Looking back on a legacy
In case you’ve been living under a rock, or hibernating due to a global pandemic, Phil Pangrazio recently announced he would be retiring as the President & CEO of Ability360.
Long before LivAbility magazine came along, Ability360, formally known as ABIL published a monthly newsletter. And each and every month, our CEO, Phil Pangrazio would take the time to give his thoughts on current events and things happening at the organization. While always insightful, it was no doubt a chore.
When this magazine began five years ago, he got a reprieve and now only had to put pen to paper four times a year. As his 20-year tenure at Ability360 comes to a close, we thought we would give him some questions that allowed him to reflect on what he has accomplished.
LivAbility Media (LM): What are you most proud of during your time at Ability360?
Phil Pangrazio (PP): Keeping it all together and growing our programs smartly. It hasn’t always been smooth or easy. There have been many bumps in the road. There were many discussions, opinions and occasional arguments amongst the management team and even the board, but we always overcame our differences and pushed the organization forward. We always stayed focused on our mission and serving the disability community from a consumer-led and needs-based perspective.
LM: When you first started at Ability360/ABIL, is this what you imagined it would grow into?
PP: No, not really. What we’ve achieved has undoubtedly exceeded my wildest dreams. It’s almost impossible to explain how we got here. Different pieces to the puzzle always seemed to fall into place. I feel like in so many ways, we just kept stacking chips in the win column, and before we knew it, new programs emerged and more people with disabilities were benefiting from them.
LM: What are some of your fondest memories?
PP: There are so many. The celebrations and milestones are always the most memorable: the 20th and 25th anniversaries of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for instance. The grand opening(s) of the Disability Empowerment Center (now Ability360 Center) in 2008 and the Sports & Fitness Center in 2011 were spectacular memories. The grand opening of the 50th Street light rail station in 2019 was the icing on the cake.
Of course, holiday parties with staff and board members were always a great way to celebrate our accomplishments. The annual National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) conferences in DC were always energizing, yet humbling.
Most importantly, though, it’s the relationships that we’ve established over the years and what they’ve meant for us–from mayors, city councilmembers, congressional representatives, legislators, government administrators, community partners, donors, and other organizational champions. Each relationship has propelled our success.
LM: What’s the best piece of advice you could tell a new employee joining Ability360 tomorrow?
PP: Be sure to learn about our mission and genuinely understand the independent living philosophy (IL). Watch the Ed Roberts “60 Minutes” interview video. It’s the best explanation of the philosophy. We should always be consumer-led and controlled. We should always promote greater disability awareness and sensitivity and full access and inclusion in community life. Ability360 belongs to the disability community. We are obligated and must continue to fight and advocate for everyone’s civil rights in the disability community. We are here to serve our consumers, but we should always listen to them, too. Only by listening can we best meet their needs.
LM: What was the most formidable challenge in the early years?
PP: Learning what land mines not to step on. This is a people business, so it’s essential to be flexible and respectful of where others are coming from. Everyone’s perspective is valuable and should be heard. I tried not to do too much, too fast. We had so many challenges early on. We had 60 staff members crowded into the old 12th Street office in Phoenix, Ariz. We had offices in Glendale and Mesa. Then we opened two new offices, one on Central Avenue and the other on 44th Street and Thomas Road. We were multiplying, but it was painful at times.
LM: What has been the most formidable challenge of late?
PP: I think the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s been hard on people individually, but it has created enormous challenges for all organizations, no matter what business you are in. I look forward to the time when we’ve conquered this invisible killer.
LM: Who were some of your mentors, and what did they do to help you get the job done?
PP: There have been so many over the years. I’ve never been afraid to ask for help. I’ve learned so much from other people. I am so grateful for the people who have helped me along the way. You cannot do this job alone. You must be willing to accept other opinions and be a lifelong learner.
LM: 10 years from now, what do you think Ability360 will look like?
PP: I have no idea, but I just hope we’re bigger, better, and mightier than today. That’ll mean we are fulfilling our mission and serving more people with disabilities than ever before. That will be a good thing!
Phil Pangrazio, President & CEO of Ability360
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