Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities held the Lifetime of Giving Awards Tuesday to honor the outstanding self-advocates, service professionals, and others who support individuals with developmental disabilities.
The award winners could be nominated by anyone in the community.
Superintendent Kristine Hodge, Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, introduced this month’s theme, #JustAskMe. She said the theme was the inspiration of Rachel, an individual the board serves and featured in a story by Anne Miller, communications coordinator for the board.
“The story she wrote in regard to Rachel was very poignant,” she said. “One of the things that Rachel said was, ‘I wish people would just ask me, just ask me about my disability and then let’s talk about other things.’”
Hodge said it was an awesome thing because “at the end of the day we’re all more alike than different.”
Back in 1987, former President Ronald Reagan declared March as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.
Hodge said last year the board celebrated 50 years of service in Delaware County. She said over the year the board celebrated with different events with one becoming a milestone.
“We increased the number of adults employed in Delaware County with disabilities by 10 percent,” she said. “That is a phenomenal statistic.”
During the ceremony on Tuesday, Board President Louis M. Borowicz said he was “incredibly proud” to serve the county as a DCBDD member.
“The reason we make a difference is not because of me as a board member,” he said. “It’s because of (the staff), that’s why we’re celebrating you in our community, on the front lines delivering services and being exceptional for our folks at DD in Delaware County.”
Borowicz provided a history of the awards.
“The Lifetime of Giving Award was started in 1999 to honor Nancy Richards, who believed that people with disabilities make the best advocates for themselves to prepare for self-determination,” he said. “In 2004, the ceremony expanded to honor Kathy VanBuskirk with the Outstanding Direct Support Professional Service Award. The award recognizes individuals who provide outstanding care for individuals with developmental disabilities.”
Borowicz said that eight different awards are given to honor people, professionals, employers and community partners for their work and volunteerism that exceeds expectations.
The recipients of this year’s Lifetime of Giving Awards include:
• Sara Walters — Outstanding Direct Support Professional
• Rachel Barber — Outstanding Self Advocate
• Columbus Hospitality Management — Outstanding Community Employer
• Scott Bryant, Jason Bayer, Nick Wheeler — Outstanding Community Partners
• David Robbins — Outstanding Advocate
• Wally Berger — Outstanding Peer Mentor
• Dr. Nazhat Taj-Schaal — Outstanding Professional
• Jay and Karen Prater — Outstanding Volunteers
Bryant, Bayer and Wheeler, the recipients of the Outstanding Community Partners Award, were nominated by the parents of Alex Kearns, a boy who receives services from DCBDD.
Bryant, Bayer and Wheeler’s story begins when Alex went to his parents with a note from school asking to play soccer.
“We get the notices from the school,” said Jen Franklin Kearns, Alex’s mother. “He brought one home and told us that he wanted to participate.”
Bryant said they put on a huge soccer camp every year.
On the first day at the field, Alex wasn’t sure if playing soccer was what he really wanted to do.
“In 2012, Alex showed up. The first day he was a wreck and didn’t want to do anything,” said Scott Bryant. “He came back the next day and a couple of our players took him off to the side to pass the ball around and hung out with him. That kind of started the ball rolling.”
Nick Wheeler, a coach, said the number one thing he learned by having Alex on the team was how important inclusion was, “not just for Alex, but for the high schools” as well that Alex participated with.
As for Alex, he said he felt “good” and that it was “awesome” for his coaches to receive the award.
“They’re amazing,” Franklin Kearns said about the three coaches. “Alex is really lucky to have individuals in the community that are so respectful and patient, and really want him to feel included.”
“Jen sent us an email. When we showed up we were all nominated, a little surprised, maybe a little confused,” said Bayer, one of Alex’s coaches. “It’s truly a blessing to have Alex in our lives and to get the award. It proves that inclusion is normal. It shouldn’t be something that people don’t understand.”