Spirit of ability

Story by Aitana Yvette Mallari

The name has changed, but the values remain.

The 15th annual Spirit of Ability Awards kicked off this evening under not ABIL, but Ability360.

But fear not, longtime ABIL supporters: Though given a new title, the organization’s core principles and the people who embody them shine through.

“It’s been a big year—that’s for sure,” said Ability360 Board Chair Mary Slaughter (photo).

Phil Pangrazio speaking into a microphone
Ability360 President & CEO, Phil Pangrazio has some fun with everyone who came to celebrate the 2015 Spirit of Ability award winners.

Phil Pangrazio, president and CEO, said, “We’ve been doing this for quite a long time. Everything is newer.”

While longtime ABIL workers, like host and ABIL board member Max McQueen (photo), were unafraid to show their fondness for ABIL, joking about the confusion that rebranding brings.

He agreed that the change was for the better as he handed the mic to Anthony Nguyen, who presented the first awards of the night.

They were for Ability360 employees of the month for all of 2015.

“What a great group of caregivers to be associated with,” Nguyen said.

Home Care Services Employees of the Year

These awards are for those who have shown exemplary caregiving abilities, like Maricopa County’s Glenda Bryant (photo). Bryant has been an Ability360 employee for over a decade, and became a key part in the life of her dear friend Harold (photo), who suggested Glenda also be the first Employee of the Decade award if and when the award is created.

“She has done so much good,” said Jermicka Junial (photo), HCS supervisor.

Maria Avilez is this year’s Pinal County award winner. Her current consumer, Amelia, and her husband are thankful for all the work that Avilez has done.

“People like her are extremely, extremely valuable,” said Elosia Davis, HCS supervisor.

Alexis Walters of Pima County received his award for going above and beyond as a caregiver for teenager Noah, even going to camp with him without pay.

“It’s really made a difference in Noah’s life,” said Lupita Molina, HCS Supervisor.

These three are only a minuscule fraction of the estimated 2,300 employees serving 2,000 consumers.

Achievement Awards

David Garcia (photo) received the Employment Achievement Award. Previous to his disability, he was a triple A tow truck driver in California. Now, the married father of three is the Operations Coordinator and Project Manager of Aqua Science in Arizona.

Independent Living Skills Advocate Leonard Smith used Pangrazio’s reading glasses to introduce another achievement award recipient, William R. Stinson (photo).

Stinson “exemplifies the independent living philosophy,” Smith said.

The awardee thanked God and his wife. “I can be quite challenging,” Stinson said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Paul Carnevale (photo), an RN with a Master’s degree in nursing, received the volunteer of the year award. As we went upstage to receive his award, others cheered his name.

”I don’t even have to ask him to do things—he just does it,” said Kate Ritter, Recreation Therapy Specialist.

Ida Bender (photo) received the Peer Mentor of the Year award. According to Amina Kruck, vice president of advocacy, “She’s a show up girl. We can always count on her to show up.”

To Bender, the camaraderie of Ability360 makes showing up effortless.

“I consider everyone my family—my second family,” Bender said.

Spirit of Ability Award

Randy Howe holding a spirit of ability plaque
2015 Spirit of Ability award recipient, Randy Howe

Finally, the Spirit of Ability Award was received by Honorable Randall M. Howe. Howe exemplified the spirit of ability before he knew of ABIL, as he tacked adversity after adversity growing up in an age of heavy disability discrimination.

A graduate of Arizona State University College of Law, he’s worked from the Arizona Court of Appeals to ABIL to the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

Howe attributed his success to his mother: “I would not be here today if not for her. Because of what she did for me, I’ve always tried to help other people people with disabilities achieve all that they can. That’s why I’ve been involved with Ability360, with the Center of Disability Law, and other organizations. If it did exist, there wouldn’t be an opening in the US Supreme court at the moment because I might be there. I will still call it ABIL in my heart.”

The Spirit of Ability not only shows the efforts of a select few but the spirit of family, of true understanding and support as a whole.

Mary Slaugher said it best when the evening began: “This is what this organization—Ability360—is about.”