Eileen Tohonnie has made a significant impact over the past 28+ years as a passionate advocate for people with disabilities, especially American Indian persons with disabilities. Eileen is a member of the Navajo tribe, lives in Cameron, Arizona, and works in Tuba City, Arizona. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Education with an emphasis in Special Education and Rehabilitation. She put her learning into action working in Vocational Rehabilitation as a supervisor and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for both the State of Arizona and Navajo tribe for 24 years. For the past 4 years, Eileen has demonstrated amazing leadership as Director of Assist To Independence; Arizona’s only independent living center located within a tribal nation. Under her guidance, Assist To Independence has rebranded itself, improved community interaction, conducted community leadership academy trainings, and more.
Eileen and her professional staff are:
- Providing information and referrals to individuals to connect them with programs and services to live independently
- Providing one-to-one and group training to assist individuals to live independently
- Assisting individuals with transitioning from skilled nursing, long-term and rehabilitation settings to less restrictive living arrangements
- Providing peer mentoring and support to individuals who are learning to live independently
- Teaching individuals about self-determination strategies and addressing physical and attitudinal barriers in society.
Eileen is a tireless advocate and disabilities warrior, always at the forefront of a movement or cause to help individuals with or without disabilities. In particular, she is motivated to gain more knowledge on how to address the inadequacy of resources in remote areas. She serves as a volunteer member of the Community Land Use Planning Committee for her home chapter, Cameron. In that role she is assisting in planning ADA accommodations in new businesses, new housing, and community development. Eileen is determined to educate and increase awareness around accommodations and implementing ADA policies in all departments of tribal government. Tribal and community leaders fear that empowerment and self-determination of people with disabilities will only bring more problems; leaders don’t rush to change the status quo. Eileen perseveres, doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and when an important issue needs to be addressed, figures out a way to make something happen.
Eileen Tohonnie has touched and enriched the lives of people throughout Arizona. In both her personal and professional life, she has been a role model devoted to increasing employment opportunities, encouraging individuals to advocate for themselves, and promoting community inclusion. Her work has demonstrated lasting results and impacted individuals in both the disability community and community at large. She is willing to do whatever it takes – whether cooking up mutton, commissioning a brand-new website, writing grants or arranging and providing transportation for those served by Assist To Independence to achieve success. Eileen believes “people with disabilities need more advocacy and services to become empowered and be able to voice their needs and concerns and to be listened to.” For these reasons, we enthusiastically nominate Eileen Tohonnie to receive the 2020 Marcus Harrison, Jr. Leadership Award.
Sarah Ruf, Community Relations Specialist
Michael Leyva, Contract/Grants Coordinator
Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (ADDPC)