The accomplishments of people with disabilities were highlighted recently when The Resource Center held its 29th annual Disability Awareness Awards Celebration.
The event took place October 16 at the Lakewood Rod and Gun Club. The celebration was an opportunity to recognize people with disabilities who have made meaningful strides in their lives, as well as honor community residents and organizations that have helped improve the lives of those who have a disability.
Welcoming remarks were given by Denise Jones, The Resource Center’s Executive Director. “This evening we will celebrate the achievements of several people with disabilities who have realized significant accomplishments during the past year, as well as those who have played a significant role in supporting The Resource Center to ensure individuals are provided with the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” Denise said. “We hope you come away inspired by what you hear, and we invite you to join us in our ongoing mission of making a difference in people’s lives.”
She presented the first awards of the evening, which were given to the members of TRC Foundation’s Board of Directors. They each received an Excellence in Governance Award. TRC Foundation, Inc., was established in 1994 to raise money to support the unfunded needs of people with disabilities in Chautauqua County. Over the past 23 years, TRC Foundation has granted more than $1 million to assist area residents.
TRC Foundation’s Board recently took steps to transfer the foundation’s assets to the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation “in order to access their expertise in investing and planned giving, and to endow (TRC Foundation’s) funds to ensure that grants can be provided in perpetuity,” Denise said.
“Tonight we recognize a group of leaders for their dedication and commitment to ensuring the success of TRC Foundation, and thank them for their service,” she said.
Then, with masters of ceremonies Dennis Webster from WJTN and Sheila Webster from the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce leading the show, the rest of the awards were presented. The Community Support Award was given to Jeff Geblein, who has taught instrumental music at Forestville Central School for more than 40 years. As director of the high school band, for many years Jeff has brought band members to The Resource Center’s Dunkirk facilities to play holiday music for staff and people with disabilities. Every December, Jeff and the band perform at TRC’s buildings on East Chestnut Street and Lake Shore Drive, and he arranges for Santa Claus and some elves to appear to hand out gifts and candy canes.
“Our groups perform many times during the year, but it’s always a highlight when we get to go to The Resource Centers,” Jeff said as he accepted his award. “The kids look forward to that and the joy that the music that they play and sing brings to everyone.”
The Health Provider of the Year Award was given to Dr. Adnan Munir of Lakewood. Dr. Munir, The Resource Center’s Medical Director, was honored for the passionate level of care he provides at TRC Community Health Center. TRC’s Primary Care Office serves people with developmental disabilities who live in homes operated by TRC, as well as thousands of other local residents. Some of the people with disabilities who are supported by The Resource Center have complex health issues and are medically fragile. Dr. Munir works with a team of health care professionals and other staff to ensure that these medically fragile people receive the care they need to remain healthy and avoid hospitalizations. During the past few years, Dr. Munir and the team have succeeded in reducing the number of hospitalizations and emergency-room visits among residents of TRC’s homes.
Dr. Munir also oversees the school-based health center that The Resource Center operates at Jamestown High School.
The Employer of the Year Award went to Truck-Lite of Falconer. TRC has partnered with Truck-Lite for more than 15 years to create job opportunities for people with disabilities. In the past year, Truck-Lite has hired five people through TRC’s Supported Employment Program, bringing to seven the number of workers hired through The Resource Center who currently are employed at Truck-Lite. Company officials regularly contact TRC when there are job openings. Truck-Lite and TRC remain in close contact throughout the interview process as well as after a new employee has been brought on board, in order to help ensure the worker will be successful on the job.
Steve Jones, Materials and Procurement Engineer at Truck-Lite, accepted the award. He said the workers Truck-Lite has hired through The Resource Center perform their jobs well. He noted that in addition to having employees with disabilities working at its plant, Truck-Lite provides work opportunities to other people with disabilities by contracting with The Resource Center to have work performed at TRC’s manufacturing facility on Jones & Gifford Avenue in Jamestown. Steve praised Truck-Lite’s disabled workers and TRC’s Supported Employment Program, which matches people with disabilities and local businesses.
