Nearly 300 disability advocates, elected officials, government organizations, disability service providers and leaders in the community gathered at Quaker Station in Akron on Tuesday for the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board, or Summit DD, inaugural Appreciation Breakfast and Awards Celebration. The event came at the conclusion of Developmental Disability Awareness Month and recognized community leaders and advocates for building communities that recognize the abilities of all citizens.
“Today I’m issuing a proclamation … and call upon all of our citizens to join us in working toward a future where there are no roadblocks or barriers, just acceptance and opportunity,” commented County Executive Russ Pry, who was the keynote speaker at the event.
“I pledge to continue to work together with the DD community to provide opportunities that welcome, encourage and include those with developmental disabilities as part of our society,” Pry continued. “I look forward to the day when people with developmental disabilities will be able to enjoy the same life I enjoy every day in Summit County and I know we are on our way.”
Summit DD Superintendent John Trunk recognized the many public and private organizations in attendance. “We have come a long way and we are driven by a belief at Summit DD that separate is not equal. It takes a community, and it’s only when all people, including people with developmental disabilities, are part of our community that our community is truly strong,” said Trunk. “We couldn’t do it without all of our many community partners.”
Several individuals and organizations were recognized at the awards celebration for their contributions to advocacy and building inclusive communities.
The Dottie Schrum Culture Award, named after the former Assistant Superintendent of the Agency and awarded to an employee in the developmental disability field that goes above and beyond, was awarded to Summit DD Quality Manager Barb Jones. Jones has been working in the field for more than 35 and was instrumental to transitioning individuals with disabilities from institutions to community based living. “Most of you in this room are in service to others so you understand when I say to you, I have been given more than I could have ever possibly given back,” stated Jones. “I have in thirty-five plus years worked with, created with, cried with and laughed with some of the most amazing and committed and caring people and it’s always been a gift.”
Liniform, Linen and Uniform Service was awarded the Innovative Partner of the Year Award for their role as a work assessment site for job seekers, providing work experiences for job seekers with disabilities. “It’s really not the outside of individuals that defines us but I think it’s our character and our integrity and the strong values we live with every day in our home and in our workplace,” expressed President Bertha Jenkins.
Mayor Sara Kline of Stow was recognized as the Public Leader of the Year. Kline increased employment opportunities for citizens with disabilities in Stow, created the Disabilities Commission, and has spearheaded projects to make Stow a more accessible community for all. Kline serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Autism Society of Greater Akron. “I’m so proud to know that long after I am not the Mayor at the City of Stow our city organization, our employees and our community will have really embraced the idea that our citizens, all of our citizens, have an equal place at the table, belong in our city organization, belong in our community and not only should be, but are welcome fully with open hearts and open hands,” stated Kline.
The Community Impact Award, recognizing an advocate that makes an impact in the community, was awarded to Shon Christy. Christy and his wife, Brittany, have five children, including a son with Down syndrome. “My young son Beckett has taught me some of the greatest lessons in life,” commented Christy. “I have learned that we are all more alike than different, we all get excited and scared and we all get happy and sad. Each of us wants and deserves to feel included and each of us has a purpose on this Earth. Beckett helped me find my purpose in life and that is to help create a world where there are only abilities.” Christy serves his community through several leadership roles including Rotary Club of Akron, United Disability Service, Dads Appreciating Down syndrome, LuMind Research Down Syndrome Foundation, Up Side of Downs and Stand up for Downs.
The Carlene Weaver Achievement Award, named after a Summit County advocate who was instrumental in the creation of the County Board of Developmental Disabilities nearly 50 years ago, was awarded to Todd Eisinger. Eisinger was born with Down syndrome and is a Special Olympian, volunteer, advocate and owner of Inspires 2 Aspire greeting cards. “For over 10 years, I have been proud to work with [Summit DD] to raise awareness about our abilities not disabilities,” commented Eisinger. “I want the world to be a better place to live, work and play.”
President Ronald Reagan declared March to be Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in 1987, urging “all Americans to join me in affording our fellow citizens with such disabilities both encouragement and the opportunities they need to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.”
Summit DD recognized Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month with an Advocacy Day and Inclusion Day earlier this month. The Appreciation Breakfast and Awards Celebration closed this month-long celebration of abilities.
Summit DD is the community resource that connects more than 4,000 adults and children with developmental disabilities and their families to services and supports in Summit County. It is the Organization’s mission to connect people with disabilities to supports that empower each individual to contribute to their own success and to that of their community. More information regarding the Agency is available online at SummitDD.org.