By Phil Pangrazio, ABIL President & CEO

Arizona Bridge to Independent Living held its annual Spirit of ABIL award ceremony to recognize members of our community who have helped advance the goals and principles of the Independent Living movement. This year’s celebration marked the twelfth anniversary of the Spirit of ABIL event.

The recognition ceremony was held on Tuesday, March 25th, in the Nina Mason Pulliam Conference Center at the Disability Empowerment Center (DEC). ABIL Board member, George Garcia, and former Board member, Max McQueen, co-helmed the Master of Ceremony duties. Lynn Larson, ABIL’s Board chair, gave a warm welcoming address to the attendees. Following an early evening dinner, awards were given in the areas of Personal Assistance Services, volunteerism, peer mentoring, employment, and leadership. The ceremony culminated in the presentation of the Spirit of ABIL award.

The Spirit of ABIL award winner for 2013 is Barbara McDonald, who exemplifies the Independent Living Philosophy of consumer control, self-advocacy, and peer support. Barbara is described as a “roll up her sleeves” action taker, and always willing to help out when needed. Barbara is a retired school teacher. While still a school teacher in 1995, Barbara underwent a kidney transplant. Following the transplant, Barbara contracted an immune system viral infection that left her legally blind. Barbara was able to continue teaching with training provided by vocational rehabilitation. Barbara joined the Arizona Council of the Blind (AzCB) in 1996 – a peer association – to learn, share, be mentored, mentor and eventually lead! Today, Barbara serves as the Council’s President.

Barbara is also the AzCB representative and voting member of the Arizona Disability Advocacy Coalition. Barbara is reliable and responsive to her coalition members and AzCB constituents. Barbara coordinates the Maricopa County Club of the Blind (MCCBI). Members gain greater mutual peer support and information on products and services that might assist them in their daily lives. Barbara has been a strong advocate to improve community transportation services for people with eyesight disabilities. She often provides presentations to educate and inform the public about issues facing those who are blind.

Barbara served six years on the Governor’s Council on Blindness and Visual Impairment; six years on the Arizona Disabilities Action Coalition; and six years on the Arizona Vision, Rehabilitation, and Accessibility Expo Planning Committee. Barbara is an active community member who adheres to the IL motto of “Nothing about us without us!”.

Barbara recently offered her “Five Ps” philosophy of life to our Peer Mentor team: Prayer, Positive thinking, People who love and support you, Persistence, and Participation.

In addition to the Spirit of ABIL Award, other awardees included: Employment Achievement Award, presented to JR Wilson; General Volunteer of the Year, Carmen Meyers; Mentoring Match of the Year, presented to Wendell Barcelona and Steve Norton; and the Independent Living Leadership Award, presented to Hector and Maria Ramirez.

Five personal care attendants, who work with ABIL’s Personal Assistance Services (PAS) program, were also honored. The PAS Employee of the Year award for Maricopa County was presented to Lori Lopez. The PAS Employee of the Year award for Pinal County was presented to Aimee Vounas. Linda Vides, Micki Greeve, and Brenda Lizoain each received honorable mention for their dedicated PAS work.

JR Wilson is a Ticket to Work consumer through ABIL Employment Services (AES). Despite sustaining a permanent head injury in a car accident when he was 12, JR persevered and became a certified Master Gardner and Landscape Technician. With the assistance of AES, JR learned how to draft a résumé, how to modify his résumé for specific job applications, and received regular job leads. Since December 2012, JR has been happily employed at the Arizona Zoological Society (Phoenix Zoo) as an Irrigation Technician. JR demonstrates that working is not just about earning a paycheck. It is also how we feel worthwhile, socialize, learn and grow.

Carmen Meyers has been a valuable ABIL volunteer since 2009. Carmen is a self-advocate who participates in Disability Awareness Presentations with ABIL’s Youth Transition Program, where she speaks to students and teachers about living independently, such as using public transportation and managing one’s home. Carmen has been an ABIL consumer in both the Community Living Options (CLO) Program and ABIL’s This is My Life (TIML) Program. Carmen is graduating from the TIML Program, having successfully completed the entire curriculum.

Wendell Barcelona has been an ABIL Peer Mentor since 2011. He has a special interest in helping individuals who have survived strokes reach their Independent Living goals. In late 2012, Wendell became a mentor to Steve Norton, who had recently had a stroke and was in a rehabilitation hospital. The two embarked on a journey of mentoring and mutual support. Wendall encouraged Steve to begin attending the Living Well with a Disability course.

Steve then became involved with ABIL’s Socialization through Recreation program, where his skills as a professional chef were greatly appreciated in the monthly cooking group! In turn, Steve has supported Wendell as he returned to work and continued his own journey of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Wendell has been a strong role model to encourage Steve to exercise and maintain an active lifestyle. In January 2013, Steve became an ABIL Peer Mentor himself. The mentoring match between Wendall and Steve truly demonstrates the values and importance of people with disabilities providing support and sharing resources with each other in order to reach their Independent Living goals.

Linda Vides has been a Personal Care Assistant with ABIL since 1999. Linda has a strong work ethic and provides excellent care to our consumers. Linda has her consumers’ best interests at heart and will go above and beyond to ensure her consumers are well provided for at all times.
Linda has earned great respect from her consumers, case managers and staff.

Micki Greeve has been a Personal Care Assistant with ABIL since 2009. Micki’s consumers continually award her excellent marks for kindness, organization and work ethic. Micki is a reliable worker who provides “beyond excellent service” and finds no consumer too challenging. Consumers’ families are the first to say how much they appreciate her.

Brenda Lizoain (not present) began her employment with ABIL as a PCA in 2006. Her consumer’s daughter, Patti, writes, “Brenda has worked with my father for several years. She is a pleasure to be around. She is positive, upbeat and always has a good attitude regardless of what the task ahead of her may be. Brenda provides excellent care to my father, never complaining. She has made such a difference in our lives. I would love for her to be given recognition for all that she has done.”

Aimee Vounas’ PAS supervisor, Saige Raio, has worked with Aimee for over three years now. Saige states that Aimee is “reliable, professional, kind, and empathetic to her consumers. She can and has provided all levels of care and worked with the most difficult consumers. She is always willing to rearrange her schedule to meet the consumer’s needs. Aimee is a strong, inspirational person who lights up a room.”

Lorie Lopez has worked as a Personal Care Assistant for ABIL since 2004. Belen Servin, a consumer’s mother, wrote a letter to Lorie’s Program Manager, Diane Patton, nominating Lorie for PAS Employee of the Year. In the letter, Belen writes, “Lorie provided the most excellent care for [my mother] in our home. Lorie has the characteristics, attributes, and abilities to care for a person who requires total assistance with all of his/her care needs. Many times, Lorie went the extra mile. Lorie was quick to recognize problems regarding my mother’s care needs and would assist us in finding solutions. The last year of my mother’s life presented many challenges as she reached the terminal stage of dementia, but Lorie’s commitment to my mother’s care never wavered. Her compassion, sensitivity, and patience toward my mother were always evident. My family and I will forever be grateful to Lorie.”

Hector and Maria Ramirez are long-time volunteers with ABIL. Both contribute to the success of many of ABIL’s major annual events. Each year, Hector and Maria register for and attend the Day at the Capitol, where you will find them advocating for people with disabilities at the highest level and learning about what disability issues will be moving through legislation in the current session. Hector and Maria are both active members of the Independent Living Council. This couple tirelessly volunteers at ABIL and in their community, serve as positive role models and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.