipation filled the air for the Hargrove family in Henderson one recent Saturday afternoon. They anxiously awaited the visit from a long-lost cousin, nephew and friend who went away, but was never forgotten. Ernest, 61, a man who is deaf and mute, was finally returning home.
Sharon Stacy, operations manager at Monarch’s residential apartments in Walnut Cove, N.C. has known Hargrove for years. She helped him find the services he needed. First, at Forsyth Industrial Systems in Winston-Salem, and then a place to live and job at Monarch’s Stokes Opportunity Center in Walnut Cove, where he uses a heat sealer to close the plastic packages of screws and locks often found in furniture assembly kits. For years, Stacy has searched the Internet, used social media and good-old fashion letter writing to help Ernest reconnect with his family in Henderson, who they learned lives less than three hours away.
“I guess it was finally meant to be that Ernest reunited with his family,” Stacy said. “It just goes to show you that if you truly believe, your dreams will come true.”
‘Helping Dreams Take Flight’ is not just Monarch’s tagline, it’s the mission behind the nonprofit organization, which started as the Arc of Stanly in 1958. The agency has expanded to provide support to more than 12,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance use disorders in more than 55 North Carolina counties.
“At Monarch, we know that people with disabilities have real hopes and dreams like anyone else,” explained Dr. Peggy Terhune, executive director of Monarch. “Here, their dreams become goals, a plan is put into action, and milestones are reached through the dedication and determination of the people we support, their families, and our staff. Ernest’s story is an awesome example.”
Sharon Stacy served as Hargrove’s driver the day he reunited with his family. It was only fitting that she witness this occasion since she has known Hargrove since he entered Monarch’s doors. Over the years, she discovered his longing to return home and was one of the Monarch staff who worked the hardest to see his dream come true. She didn’t even need to use her GPS when they arrived in Henderson, Hargrove knew exactly how to find his way home, she recalled.
Pulling into the driveway, they encountered dozens of people awaiting his arrival, some traveled as far as Raleigh to attend this reunion. Instantly, there were lots of hugs, tears of joy, laughter and more tears.
“Ernest’s family is truly a special one,” Stacy said. Ten of his relatives are deaf-mute and use sign language to communicate. On this day, many pairs of hands signing their love, their regrets, their happiness and excitement – and plans to remain in contact.
The promise to stay in touch was kept as plans for Hargrove’s next visit is scheduled to occur in just a few weeks. Plans are also in the works for his return during Thanksgiving and Christmas. “You could tell by Hargrove’s face that he was truly home,” Sharon remembered. “He greeted close family members and met new family members who had been born during his time away. You could see the love, closeness and trust this family shares. This was a blessed event.”
Hargrove’s trip home truly became a celebration when they surprised him with a birthday lunch. After all these years, his family had remembered his birthday and celebrated it with gifts, good food and cupcakes. It’s likely a birthday Hargrove will never forget.
Monarch provides support statewide to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse challenges in more than 55 North Carolina counties. Monarch is nationally accredited by The Council on Quality and Leadership and is CABHA certified. The agency is an affiliate chapter of The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of the United States. To learn how Monarch is “Helping Dreams Take Flight” for people in our communities, call (800) 230-7525 or visit www.MonarchNC.org.
Pictured: Ernest Hargrove greets a young family member, Janatical Richardson, age 8, for the first time during his recent visit to Henderson after 15 years. Ernest flanked by cousins during return home.