24th annual Disability Awareness Awards presented

People with disabilities who have experienced success, as well as those who provide opportunities for disabled people to excel, were honored recently at the 24th annual Disability Awareness Awards Celebration.

The event, presented by The Resource Center and TRC Foundation, was held at the Dunkirk Moose Lodge, with some 150 people attending.

For more than 50 years, The Resource Center has been making a difference in the lives of Chautauqua County residents with disabling conditions. During that time, TRC has been privileged to experience thousands of successes as people with disabilities have overcome the barriers they face to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives.

While The Resource Center and TRC Foundation take pride in helping people achieve their fullest potential, the organizations do not succeed on their own. Many individuals, businesses and other organizations play a pivotal role in supporting persons with disabilities to be successful.

That’s why every year since 1989, TRC has taken time to salute individuals with disabilities who have made great accomplishments in their lives, as well as to recognize community-based entities that have supported those efforts.

The list of this year’s award recipients includes the following:

Advocate of the Year: Dennis Webster of West Ellicott. Since 1996 Webster, an on-air personality at WJTN, has hosted a biweekly radio show about The Resource Center. He often will take excerpts from the programs and use them in news stories or special features during his regular weekday morning radio program. Having been involved with TRC for so many years, Webster has developed a sensitivity to the challenges faced by people with disabilities and a deep understanding of the many services The Resource Center offers, not only to people with disabling conditions, but the entire community.

Allied Industries Customer of the Year: Dahlstrom Roll Form of Jamestown. This award is presented each year to a business partner that provides work to Allied Industries, The Resource Center’s manufacturing and employment division. Allied provides employment, work training and skill development opportunities to individuals with disabilities at locations in Dunkirk, Jamestown and Buffalo. TRC and Dahlstrom are collaborating on a project in which workers with disabilities are installing clips in six different lengths of weather-stripping. This weather-stripping is used in the frames of sliding glass doors. TRC also is punching the holes in the shorter lengths and will soon be punching the holes in all lengths of the weather-stripping. This job requires four full-time workers for two weeks per month, and that amount of time will be increasing. To date, TRC has installed clips in 27,000 pieces of weather-stripping.

Patrick Walker, the administrator of TRC’s Work Center operations, presented the award to Rob Loll of Dahlstrom.

Community Support Award: DeMarco Sisters School of Dance in Jamestown. About three years ago, the dance school started teaching an annual session of cheerleading classes for women with disabilities. Many individuals were excited to have the opportunity to participate in an activity they weren’t able to try in high school. The year culminates in a performance during the area-wide cheerleading competition, where teams of all ages crowd into a gym and watch one another. In addition to teaching the women with disabilities their cheer routine, the DeMarco Sisters staff helps them work on their uniforms and hair ribbons. All of the other teams enthusiastically watch the special women on the DeMarco Sisters’ cheerleading squad and the entire gym erupts into a standing ovation once they have finished.

Rosa Farrell accepted the award on behalf of the DeMarco Sisters School of Dance.

Employer of the Year: Red Lobster in Lakewood. Red Lobster has partnered with The Resource Center since 1996. Currently, Red Lobster employs two people with disabilities through TRC’s Supported Employment Program. The restaurant consistently demonstrates great patience in resolving issues that arise and supports the advancement of its disabled employees. With one employee, restaurant managers worked with The Resource Center to help the employee improve his social interaction. To help the other employee learn new duties, restaurant managers gave her the opportunity to practice one task at a time so that she did not become overwhelmed by having to learn too much at once.

Accepting the award was Anthony Trussalo, who was the first worker with disabilities that Red Lobster hired in 1996 and who continues to work at the restaurant.

Health Provider of the Year: Ronda Russell of Falconer. Russell is the manager of TRC’s outpatient behavioral health clinics in Dunkirk and Jamestown. A 19-year veteran in the mental health field, Russell was honored for being a dynamic leader who consistently develops quality within her program, and for being able to balance changes in mental health delivery while putting patient-centered care at the forefront.

Elmer Muench Volunteer of the Year: Karen Silzle of Jamestown. Silzle, an employee of The Resource Center since 1989, was cited for her volunteer efforts inside and outside TRC. She is active with the Chautauqua County Special Olympics swimming and golf programs. She served as the co-chair of the committee that organized TRC’s annual week at Camp Onyahsa. For years, she has played an integral role in the Street JAM basketball tournament, and she also volunteered at the TRC Golf classic, bringing with her a woman with disabilities so that the woman could experience the event. Silzle also transports a woman with disabilities to and from a monthly board meeting so that the woman can participate, and she has included another woman with disabilities on a family shopping trip to Erie. When another woman with disabilities was terminally ill, Silzle made many trips to Buffalo to visit her. She also has served as a chaperone for the annual Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Program.

This award is named in honor of the late Elmer Muench, a longtime TRC volunteer.

