The accomplishments of people with disabilities were highlighted recently when The Resource Center held its 30th annual Disability Awareness Awards Celebration.
The event took place October 30 at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Dunkirk. 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 is my favorite night of the year,” said Jones, explaining that this year’s event was significant because TRC recently observed the 60th anniversary of its founding.
“In these trying times, it’s as important as ever to take time to look beyond the uncertainties that exist in our world and set aside our hectic schedules to appreciate the inspirational stories which represent the differences we make each and every day,” she added. “Tonight we’ll celebrate the achievements of several people with disabilities who have realized significant accomplishments during the past year. Because of our employees, volunteers, and families and community partners who’ve always been the pillars of our success, we’ll recognize several of them for their efforts in building a better world.”
The first honor of the evening was the Community Partnership Award, which was presented to Raymour & Flanigan. The company was honored for partnering with The Resource Center to hold community events at Raymour & Flanigan’s West Ellicott showroom. These events have included art exhibits to showcase the talents of people with disabilities and a children’s Halloween costume parade.
The Health Provider of the Year Award was given to UPMC Chautauqua’s phlebotomists, laboratory team and billing department. They were recognized for accommodating residents of TRC homes who need their blood tested. Rather than inconvenience the residents by having them be transported to the hospital to have their blood drawn, the phlebotomists visit TRC’s homes once a week to collect blood. The lab workers run the necessary tests, and the billing department ensures the test codes are correct so that each person’s insurance will cover the cost of the service.
“They enjoy going out and seeing people,” Phlebotomy Supervisor Elaine Golden said of her team’s willingness to visit TRC’s homes. “They enjoy working with the challenges that come of all the different people that they are drawing.” She said the award was a surprise, joking that often people don’t like phlebotomists because having blood drawn makes some people anxious.
The Advocate of the Year was Mary Hayes of Dunkirk. Hayes is a member of Make A Mark, a self-advocacy group for people with disabilities that meets at TRC’s Mary Andrews Center on East Chestnut Street in Dunkirk. She has written letters that have been published in the Observer. This year, she persuaded Mayor Wilfred Rosas to proclaim March as “Spread the Word to End the Word” month in Dunkirk in support of an initiative to eliminate the negative use of the word “retarded” because it is hurtful to people with intellectual disabilities. Hayes also appeared on WDOE radio to discuss the Spread the Word campaign. In addition, she provided information to County Executive George Borrello for his proclamation in connection with the annual Laurel Memorial Run and Walk, which celebrates the achievements of people with disabilities.
Hayes credited teachers with instilling in her a sense of self-confidence and a determination to never give up, and she had a message to share.
“My advice to special education or special needs students who attend classes in local school districts, and in BOCES: to be successful, show other people what you can do. Do not let anybody knock you down and tell you, you can’t do it. You can do it. Wish it, dream it and do it,” she said. “Always remember one thing – no one can take away the things your teachers have taught you in school. The things you have learned in school cannot be taken away from you.”
The Elmer Muench Volunteer of the Year Award was given to Alan and Sharon Richards of West Ellicott. Once a week, the retired couple volunteers at TRC’s Michael J. Raymond Center in Jamestown. Sharon, a retired teacher, assists with baking and crafts projects in the Day Habilitation Program. She also involves program participants in making puppets and staging puppet shows. In addition, she serves on TRC’s guardianship and nominating committees. Alan assists with sorting and filing records in the Diagnostic and Treatment Center. A retired certified public accountant, he also serves on TRC’s finance committee and board of directors.
The Volunteer of the Year Award is named in memory of Elmer Muench, a longtime volunteer for The Resource Center. The award carried special meaning for Sharon Richards.
“This is humbling,” she told the audience as she accepted the award. “But I have to tell you, we learned from the best. Elmer Muench was my dad, so this is super.”
The Personal Success Award was given to Brenda Martinez of Jamestown. Her recent accomplishments have included obtaining her driver’s permit, taking responsibility for her finances, attending DEG classes, finding child care for her daughter, and overcoming social anxiety. She credits her infant daughter as being the inspiration for turning her life around, as Martinez says she needs to make good choices in her own life in order to give her daughter the best life possible.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to my staff and the support that I get every day,” Martinez said.
The Bruce Walford Community Service Award was presented to Amanda Martinelli and her teen-aged son, Christopher Decker, of Jamestown. They received the award in recognition of a fund-raising initiative they developed. To demonstrate appreciation to The Resource Center for the supports the family has received over the years, mother and son collected redeemable beverage containers, cashed them in and donated the money to the Step Up for Autism celebration, an annual event organized by TRC and Filling the Gap, Inc. The pair’s effort resonated with the community, and many people and businesses supported them by donating their own redeemable cans and bottles. In addition, Martinelli persuaded one redemption center to give her 6 cents per container instead of the usual nickel. The initiative raised a total of $457, which works out to more than 7,500 bottles and cans.
After accepting the award, Martinelli shared that over the years, The Resource Center has helped Christopher in overcoming the effects of several childhood health issues. “The Resource Center has been a family of ours,” she said in explaining why she wanted to do something to support TRC. She added that she and Christopher will continue the fund-raising effort during the next year and will present the proceeds to TRC at the 2019 Step Up for Autism event. She said those wishing to support their effort can take their redeemable bottles and cans to the redemption center on Allen Street in Jamestown.
The Community Service Award is named in memory of the late Bruce Walford, manager of TRC’s Dunkirk manufacturing facility.
The Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Mallory Wojcinski of Dunkirk. Wojcinski is a strong supporter of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, visiting there weekly and reaching the 500-hour mark as a Roswell volunteer. She also supports Roswell by collecting candy at Hallo0ween to give to children at the facility, as well as initiating fund-raising activities to benefit Roswell and its Courage of Carly Fund. She participates in the TOPS 5K Walk to benefit Roswell and has been the event’s top individuals fund-raiser the past three years, collecting more than $3,000 for this year’s walk. Besides all that she does for Roswell, Wojcinski is a coach for the bumper bowling league at Lucky Lanes in Fredonia and is involved with the local Special Olympics bowling program, participating in the New York State Summer and Winter Special Olympics Games. She is a member of a cheerleading team composed of people with disabilities, and she has participated in Junior ROTC and is a life member of the Girl Scouts.
Representing the City of Dunkirk, Vicki Westling read a letter from Don Williams, First Ward Councilman, who praised Wojcinski’s efforts. “She has shown Dunkirk leadership the last seven years by attending Music on the Pier every Thursday night in the summer, selling suckers and collecting money to donate to various causes,” Williams’ letter said. “Mallory is always reminding people of the importance of these events, and never gives up, week after week, trying to achieve her donation goals.”
With her sister, Allison, helping to translate, Wojcinski thanked her family for their support over the years. She also thanked the community for their support and donations in helping her to surpass her fund-raising goal for this year’s TOPS 5K. “She’s very goal oriented and super selfless,” Allison said of her sister. “This is one person that’s amazing.”
The Edwin R. Roth Mental Health Award was given to Paul Hurley of Dunkirk. Hurley is an employment specialist in The Resource Center’s Gateways PROS Program in Dunkirk, which offers personalized recovery-oriented services to people with behavioral health challenges. He supports people who have mental health disorders or addiction issues and assists them in finding or maintaining employment. He organizes groups so people seeking employment can find support and natural connections among one another, and he provides them with tools and information they can apply outside of the group.
“I’m really accepting this award as a team award, because we really support each other and hold each other up,” said Hurley of his co-workers.
The Mental Health Award is named in memory of the late Ed Roth, an official with the New York State Office of Mental Health.
The Special Event Volunteer of the Year was Marcos Figueroa of Jamestown. Figueroa was honored for his efforts in establishing and coordinating an annual Lip Sync Battle that benefits the Mark Pacheco WOW (Working on Wonders) Fund, which provides money so people with disabilities at The Resource Center can enjoy experiences they otherwise could not afford. Figueroa handles much of the work involved with the Lip Sync Battle, which grows in attendance each year. He spearheaded the creation of the fund in tribute to Pacheco, a TRC co-worker who died in 2010 from injuries sustained in an altercation in downtown Jamestown.
“I lost a good friend, and we started this fund, Working on Wonders, because he was assaulted just standing in the street, and didn’t make it. I wish we could have started it before this happened, but I know he’s happy and he’s proud, and the Lip Sync Battle is a huge event that he would have loved,” Figueroa said. “I’m very honored and I’m very proud and I won’t stop, and I think that everybody in their hearts today should volunteer. Even if it’s to open a door for someone, you are volunteering. And as they say, in a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Also recognized at the awards celebration was Andrew Speer of Lakewood. He was honored for having been selected by NYSID (New York State Industries for the Disabled) for recognition in its annual Outstanding Performer Program. NYSID honored Speer 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. Cynthia Slovensky, Commodity Sales Specialist with NYSID, was on hand to present Speer with a certificate and a monetary award from NYSID.
“Being in front of a microphone, I feel like I should be singing,” joked Speer, a musician who performs locally. He thanked NYSID for honoring him.
The final honor of the evening was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given to Donna Haenggi of Lakewood in appreciation of the contributions she and her late husband, William, have made over the years. The couple has been involved with The Resource Center since 1990, serving on the board and committees, as well as volunteering at events. For many years, they conducted a Bible study class for people with intellectual disabilities.
Haenggi said she was happy to receive the award but was sad her husband, who died in May, was not there to enjoy the evening.
“We moved to this area 31 years ago,” Haenggi said, “and it wasn’t long before we both were actively involved in The Resource Center. We’ve made many, many friends over the years, and we’ve had a real close group of parents that have been involved. I just encourage everybody here to try to get involved in something. It just does you a world of good.
She added, “It’s been our privilege to volunteer for The Resource Center. It’s not only opened our hearts, but has enriched our lives. I will continue to serve as long as I can. I just enjoy every minute of it.”
Closing remarks were given by Rebecca Hamlet Kapple, a member of The Resource Center’s Board of Directors.
“Tonight is a celebration of all the good,” Kapple said. “Look at all the amazing businesses, family members, support staff that have worked hard this year and every year to build up the people that The Resource Center serves. That is incredible. I mean, you walk into this room and you feel like, `Oh, my God, it’s the Oscars.’ Because it is. It’s that time to celebrate.”
Each award recipient received a trophy, plus certificates provided by Congressman Tom Reed and Assemblyman Andy Goodell. Two people who receive supports from The Resource Center, Michael Ostrye and Thomas Proper, helped hand out the awards. TRC’s Steve Waterson was the master of ceremonies, while TRC employee Jane Young was the event photographer.
This year’s awards selection committee was composed of Victoria Trass Bardo, development and events manager for Filling the Gap; John D’Agostino, publisher of the Observer; Kathy Field, TRC’s associate executive administrative assistant; Greg Krauza, district representative for AFLAC and a longtime TRC volunteer; and Mayor Rosas.
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 Brown & Brown of New York ($50,000); HM Insurance ($25,000); The Evans Agency and Denise and Steven Jones ($10,000); and Jennifer Capitano, David Clark, Frederick and Mary Santucci; Vincent and Nancy Tocco, and Richard and Sandra Weimer ($1,000).
Sponsors of this year’s event were Brown & Brown Insurance, Lake Shore Savings, NYSID, Premier Consulting Associates, and Saxton Kocur & Associates.