The accomplishments of people with disabilities were highlighted when The Resource Center held its 31st annual Ability Awareness Awards Celebration.
The event took place October 24 at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celoron. 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. She noted that this year marked a change in the event’s name. For its first 30 years, the celebration was known as the Disability Awareness Awards.
“When we created this event in 1989 that name made sense, because we wanted to help the community understand that people with disabilities can accomplish great things. Thirty years later calling this event the Disability Awareness Awards seems outdated, because we witness every day the successes of the people we support,” Denise said. “Thank you for joining us today for this celebration. By being here, you’re helping to carry on a 60-year tradition of valuing people with disabilities. We’re proud to have you as a partner in our ongoing mission of making a difference in people’s lives.”
The first honor of the evening was the Community Partnership Award, which was presented to the Fluvanna Free Library. People with disabilities from The Resource Center enjoy visiting the library, and the staff there were cited for their efforts of providing a welcoming space.
Library Director Lynn Grundstrom noted that libraries provide opportunities for patrons to “play games, use computers, search the Internet, and explore the world,” among other things. “I’d like to thank everybody on behalf of the Fluvanna Free Library for this award. It shows that our endeavor to become a community hub is actually being very successful.”
The Health Provider of the Year Award was given to William Bowler, who has been a Physical Therapist at TRC’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Jamestown since 2004. . Bill possesses a caring, dedicated demeanor and displays an optimistic attitude every day. He works hard to ensure that all of his patients – people with disabilities from TRC, as well as community members needing treatment – receive the maximum benefits from therapy in order to reach their optimum level of independence.
Bill said health care is a chain that includes administrators, patient access specialists and providers, working together. “I’m very fortunate to work in a clinic that all the specialties are very cooperative, they’re very supportive of each other, and it’s been a real pleasure for the last 15 years,” he said.
The Advocate of the Year was Don Caruso. Don is a full-time employee in TRC’s Maintenance Department who fills in as a Direct Support Professional at one of TRC’s homes. Sensitive, caring and fun, he spends quality time with the home’s residents. He has formed a close relationship with one resident, becoming this man’s life champion.
“I want to thank the whole, entire agency for giving me the opportunity to do this, to work with these guys,” Don said.
The Elmer Muench Volunteer of the Year Award was given to the Sunny Side Up band. Sunny Side Up has been performing at The Resource Center’s Senior Adult Day Habilitation Program in Jamestown for many years. Staff and program participants enjoy having Sunny Side Up perform, and they count down the days until the band’s next appearance. Sunny Side Up brings many smiles when they perform, and over the years the band’s members have developed friendships with the Senior Day Hab participants.
“The Senior Day Hab has been part of my life for 20 years,” said Brenda Carr, who founded the Sunny Side Up band many years ago. “If you want to be lifted up, go there. Volunteer your time. It’s the best.”
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 Jesterfer Johnson. When Jesse suddenly became homeless, The Resource Center stepped in to find emergency housing for him and connect him with the supports he needed to rebuild his life. Eventually, Jesse was able to get his own apartment and retrieve his dog. He also obtained a part-time job. Throughout the challenges he’s faced, Jesse has maintained a positive and optimistic attitude, never becoming frustrated or sad about his situation. He enjoys volunteering, attending church functions and visiting with friends
“I want to thank all the people for having my back, and all the people at my church (Zion Tabernacle) and my father up there in heaven,” Jessie said.
The Bruce Walford Community Service Award was presented to TRC employee Shelly Pratt for her efforts in organizing the agency’s participation in the Chautauqua Lake Dragon Boat Races each year. Shelly recruits more than 50 volunteers from among TRC employees as well as the people with developmental disabilities who TRC supports, thereby giving them the opportunity to take part in a unique activity. Shelly approaches her organizing role with passion and enthusiasm that are infectious.
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 Dione Ransom. Dione has made tremendous progress since he came to The Resource Center four years ago. He has learned to control his emotions when angry or upset, and he has begun to use his voice more and expand his vocabulary.
Dione left before the awards were presented, so Nick Couse, the Assistant Manager at Dione’s home, accepted the award on his behalf. “He has come a long way,” Nick said of Dione’s progress during the past few years. “I just want to thank everybody from the TRC organization that has helped him reach where he’s at right now.” He also credited Dione’s tutor, David Digirolamo, for his efforts in helping Dione.
The Edwin Roth Mental Health Award was given to Laurie Fenton. Laurie, a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with TRC’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, is passionate about her work and is the first to say “let’s do it” when it comes to new programs or ideas. Her compassion shows in her desire to help anyone who comes her way.
“It’s an honor to be recognized like this. I feel like advocating is just, really, it’s the job,” said Laurie, who thanked her mentors for their support. “I also have to give credit to my nursing team, because they’re the guts that are in the background doing a heck of a lot of work, getting the medications approved, case management, insurance needs, et cetera.”
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 Business/Employer of the Year Award was given to Servpro of Jamestown and Olean. Servpro has hired several people with disabilities through The Resource Center’s Supported Employment Program and has provided unpaid work experiences to people enrolled in TRC’s Community Pre-Vocational Program so they can experience working in an office setting.
“We are now a stronger, more diversified company,” said Bill Uhl, Servpro President. “We are thankful to have a great relationship with The Resource Center. We appreciate their help, their guidance and the wonderful people who have joined our team. We look forward to our continued success with this amazing organization.”
Also recognized at the awards celebration was Andrew Dyckes. 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 Andy for his job performance as a member of the TRC Environmental Services crew, cleaning Fredonia Middle School. It’s a job he’s had for 25 years.
“Thank you very much for picking me for the award,” Andy said.
The final honor was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given to Lyman Buck III. Lyman began supporting The Resource Center in 1984 through his position as Senior Vice President at KeyBank. Over the years, he has assisted TRC in securing funding from KeyBank and KeyBank Foundation that has been used to help pay for renovations to TRC’s Jamestown and Dunkirk Dental Offices and Michael J. Raymond Center, and to support employment programs for people with developmental disabilities. For more than 20 years Lyman has served on TRC’s Finance Committee, sharing his expertise in banking, community grant opportunities and the financial policies and practices of similar non-profit agencies. He and his wife, Janette, have been financial supporters of The Resource Center and TRC Foundation over the years, earning a place on our Legacy Circle of donors.
“I have been blessed to be able to serve The Resource Center for the last 35 years,” said Lyman. In recognition of receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, he was given a painting made by people with disabilities in TRC’s Creations Art Program. Lyman said that over the years he has acquired 15 such paintings, which he proudly exhibits at his home. In tribute to the quality work done by TRC’s artists, Lyman commented, “I have an art gallery that is probably one of the best in the world.”
Closing remarks were given by Patricia Perlee, the President of TRC’s Board of Directors.
Each award recipient received a trophy, plus certificates provided by Congressman Tom Reed, Assemblyman Andy Goodell and County Executive George Borrello. Two people who receive supports from The Resource Center, Dennis Bottomley and Josh Holsinger, 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; Mary Keeney, a member of the Celoron Board of Trustees; and Shirley Sanfilippo, Celoron Clerk/Treasurer.
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 Lake Shore Savings ($150,000); the Observer and Janice Pratt-Scott ($10,000); Tom Brigiotta ($5,000); and Michele Albaugh, Christopher Anderson, Christopher Cowen, Dr. Frederick Giddy, Rebecca Hamlet Kapple, Heidi Lawson, John and Dory Matwijkow, Dr. K. Patrick Seastedt, Yvonne Tovell, and Wendy Triscari ($1,000).
Major sponsors of this year’s event were FSC Systems, NYSID, and Saxton Kocur & Associates.