Promoting Social Enrichment

Always Remember: People First

Recognizing the importance of placing the person before their disability is more than being polite. It’s essential to changing public attitudes, behaviors and acknowledging ones abilities.

We are taught from a young age that all lives have value, it is wrong to judge or discriminate against another individual and that we should right a wrong when we see one. What about when we hear a medical diagnosis used to “label” a person with a disability? No matter how unintentional, the use of a label negatively influences attitudes and acts as a form of discrimination. As an example, a mother doesn’t have an autistic child. She has a child with autism. The disability should not define a person, their abilities or potential. We don’t have a community of disabled people, but rather a community of people of all abilities. That’s what People First Language is all about.

You can help change perceptions and have a positive influence on others by using People First Language. Be thoughtful and sensitive when choosing words describing an individual with a disability – they have personalities, interests, passions and dreams that are more important descriptors than a disability.

Remember, a disability does not define a person. While they may have a disability, it is not who they are. To help support its use, AWS Foundation requests People First Language in grant applications.

Patti Hays

From the CEO

As the new CEO of the Foundation, let me welcome you to the first edition of its newsletter. Our goal is to share information with you, not only about AWS Foundation, but about events, trends and issues that highlight what is important to our mission.

In contemplating what to write in this inaugural edition, I turned to the seemingly endless stack of books that occupy my well-intentioned reading list. On top was Peaceful Neighbor by Michael Long. The author explores my hometown hero, Fred Rogers, as a counter culturalist. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was completely immersed in his values of non-violence, unconditional acceptance, and compassion. …and I continue to share these values with my children and others decades later.

Reading Long’s book, I learned that as a child Fred Rogers struggled with a weight problem. Bullied and chided by other kids calling “Hey, Fat Freddy”, I suspect contributed much to his message to all children assuring them of acceptance, just as they are. “I Like You As You Are” was in my children’s playlist of favorite songs along with the classics.

Fred Rogers preached diversity and compassion.  In the mid 1970’s, he introduced us to Mr. McFeely’s granddaughter, a young girl with spina bifida walking with braces and crutches. Fred Rogers’ message of acceptance was echoed in that young girl’s words when she said, “…what people have to remember is that everybody has limitation and it doesn’t matter if some are more obvious than others.” Later in 1980, he introduced us to Jeff Erlanger, an endearing ten- year- old using a power wheelchair. After talking with Jeff about some of the challenges of using a wheelchair, they sang another song “It’s you I like”. I revisited that episode when I first started with AWS Foundation and the message from precocious Jeff is woven through the Foundation’s mission.

AWS Foundation remembers and understands the challenges that many in Northeast Indiana face. Through our grant making we strive to make an independent life achievable for individuals with enduring disabilities. We focus on five key initiatives.

  • IMPROVING HOUSING. A home to call their own that is tailored to personal needs and preferences. It’s where people express their individuality, reach their full potential and thrive.
  • EXPANDING TRANSPORTATION. Accessible and affordable transportation broadens an individual’s geographical reach and opens a world of opportunity.
  • ADVANCING EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT. Providing educational resources and meaningful employment opportunities becomes a launching pad for development of successful life skills and more independent living.
  • PROMOTING SOCIAL ENRICHMENT. Through inclusive social, recreational and arts programs, we seek to engage and inspire individuals with enduring disabilities.
  • SEEKING EARLY DIAGNOSIS & SYSTEM NAVIGATION. Every individual achieving their greatest potential is our ultimate aim. Exploring programs that recognize and diagnose disabilities early is critical to personal progress, optimal outcomes and lifelong success. The need for timely and accurate information is vital.

That ten-year-old I spoke about earlier, Jeff Erlanger, went on to chair the Commission on People with Disabilities in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1999, he surprised Fred Rogers with an unannounced appearance as Mr. Rogers was being inducted into the TV Hall of Fame to remind Mr. Rogers that it is “him that we all like”. I challenge you to watch that reunion and not cry. (

Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy, I used to think that strong meant having big muscles and great physical power; but the longer I live, the more I realize that real strength has much more to do with what is not seen. Real strength has to do with helping others.”  He was right.

AWS Foundation strives to be Fred Rogers strong. We envision Northeast Indiana composed of strong neighborhoods of compassion where all are accepted just as they are. Strong businesses based on a diverse workforce that embraces inclusion as well as innovation. Where differences are respected and appreciated in every aspect of community life. AWS Foundation strives to build a community of inclusion, independence and potential. I think Mr. Rogers would like that.

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces $460,640 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN – The AWS Foundation recently awarded $624,760 in grants to 11 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:


Youth Opportunity Center: $50,000 for an accessible playground, sensory equipment and art materials.

Volunteer Lawyer Program: $40,000 to fund guardianships for low-income individuals and families.

SPEAK MODalities:  $100,000 for the pilot roll-out of SPEAKall and SPEAKtogether apps.

Shepherd’s House:  $10,000 to replace an elevator in a residential facility serving 51 veterans.

The Life Enrichment Center: $100,000 to expand their Creative Enrichment Center program.

Heartland Sings: $10,000 to pilot a 9 week choral program at Turnstone.

Friends of the Rivers: $56,000 to modify the riverboat for accessibility.

Churubusco Youth Foundation: To match contributions totaling $25,000 from individuals and businesses to construct an accessible playground for the community park.

FWMoA: $35,000 for three art exhibits showcasing artists with disabilities.