“They just do a great job, and we’re glad to be a part of it,” he said.
Truck-Lite also received the Employer of the Year Award in 2003.
The next award was for Advocate of the Year, and it was presented to Patrick Smeraldo of Jamestown. He was recognized for his work as an Independent Service Coordinator with Chautauqua Connections, Inc., and the Connections Children’s Coalition, a collaboration involving more than 30 local agencies that support children up to age 5. In that role, Patrick advocates for children and families, connecting them with area service providers to receive the assistance they need.
Recently, he facilitated the successful rollout of the Child Wellness Passport, a tool that provides an easy way for parents to track information about their children and assess their children’s developmental progress.
Patrick also has advocated for teen-agers living in Resource Center homes, working with staff from TRC and local school districts to ensure that the youths receive the services they need.
This year, he has joined the leadership team of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive in Chautauqua County, and he wants to make sure that no local child is overlooked during the holidays.
In accepting his award, Patrick said he enjoys working for the Connections Children’s Coalition, and he credited others for the coalition’s success.
“I’m only a small, small piece of a large team that’s out there fighting for children every day, and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to do,” he said.
The Elmer Muench Volunteer of the Year Award was given to Tom Rhodes of Mayville. Several years ago while he was a TRC employee, Tom helped start a choir composed of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at The Resource Center. Group members gave themselves the name Voices of Hope. Over the years the choir has performed numerous concerts at The Resource Center and at community venues such as Lutheran, Heritage Village and the Prendergast Library.
Tom is retired from TRC, but he comes to The Resource Center twice a week to work with the choir members. He inspires them to express themselves through music and to enjoy themselves with no expectations.
Tom said he felt he shouldn’t be honored for doing something he enjoys. “It’s like giving me an award to go to Disney World twice a week,” he said. “We have a lot of fun, and I think that it’s something that I take pride in how much they take pride in what they do.”
Before Tom could leave the stage with his award, Darlene Lascola, a Direct Support Professional who helps to facilitate the choir, came forward to present him with a gift. It was a painting made by Voices of Hope members who also participate in TRC’s Creations art program.
“Tom is more loved than he realizes,” Darlene said in explaining why choir members wanted to create a painting for him.
The Volunteer of the Year Award is named in memory of Elmer Muench, a longtime volunteer for The Resource Center.
The Personal Success Award was given to David Shaw of Jamestown. He was honored for maintaining successful employment at UPMC Chautauqua WCA. Dave was hired in January to work in the hospital’s kitchen. His manager is proud of Dave’s work ethic, and dietitians have commented on how well they like working with him. Dave is considered to be a reliable asset in the kitchen, and he has yet to be late to work or miss a day.
The Bruce Walford Community Service Award was presented to Evelyn Wright-Kegelmyer of Cassadaga. Evelyn, a Staff Development Specialist at The Resource Center, was honored for her volunteer efforts in support of special events put on by TRC, Filling the Gap and community organizations, especially Chautauqua Hospice & Palliative Care.
“I love to volunteer, I love to give back.” Evelyn said. “It just satisfies me so much.” She read a quote by Leo Rosten, a humorist and writer:
“I cannot believe that the purpose to life is merely to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable and to be compassionate. I think that it is above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
“I try to live by that every day in the things that I do,” said Evelyn. She also thanked members of her family for their efforts in helping to undertake all of her volunteer activities.
The Community Service Award is named in memory of Bruce Walford, manager of TRC’s Dunkirk manufacturing facility.
The Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Joshua Hughes of Dunkirk. Joshua, who has several disabling conditions, continuously works to improve himself. He has been sober for 14 years, and this year he stopped using tobacco.
Joshua is employed at Walmart in Fredonia, where co-workers know they can rely on him to perform his tasks and assist when needed. An advocate for people with disabilities, Joshua is a past president of a self-advocacy group sponsored by the Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York. He also has volunteered at the Friendly Kitchen in Dunkirk.
Joshua lives on his own. He recently acquired a vehicle, increasing his independence.
