The highly-anticipated announcement of the 2014 Spirit of ABIL award winner was no disappointment, as this year’s event culminated with the presentation of the award to Bob Michaels, a well-known disability rights advocate and influential leader and trainer in the Independent Living movement. ABIL solicited nominations for the Spirit of ABIL award from the community. ABIL Board members and staff are not eligible to receive the award.

In addition to the event’s major award (and namesake), ABIL recognized and celebrated achievements by consumers and volunteers in our major ABIL programs, as well as personal care attendants in our PAS program.

Below is a summary of the Major Awards and Award Winners recognized at the Spirit of ABIL Recognition Event:

Spirit of ABIL

2014 Spirit of ABIL Award –  Bob Michaels

Bob served as ABIL’s Executive Director from 1984 to 1991, then moved to the East coast to be the Executive Director at Liberty Resources, a Center for Independent Living in Philadelphia. It was at Liberty that Bob got involved with ADAPT and active in disability political action. Bob is a tireless advocate in the halls of Congress advocating at the federal level for keeping the Independent Living philosophy strong. Without question, if it wasn’t for Bob’s tenacity, the IL movement would likely not be anywhere near as funded and respected as it is today.

Bob has served on the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council since 2010 and is currently the Chair, devoting personal time as a SILC member. His willingness to lend his expertise has been extremely helpful to the organization and people with disabilities here in Arizona.

Of particular importance is Bob’s style:  He motivates consumers to participate in public policy advocacy.  His soft spoken approach is always professional and respectful.  He makes a difference by training others, believing in the power of individual action and encouraging teamwork but does not hesitate to challenge decision makers, policies and programs that fail to promote advocacy and true independence for persons who have disabilities.

Bob has worked in the field of independent living and disability since 1972. Initially, Bob developed and implemented programs in mental health and developmental disabilities. Since 1995 and after his career as a CIL Executive Director, Bob has worked as a private consultant and trainer for both the National Council on Independent Living and ILRU, the IL movements training and research program. Bob has provided considerable training and technical assistance to the IL field, oversees research efforts on CILs and SILCs, writing articles and briefs on a variety of related topics, authors a disability blog and most recently published a book called, “Strong Medicine…A Roadmap for Creating or Improving Your Independent Living Program.”

Ironically, Bob may be better known among the national disability advocacy community than he is among Arizona’s local disability advocates because of his longtime work with NCIL and ILRU. His humble leadership style, enthusiastic sense of humor and his persistence in promoting independent living philosophy locally and nationally in whatever sphere he is in, makes him an ideal candidate for the Spirit of ABIL award!

Employment Achievement – Bill Couch

After Bill left the workforce, his attitude was always focused on SSDI as temporary, fully expecting that someday he would return to work.  He took the opportunity to continue his connection to the community and maintain soft skills by returning to school for his MBA.  Just prior to completing his MBA, he contacted ABIL about assigning his ticket so we could help him find a job and keep a job.

ABIL received a call from an employer looking for a person to fill a six-month contract, which called for advanced skills.  After just two months under contract, the company hired Bill permanently at a salary more than five times his benefits amount!   Further, Bill was able to keep his benefits using the Trial Work Period while he tested and improved his endurance.  Bill reached his one-year anniversary in February, 2015, and continues to support himself and his two sons, and is happy to no longer rely on SSDI benefits for his livelihood.

Independent Living Leadership – Cristol Davis

Cristol Davis has been an ABIL consumer for several years; she has shown tremendous personal and professional growth in this time.  When she saw the need at ABIL for someone to cover the front desk on the first floor and to help give people directions, she took the initiative to get the job done.  She has also secured an apartment and has been living successfully on her own in the community for over 2 years.

Cristol is an active member of the Independent living Council and an Ability360 volunteer.  Cristol has participated in Independent Living classes, the computer class, and the social recreation program; her skills have become stronger and more professional.  She graduated from Ability360’s Independent Leadership Academy in 2014.  Recently, Cristol secured a position with The Foster Grandparent Program working with grade-school children.  She has embraced the Independent Living Philosophy and encourages others to be more independent in their lives.

Peer Mentor of the Year – Sami McGinnis

Sami McGinnis has been a peer mentor since 2012.  She has volunteered in our monthly mentoring group and worked in one-on-one matches.  She has great ability to listen to her mentees and she creates opportunities for learning and growth in their Independent Living goals.  We are grateful for her ethics and integrity and the care and devotion she shows to her work.  We are blessed to have her as part of the Peer Mentoring team.

