(3TV) -- A Phoenix-area man with Down syndrome thought he was delivering pizza to a 3TV birthday party but the party was really for him!
“Richie was born with Down syndrome,” said his mother Dee. “We thought, well, we’re going to accept this. We’re going to do the best that we can and we’re not going to treat him as though he has a disability.”
[READ MORE: Surprise Squad stories]
“Richie’s smart, he’s energetic, kind,” said his brother William. “He loves sports so much, he’s been able to incorporate that into his life in Special Olympics, being in basketball and bowling and golf. When I approached Richie three years ago and I approached my mother, too, I said, ‘you know, Richie needs to work. All men need to work.'”
“I never thought Richie would be able to hold a job. Be as independent as he is,” said Dee.
“I had applied to be a job specialist and with that responsibility, I could help Richie find a job,” said William. “He loves pizza and he loves Domino’s Pizza.”
“He’s a great employee,” said Richie’s supervisor Brandon Maze at Domino’s Pizza. “He comes in three days a week. He folds all our boxes for us for rush, as well as for our school lunch program. No matter what time of day it is or if he’s tired, if he’s happy or sad, he’s always got a big smile on his face.”
While Richie and his co-workers unloaded the pizzas, Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad were preparing his party.
“It’s my birthday!” said 3TV anchor Javier Soto.
“It’s my birthday, too!” said 3TV meteorologist April Warneke.
“What?” said Soto. “It’s our birthday. Hey, we’re going to have a big celebration, not for us.”
“No!” said Warneke, holding up a gift bag. “Surprise, surprise. But Surprise Squad, we are going to celebrate our pizza delivery guy today.”
“Shhh!” they both said with their fingers to their lips.
Soto then went out to greet the Domino’s Pizza staff and struck up a conversation with Richie as he guided them to the studio. He told Richie that the Good Morning Arizona staff was having a party for Warneke’s birthday. After the pizzas were in place, Richie was told to stand by the table to help serve them.
“Happy Birthday!” the crowd shouted when Warneke walked in.
“Ooooh, Domino’s,” said Warneke as she opened the top pizza box, revealing a pizza shaped like a mouse head with ears. “Oh, wow, pepperoni. That looks like a shape. That looks like Mickey to me. Hmmm. Anybody like Mickey here?”
“Yep,” said Richie.
“You like Mickey?” asked Warneke.
“Uh-huh,” said Richie.
“Surprise, Richie,” the crowd yelled.
“Richie, we actually have a surprise for you,” said Warneke.
“Yeah,” said Richie.
“This is not for my birthday, it is my birthday, really, but the surprise is more for you because we heard you liked Mickey,” said Warneke. She then handed him the gift bag. “Would you like to open this?”
“Yeah,” said Richie taking the bag. He removed the tissue paper and took out a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. “Oh, yeah!”
The crowd applauded and laughed.
“So, you’re actually going to need these because courtesy of Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad and Valley Toyota Dealers, we’re going to send you and your family to Disneyland!”
The crowd cheered and applauded.
“We heard that you were deserving of a surprise and you really like Disneyland and it’s your favorite place on earth,” said Warneke. “This surprise package includes all expenses: Tickets to the park, air fare, hotel, everything for you and your family to go have a wonderful time at the happiest place on earth.”
“Let’s eat some pizza!” Warneke told the group.
Richie and the crowd ate pizza, took pictures and had a fun morning.
“I’m surprised how much my brother has grown up,” said William. “He really wants to be his own person. He has a life that’s ‘his’. The Down syndrome population needs jobs.”
“As employees, they’re great for moral,” said Brandon. “They’re always happy. They always have a big smile.
“For him to work there, has been a blessing in itself,” said William.
“I don’t see it as Down syndrome,” said Brandon. “I see it as 'up syndrome.'”
The Good Morning Arizona crew gathered with Richie and his family for one last picture and said, “We’re going to Disneyland!”
Thank you to Domino’s Pizza for helping co-ordinate this surprise.
Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad is sponsored by your Valley Toyota Dealers.