Also recognized at the awards celebration was Phil Murvine of Jamestown. He was honored for having been selected by New York State Industries for the Disabled for recognition in NYSID’s annual Outstanding Performer Program. NYSID honored Murvine for his job performance as a member of The Resource Center’s Environmental Services crew that maintains the Interstate 86 rest area near Bemus Point.
The final honor of the evening was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given to Greg Peterson. Greg has been supporting The Resource Center and people with disabilities for more 40 years, serving on the boards of The Resource Center and TRC Foundation.
Marie Carrubba presented the award. Marie, a longtime member of The Resource Center’s board, shared how Greg has been able to find ways to have TRC and people with disabilities benefit from some of his other community interests. Greg is a longtime supporter of Jamestown’s professional baseball team, and in the 1980s he helped arrange for TRC to be the team’s broker for selling season tickets. He also was able to get the professional ballplayers to hold a training practice with a softball team composed of people with disabilities at TRC.
A driving force behind the creation of the Robert H. Jackson Center, Greg involved TRC in one of the facility’s most successful continuing legal education seminars by having people with disabilities create tie-dye T-shirts that were given to participants at a seminar that focused on the Woodstock music festival.
Marie added that when TRC Foundation was created in the mid-1990s, Greg helped attract Board members who would help the foundation be successful.
“Greg has been there for The Resource Center for as long as I can remember,” said Marie, who herself has been involved with TRC since 1983. “No one has been more dedicated or championed the cause of TRC.”
In accepting the award, Greg deflected attention from himself, saying that TRC’s success has been due to its high-quality administrative leadership, employees, board members, and families.
“I’m just so honored with this award as it reflects not on what I did, but it reflects on what everybody here has done throughout those years,” Greg said. “I’m here just representative of people standing on the shoulders of … all of those folks who just give so much of their time and talent for an incredible cause.”
Greg asked longtime family acquaintance Jennifer Felice to join him on the stage. Jennifer has received supports from The Resource Center for many years; her parents, Mike and Laura, were active volunteers and supporters of TRC. Saying that Jennifer was “emblematic of all those people that we do the work for” and who “make great strides and great achievements,” Greg gave her his Lifetime Achievement Award.
Closing remarks were given by Harry Glatz, a member of TRC Foundation’s Board. He quoted portions of a poem by Walter Wintle:
“If you think you are beaten, you are. If you think you dare not, you don’t. If you’d like to win but think that you can’t, it’s almost a cinch you won’t. Life doesn’t always go to the person who’s the fastest or strongest. But sooner or later the person who wins is the person who thinks he can.”
Each award recipient received a trophy, plus certificates from Congressman Tom Reed, Senator Cathy Young and Assemblyman Andy Goodell. Three people who receive supports from TRC helped hand out the awards: Abby Adam, Kyle Keller and Janel McIntyre. Jane Young, TRC Nursing Office Assistant, was the event photographer.
This year’s awards selection committee was composed of Chris Anderson, TRC’s Marketing and Internet Manager; Kevin Anderson, TRC’s Assistant Director of Employment and Community-Based Services; Victoria Trass Bardo, Development and Events Manager for Filling the Gap; TRC Assistant Executive Director Heather C. Brown; Kathy Field, TRC’s Associate Executive Administrative Assistant; and Michael Suppa, Filling the Gap’s Vice President for Planning and Operations.
Also recognized at the awards celebration were individuals and businesses who within the past year achieved significant levels of cumulative financial contributions to The Resource Center, TRC Foundation or Filling the Gap. Those achieving milestone giving levels during the past year were Capital Group Companies ($25,000); Graf Realty and R. Erik Seastedt ($10,000); and AXA Advisors, Janice Pratt-Scott and Steve Waterson ($5,000).
Sponsors of this year’s event were Brown & Brown Insurance, Lake Shore Savings, NYSID, New Vision Services, Philips Lytle, Premier Consulting Associates, Saxton Kocur & Associates, Support Enterprises, Inc., and TEAM Services.