Volunteer of the Year – Juan Garcia

Juan Garcia is an advocate of the Independent Living Philosophy as he directs his own path in life.  Juan is a consumer, a volunteer, and indirectly a peer mentor to ABIL sports and fitness center members.  Juan began attending Phoenix College to pursue becoming an EMT and was volunteering at Fire Station 39 before becoming a dedicated ABIL sports and fitness center volunteer.

In the past 2 ½ years, Juan’s dedication to volunteering 3 days a week for 4 hours per day has given him the opportunity to increase his communication, socialization and stress management skills.  Juan assists members in ABIL sports and fitness center, aids in preparation for special events, and has assisted with opening duties of the aquatic center.  ABIL’s programs have allowed Juan to fully integrate into the community after his injury.  He is an example to other volunteers and consumers due to his relentless work ethic, reliability, adapting to life with a disability, and spirit of living life to the fullest independently.

Mentor Match of the Year – Sami McGinnis and Jolanta Chyla

Jolanta Chyla first came to ABIL in March 2014 when she participated in the Living Well with A Disability Class, a 10-week course for individuals with physical disabilities.  After the class, she decided to join the Peer Mentor Program and was matched with Mentor Sami McGinnis.  Jolanta and Sami remind us that peer support can be a powerful tool to building communication and shared understanding through life’s most difficult challenges.

Mentor Match of the Year – Steve Norton and Kara Kahnke

Kara Kahnke and Steve Norton were matched together after Kara completed the Living Well with a Disability Class in March 2014.  They began working together on Kara’s goal of learning to cook healthy and nutritious meals.  They met to grocery shop, redesigned Kara’s kitchen so it was more accessible, and had regular cooking lessons.  Today, not only is Kara cooking her own meals, she is hosting dinner parties and is posting pictures of her creations on Facebook and Instagram to inspire others.

PAS Employee of the Year, Maricopa County West – Christina Robles

Christina has worked for ABIL since 2003.  She is very kind, reliable, honest and hardworking.  She has a personality that lifts the spirits of her consumers; with a kind word, a smile or by providing care with the consumers’ dignity always in mind.  Christina is the first to step up when a Supervisor needs help finding a caretaker for a consumer.  Supervisors say that they are always confident about the quality of care she provides to consumers.  She is simply an outstanding Personal Care Assistant and a wonderful individual.

PAS Employee of the Year, Maricopa County East – Amber Parkhurst

Amber has worked with ABIL since 2005.  The consumers she works with say they very much appreciate her manner, assistance, patience and compassion.  Amber takes the time to get to know her consumers’ care and preferences, and then works independently without needing to be told what needs to be done each day.  Her consumers often call the office to compliment her work and say how wonderful she is.

Amber’s ABIL Supervisor, Bonnie, says that it has been a pleasure to work with Amber over the past 10 years.  Her caregiver skills are top notch and she excels with consumers that require high levels of care.  Amber is always professional, reliable and is willing to help the supervisors when necessary.

PAS Employee of the Year, Pinal County – Veronica Martinez

Veronica has worked for ABIL since October 2011.  She is one of the Horizon Home Care employees who moved their employment to ABIL after ABIL acquired the Bridgeway contract in Pinal County.  Veronica is a very reliable and hardworking individual who doesn’t mind working 7 days a week if necessary.  She will fill in for Personal Care Assistants who can’t report to work to ensure the consumers have the care they need.

Working in a rural community is very different than working in a metropolitan area. Veronica drives on dirt roads to the middle of nowhere to provide care for her consumers.  She drives a little old car that sometimes gives problems, but she always finds a way to get to her consumers.  Her consumers say that they don’t ever want anyone else to provide their care.

Veronica is a true professional; she keeps the supervisor informed of any change in her consumers’ health, schedules or doctor appointments, and makes sure they get to their appointments.  She is always willing to go the extra mile to help her consumers and her supervisor.

PAS Employee of the Year, Pima County – Christina Vargas

Christina has been employed with ABIL since May 2013.  She is a very kind, personable, and strong woman.  She is an individual that takes pride in her work and family.  She is a single mother with five children, two with special needs.

Christina has proven to her consumers and ABIL her unwavering dedication, initiative and gentleness.  Her consumers feel safe and whole-heartedly trust Christina.  She has an infectious personality that makes her consumers laugh and feel good every day.

She’s never late for work, even though she has an eventful schedule with her own family.  She never hesitates when called at the last minute to assist another consumer.