LivAbility Magazine
Portrait of Gary Venjohn

Photo by Loren Worthington

2016 Spirit of Ability
2016 Spirit of Ability

The 16th annual Spirit of Ability awards were held on March 28th. They celebrated the employees, mentors, home care providers and leaders that make Ability360 great.

“The people who make up our community at Ability360 make great strides in promoting independent living and in advocating for themselves and others,” Phil Pangrazio, President & CEO of Ability360 said. “We hold these awards to recognize them and let them know that we sincerely appreciate them.”

Mary Ibarra was honored as the 2016 Home Care Services Employee of the Year for Pinal County. She was nominated by Ruth Cooper, for going above and beyond in helping her. The runner-up, Mary Jones of Maricopa County, was nominated for always being willing to go the extra mile.

Levente Mihaly and Richard Lew were honored as Mentoring Match of the Year. Levente joined the Peer Mentor program in January 2013. Levente never misses an opportunity to support others and teach practical life skills. His consistent and steady work is a true gift to the program.

The Independent Living Leadership Award, awarded to Dane Guthrie, recognizes a person who demonstrates the empowerment of living independently. Guthrie was injured at work 12 years ago and recovered from a coma, but was unable to return to work because of a traumatic brain injury. After his wife unexpectedly passed away, Guthrie had to learn to advocate and care for himself. His choice to participate in multiple outreach programs sponsored by Ability360 was the driving force behind his journey to independent living.

Phillip Brown was the 2016 Employment Achievement Award recipient because of his dedication to his job and the Ticket to Work program. Brown sold all of the farmland and cattle he owned in Oklahoma in 2012 to move to Arizona so that he could work for Hyde Electric. He built his own house this year and recently graduated from the Ticket to Work program.

Bearded man speaking into a microphone with one hand raised
Spirit of Ability Awards

Spirit of Ability, given to one who exemplifies the Spirit of Independent Living Philosophy and perhaps the most prestigious award of the night, was presented to long-time advocate and recently retired Banner Wheelchair Suns basketball program coach, Gary Venjohn. Throughout his 27 years with the Wheelchair Suns, Venjohn has been the driving force behind helping hundreds of athletes become physically active again. Venjohn taught wheelchair skills clinics so that newly-injured individuals could learn to maneuver their chairs. Venjohn helped to coordinate Drive Safe Campaign exhibitions, which aim to teach students about the dangers of drunk and distracted driving by hearing from athletes who were injured in automobile accidents. Gary’s determination, encouragement of others, advocacy and leadership illustrate why he was chosen as the 2016 recipient of the Spirit of Ability award.

“We appreciate everyone who goes above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of others here,” Pangrazio said.

The Spirit of Ability Courtyard pictures before the event

Savannah Haas

Savannah Haas


Savannah Haas is a junior at Arizona State University studying journalism with an emphasis in public relations and political science. She is a military child and has lived in many places, including Germany and Pennsylvania, but most recently moved to Gilbert, Arizona. Savannah loves to take group classes at the Sun Devil Fitness Center and has found a passion in daily yoga practice. You can find Savannah at any local coffee shop that plays Mumford and Sons and sells pumpkin scones.