AWS Foundation has much reason to tackle that deadly sin of pride when reflecting on some of our 2017 regional accomplishments. What follows are the highlights.
Inaugural County/City Disability Council: Through the collaboration of the Northeast Indiana Disability Advocacy Coalition (NEIDAC) and government officials, the Disability Council for Allen County and the City of Fort Wayne was created. This group will strive to excel in accessibility and participation for all people with disabilities throughout the community.
Buddy Benches: Ten area elementary schools now have playground buddy benches designed by area artists. The number of these will continue to grow annually as we help schools build an attitude of inclusion rather than bullying during recesses. To learn more about the Buddy Benches click here.
System Navigation: The process is well under way to establish an on-line navigation system that will guide families in finding answers to questions, access to services and assistance in ensuring optimal resources for individuals with disabilities. This complex process will see a beta test in 2018 as we move to an application that will service individuals, caregivers and providers throughout the region.
Giving Tuesday: $44,727 in matching funds was given to 9 disability nonprofit agencies as part of our first #GivingTuesday event. More great news was that 95% of the dollars came from NEW donors to the organizations!
Expanded land purchase at Camp Red Cedar: Two land parcels adjacent to Camp Red Cedar were purchased by AWS Foundation. More than 20 acres will be available as this valuable day camp and year round equestrian program continues to serve in an inclusive capacity for years to come.
Special Needs Safety Kits for Children: Through the community efforts of the fire stations across Northeast Indiana, area provider agencies and the Developmental Clinics of Lutheran Health Network and Parkview Health, we are well on our way with the distribution of 2,000 safety kits. These kits, assembled by special needs students learning job skills, contain information and aids to help with the safety of homes for the family with autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Canal boat christening: Friends of the Rivers launched Sweet Breeze this spring, a canal boat providing river views of the city paired with historical perspectives. Through a grant from AWSF, Sweet Breeze is fully accessible with a flat entrance from the dock and a bathroom large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Look for it returning to the rivers in the spring.
Riverfront groundbreaking: Sweet Breeze will also provide a great view of the developing Riverfront park. Through work with developers and input from individuals with a variety of disabilities, this park has been designed with an emphasis on inclusion. A few features are a supported lawn base to allow full wheelchair access of the entire lawn space; all bathrooms are handicap accessible; accessible playground equipment; and electronic interface for all signage.
Record grant giving amounts: 2017 saw $4,607,730 in grants awarded to 86 grantees. These grants have helped individuals with disabilities become more involved in the expansion of the region. More social venues were welcoming. More job training opportunities were provided. Agencies that provide vital daily services for maximum inclusion and independence were able to expand their reach.
We can’t let the reflection of the past year finish without mentioning the passing of a founding board member. Ian Rolland was integral to the concept of AWS Foundation’s formation when it was just an idea in 2006. He continued as an active board member until June 2016. His service to AWSF was memorialized in one of the first buddy benches that can be found at Forest Park Elementary School. Ian’s challenge to all of us to be not just aware of the community in which we live but to be willing to get involved in social issues has contributed to Northeast Indiana being a more inclusive community for people of all abilities. Let us all honor his memory by taking a more active role in creating an inclusive community this year, and for many more years to come.