Science Central: $24,640 for their Special Abilities Days and to purchase a mobile adult changing table.

Caring About People: $10,000 for scholarships for mental health and behavioral services for clients.

AWS Foundation Hires Andie Mosley

Fort Wayne, IN — November 7, 2016 — AWS Foundation announced today that they have hired Andie Mosley as Grants and Marketing Executive Assistant. Andie recently graduated from University of Saint Francis with a BA in Communication.

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces $610,830 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $610,830 in grants to 14 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:


Autism Society of Indiana: $25,000 for the Career Ally program and $25,000 for the Ally serving rural counties in Northeast Indiana

Community Transportation Network: $16,000 to purchase a new vehicle and fuel; $25,000 for mortgage payoff

GiGi’s Playhouse: $25,000 for operating support

Huntington University: $35,000 to expand the ABLE program for high school students of special needs

Indiana Legal Services: $60,000 to staff a medical legal partnership pilot program in Northeast Indiana

Joe’s Kids: $50,000 for operating support and therapy equipment

McMillen Center for Health: $25,000 for the Brush! oral health program for children of special needs

Mental Health America: $30,000 for the Kids on the Block educational program and $50,000 for the VASIA program

Northeast Indiana Genetic Counseling Center: $50,000 for need-based scholarships for medical genetic services

Northern Wells Community Schools: $24,830 for adaptive teaching materials and classroom sensory items for special needs students

RISE, Inc: $30,000 to assist with the purchase of a respite home

RSVP of Allen County: $25,000 for the ICAN volunteer team

Scherer Resources: $60,000 for pre-vocational training for Fort Wayne Community Schools

University of Saint Francis: $25,000 to pilot an early childhood developmental and health screening program

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces New Board Members and Officers

Fort Wayne, IN — August 11, 2016 — AWS Foundation announced today that five new members have been elected to the board of directors.  The new directors are: Bruce Boxberger, Carson Boxberger LLP, Dan Skekloff, Haller & Colvin, P.C., Larry Adelman, Deister Concentrator, Sherri Miller, Center for Extraordinary Success and Tim Dirig, Dirig Consulting.


Newly elected board officers are:

  • Chairman – Tom O’Neill, The Sherman Group
  • Vice Chairman – Sherri Miller, Center for Extraordinary Success
  • Treasurer- Andy Brooks, 1st Brooks Construction


Retiring from the board are Ian Rolland, Lincoln Financial Group (retired) and Ben Eisbart, Steel Dynamics (retired). AWS Foundation acknowledged and thanked them for their years of service and exceptional accomplishments on behalf of the disability community. Both Rolland and Eisbart have been with AWS Foundation since its inception in 2007. Eisbart will continue to serve on the foundation’s Grants Committee.

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces $636,333 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $636,333 in grants to 16 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

About Special Kids: $25,000 for parent education programs in northeast Indiana

Camp PossAbility: $25,000 for camperships for summer camp

Canine Companions for Independence: $25,000 for companion training and placement follow up in northeast Indiana

CORE: $35,000 for prevocational skills training for high school students

Community Transportation Network: $25,000 for expanded transportation services

Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana: $50,000 for a Care Transition Nurse and $60,000 to train and prepare consumers for community-based employment

Fort Wayne Curling Club: $25,000 for adaptive curling instruction and leagues

Fort Wayne Dance Collective: $50,263 for Dance with Disabilities program

Fort Wayne Dance Collective: $8,740 for a three-day residency featuring AXIS Dance Company

Fort Wayne Housing Authority: $15,000 for a chair lift for the new Resource Center

Junior Achievement: $25,000 for BizTown and financial education programs for students with special needs

McKinney-Harrison Elementary School: $25,000 for a new accessible playground

Riverfront Fort Wayne: $15,000 to implement a public civic community art project engaging under served populations

Passages: $35,000 for the Spotlight Avenue performing arts program

Pathfinder Services: $25,000 for Summer at Last day camp

Wellspring: $25,000 for the Older Adult Program

YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne: $142,330 for staffing, programs, and equipment for adaptive services

ADA 25 December

Meet Zach McConnell, diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2.

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces $353,220 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $353,220 in grants to 12 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

Arts United: $25,000 to support the Arts Campus planning initiative

Cardinal Services: $25,000 for a new arts program

Caring About People: $10,000 to provide affordable mental and behavioral health services

Citilink Access: $50,000 for increased on-demand Access service needs

Community Transportation Network (CTN): $15,000 matching grant for a new lift-equipped van and fuel costs

Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation: $25,000 for the “b instrumental” program

Fort Wayne Park Foundation: $50,000 for the Freimann-Botanical Conservatory Walkway Connection

Headwaters Counseling: $15,000 to cover counseling costs

Interdisciplinary Community Autism Network (ICAN): $25,000 for “Feed the Senses” comprehensive sensory program

SCAN: $63,440 for an assessment tool and online training program for staff working with families with undiagnosed intellectual disabilities

Science Central: $11,780 to host four Special Abilities Days and enhance the virtual tour tool on the website

Volunteer Lawyer Program: $38,000 for Guardianship Program

PBS 39

AWS on PBS 39 Primetime

PBS 39

PBS 39 Primetime ran a program on Friday, December 11 featuring the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Local guests to the show discussed the great progress our community has made to remove barriers for individuals with disabilities, as well as the work that remains. The AWS Foundation is very proud of their many ADA videos featured throughout the show.

Click here to watch the program.