A Godly Legacy: How a Retiring Congressman Made Special Needs Interns Indispensable to Capitol Hill
- Representative GreggHarper came to Washington
10 years ago wanting to make a difference.
Looking back, he had no ideathat his greatest legacy
would require no legislation at all.
- So as God indeed directsour paths, from the beginning,
I was on the Committeeon House Administration,
which has the oversightover the intern programs.
So we went to them and we started one.
- [Abigail] Harper's ideaturned into a program
serving students withintellectual disabilities,
who at that time, had noopportunities to work on the Hill.
It started small, with three interns
and six different offices.
- We've now had more than eight years
as a permanent program.
Over 170 House and Senate offices,
Republicans and Democrats,have participated
to the point we don't have enough students
to meet the demand.
- [Abigail] Harper saysthe program is so popular,
offices must often wait a semester
before an intern becomes available.
- It's giving them greatopportunity, great experience,
help them to get oversome shyness perhaps.
By the end of the semester,they're part of the family
and the confidence level is incredible.
- [Abigail] The inspirationfor this program
began with Harper's son, Livingston,
who was born with Fragile X Syndrome.
- None of that program that'simpacted so many offices
would have happened but forour experience with Livingston.
- [Abigail] Austin Cho thrived so much
during his internship, itled to a full time job.
His daily duties includescanning documents
into the digital archives
and providing advice anddirection to other interns.
- I usually give them advicelike stay focused and listen.
- [Abigail] Fortunately,this successful program
will continue despiteHarper's upcoming departure.
- It will certainlylive on and I very much
anticipate it to continueto grow to new levels.
- Colby Jordan, who watched her cousin
face obstacles growingup, praises her boss
for focusing on thespecial needs community.
- It's been really cool to see
these interns come into ouroffice and be such a light.
And I think it's showingpeople on the Hill
that these people can work,they can have full time jobs,
they can come in hereand make a difference
in an office culture.
- [Abigail] Another legacyHarper leaves behind
is leading his staff by example
on how you don't need to separatefaith from the workplace.
- The biggest thing I've learned from him
is a boldness in faith.
Just walking around the halls of Congress,
he will stop a janitor or another worker
and ask them how hecan pray for them today
and give them a Bible verseor a word of encouragement.
- It's been really coolto transition into a job
where you're not looked atdifferently for your faith
and it's encouraged for your faith
to influence the decisionsthat you make in your life.
- [Abigail] For almost six years,
no one left Harper's congressional office
to work elsewhere, which isunheard of in many offices,
especially on the Hill.
- It's been such apleasure working for him.
I think there will be achallenge at transition
to try to work for somebody else.
- [Abigail] Harper will leavehis mark in other places,
such as the Capitol Visitor Center,
where he fought to displayour national motto.
- When you come in now,the first thing you see,
tastefully done, engravedin the marble there,
is our national motto, In God We Trust.
- [Abigail] And in theRotunda, where he worked to put
biblical language backinto the descriptions
below the paintings.
Harper wants other Christianscoming to Washington
to know they're not alone.
- There's a lot of strong believers here,
so my advice is locatesome of those friends,
stay grounded in your own personal faith
and time that you have,
and don't forget aboutyour family at home.
- [Abigail] Harper's wife, Sidney,
says her advice to future families
considering running foroffice is pray about it.
- It's not a decision you take lightly.
Like you said, you've got to hear from God
and know that it's the right decision
and then he will guide you.
- Congressman Harper tellsme he's retiring this year
because he never meantto make this a career,
but is sure he'll remainactively involved in politics
back home in Mississippi.
Reporting from Capitol Hill,Abigail Robertson, CBN News.