Outstanding Achievement Award: Kyle Keller of Jamestown. Keller used to have a job as a member of a cleaning crew with TRC’s Environmental Services, which provides janitorial services to area businesses. The evening hours prevented Keller from participating in some community activities that appealed to him and he wanted to get a job in the community. With help from TRC’s Supported Employment Program, Keller obtained a job at The Home Depot in West Ellicott, and during his first few weeks, he was selected the Employee of the Month because of his attentiveness to his job and to customers. He is well liked by his co-workers and his new job has freed up his Monday nights so that Keller can engage in his passion – being involved with the Falconer Fire Department’s Junior Fire Squad.

Edwin R. Roth Mental Health Award: Edward Christensen of Jamestown. Christensen was honored for the positive changes he has made in his life with support from TRC’s “Passages” Personalized Recovery Oriented Services, which gives people with mental health challenges a variety of individualized services aimed at helping them become functioning, contributing members of the community. Christensen’s dedication to his work has allowed him to improve his ability to effectively manage the symptoms of his mental illness and his addiction barriers, challenges he had faced since childhood. He has made such progress that he was invited to take part in this year’s TRC Symposium at Chautauqua Institution, where he shared his story with those in attendance.

The award is named after the late Ed Roth, an official with the New York State Office of Mental Health, for his dedication to supporting people living with mental health challenges.

Success of the Year: Zachary Berlund of Celoron. One month before graduating from high school in 2010, Berlund sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident that led to his right arm being amputated. He had been training to be a diesel mechanic, but following his injury he was unsure what he would with his life. Berlund came to The Resource Center and was given a job assembling boxes, and by his second week he was given a more challenging job. Though the job tasks were difficult at first, he eventually mastered them. In April of this year, he began working as a sewing machine operator on the contracts TRC performs for the federal government. With staff support, he has made adaptations so that he can operate the sewing machine, and he excels at his job. He recently took time to meet with a man who has a similar disability and had a positive impact on this man, who started to believe that he too could succeed. While still interested in mechanics, Berlund is considering college. He would also like to work with troubled youth or people who have suffered injuries similar to his own.

Bruce Walford Community Service Award: Carol Lorenc of Cherry Creek. Lorenc is a past president of The Resource Center’s board of directors who also has served on TRC Foundation’s board. Before, during and after her tenure on The Resource Center’s Board, she has contacted the agency with creative ideas and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to have fun while also becoming more integrated within the community. She has utilized her expertise and professional contacts to facilitate linkages between TRC and a variety of organizations, as well as funding sources. Her affiliation with The Arts Council for Chautauqua County led to the development of TRC’s “Creations” art program. Lorenc is active in her home community as well as greater Chautauqua County, frequently distributing brochures and flyers promoting various community events. She is active with area horse clubs and was instrumental in bringing the annual Currier and Ives horse-drawn sleigh rally to Chautauqua Institution. She also provides tours of the local Amish communities so that others may learn about the Amish way of life.

This award was created in honor of the late Bruce “Wally” Walford, who was the manager of TRC’s Dunkirk Work Center Program. His widow, Laurel, was on hand to help present the award.

New York State Industries for the Disabled Outstanding Performer: Jeremy Swarthout of Jamestown. Each year, New York State Industries for the Disabled recognizes exceptional job performance by people with disabilities who are employed on NYSID contracts. Since 2005, Swarthout has been employed through TRC’s contract to clean the rest area on Interstate 86 in the Town of Ellery. He has an impeccable record of punctuality and attendance and does a good job of keeping the interior and exterior of the building well maintained in all kinds of weather. Swarthout also is helpful in answering tourists’ questions.

Michael Volk, TRC’s director of rehabilitation and employment services, helped present the award to Swarthout.

Paul Cesana, The Resource Center’s executive director, gave welcoming remarks at the beginning of the awards presentation, while Dr. Kathy Gradel, the vice president of The Resource Center’s board of directors, gave the closing remarks. Steve Waterson, TRC’s community relations director, was the master of ceremonies. Assisting in presenting the awards were TRC service recipients Doug Anderson and Lori Schneider.

Jane Young, site supervisor for TRC’s Jamestown Rehabilitation Services, photographed the event. Victoria Trass Bardo, development and events manager for Filling the Gap, organized the event. Janelle Krueger was the Sign Language interpreter. The room was decorated with works made by individuals with disabilities in the Creations art program.

The Awards Selection Committee consisted of Ned Divine, a former TRC employee who works for the Western New York Developmental Disabilities Services Office; Greg Krauza, a member of TRC Foundation’s board who works for the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce; Dan Siracuse from DFT Communications; and Gary Bacon, a retired TRC employee.

They were supported by staff members Bardo; Nancy Ingram, assistant executive director; and Kathy Field, associate executive administrative assistant.

Besides The Resource Center and TRC Foundation, businesses that sponsored the 2012 Disability Awareness Awards Celebration included New York State Industries for the Disabled, Premier Consulting Associates, Support Enterprises, and TEAM Services.