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Local hero has her day

Created date

April 30th, 2009

Last May, the town of Newton celebrated Linda Hiller Day. This year, Hiller had her day again, this time sharing center court with the basketball stars of the Boston Celtics. As the Celtics and their opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder, scattered to their respective huddles for a timeout, she shined at the center of the Celtics iconic parquet floor. There, Hiller, who lives at Linden Ponds, received the Heroes Among Us Award and a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd. Why she s a hero The Heroes Among Us Award honors individuals who have made exceptional, lasting contributions to the community. Hiller was recognized for her 27 years of dedication to Understanding Our Differences, a program for third, fourth, and fifth graders that promotes acceptance of people with disabilities. Last year, the town of Newton presented her with the Mayor s Award and even declared May 27 Linda Hiller Day for her service in the program. "She s responsible for an incredible awareness for children, for adults, for people who are creating facilities," says Ellie Svenson, Hiller s longtime friend who nominated her for the award. Teaching awareness More than 20,000 children in the public schools of Newton have gone through the Understanding Our Differences curriculum since its inception in 1978. Today, it is taught in schools around the country. "The kids get to meet people who have disabilities to understand they re just like everybody else," says Hiller. "It s really an incredible program." Hiller, who has multiple sclerosis, became a speaker for Understanding Our Differences when her children were in the Newton schools. About 350 volunteers keep the program going each year, and she has filled a number of key roles, including president. She is currently a speaker and resource specialist, mentoring participating schools and overseeing program revisions. Accessible lifestyle These days, Hiller speaks to the second generation of Understanding Our Differences students in Newton. "A couple of the [Linden Ponds] residents have volunteered to drive me, and it s been great," says Hiller, whose condition necessitates the use of a scooter. At home at Linden Ponds, she lives independently and easily maneuvers through the buildings. In fact, Hiller and her husband, Ed, were so sure they wanted the community s accessible lifestyle that they reserved a spot at Linden Ponds five years before they were old enough move in. "I can do everything that I need to do for myself without having to ask anybody else to drive me here or drive me there," she says. "I can do my banking, I can get my hair done, I can get a manicure, [and] I can go to the store if I need anything," she adds of the services at Linden Ponds. "It s great to be here."