Patti Hays

From the CEO: March 2017

I was surprised to read recently that Harriet Tubman, American abolitionist and suffragette, had a disability. As a result of a severe head wound early in her life, she suffered from seizures and other neurologic ailments. So significant was her injury that she was deemed as “less valuable” and could not be sold because her work capacity was below the standard. Was Harriet an early self-advocate when she fled slavery while her “owners” were contemplating her fate and that of her family? First as an abolitionist, then as a suffragette, Mrs. Tubman worked for equity with her life opportunities.

Self-advocacy and equity have been in the headlines the last few months with more than a few stories of protests, crowds, and people’s opposing perspectives on a variety of polarizing topics. One that personally resonated for me was the January 21 March in DC. This group captured my attention when it was just a rumbling. As this expression of freedom took shape and came closer to reality, I was energized to see that among the Unity Principles was the mention of disability issues. With input from some active voices, the inclusion of disability rights in the principles was better refined. The issues of discrimination, sexual assault, pay inequality, and vulnerability to violence are all magnified for women, as well as men, with a disability.

Today more than ever, the voices from the disability world are being heard. The forecast was that 45,000 people with disabilities would join the march. If this happened, it would easily over shadow the crowd of 8500 who participated in the march following the passage of the ADA in 1991. There were many people who did not travel to DC, still they participated. A virtual march was created to allow protesters with disabilities, unable to march, to participate through an online movement. Many marched in their hometowns and nearby cities. But, I went to DC. I could represent those who couldn’t be there. I could represent those who couldn’t march. I don’t know what the final count was for those with disabilities who did march. I suspect the total number of people diminished their visibility. The crowd was overwhelming and the organized route changed to an avalanche of pink hats and signs flowing through the city.

I don’t recall the topic of disability being such a visible part of any election prior to 2016. We saw Anastasia Somoza, a disability rights advocate given a visible role in one convention. We also saw the repercussions when a reporter with a disability was imitated. If you are reading this newsletter, I am going to assume that you care, in some fashion, about being part of an inclusive community, which includes those with varied abilities. For you it might be personal. It might be a part of your business. It might be that you are just a concerned, welcoming citizen becoming aware of the issues. It might be something else…but regardless, you care.

In light that the Women’s March in January included many varied topics of which disability was just one, it might not have been the forum in which you chose to participate and express yourself. That’s okay because in our society we all are free to express ourselves as we see fit.  There will be opportunities for all of us to continue to be activists in the disability world and also support those with a disability to self-advocate. As the disability community digests these various social challenges, as well as the opportunities, there are some pertinent issues to contemplate and questions to ask:

  • Will we see continued government understanding and support of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)?
  • Will the state of Indiana support funding in the 2017 budget for Direct Support Professional (DSP) increased compensation?
  • What will be the outcome of the upcoming Supreme court decision regarding how schools support children with disabilities? (Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District)
  • How do we guarantee insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed?
  • How do we ensure that everyone, including those with a disability, is treated with dignity and respect, while also given equal opportunity?
  • Is this community as accessible and inclusive as it could be?

How can you be an activist?

  1. Get to know your local representatives. Local, state and federal all need to be educated on the issues related to disabilities
  2. Write letters. Email is easy, but letters are more meaningful. Phone calls work, too. While social media may feel like you did something, letters and calls are better. Tell your story and be specific about what action you want from them. For example, describe how the Affordable Care Act has helped your family.
  3. Join a group…even if it is just on their mailing lists. They can help you be a part of movements and keep you informed of changes. If you have the resources, send monetary donations of support. Just a few of the national disability advocacy organizations:
    1. Arc
    2. TASH
    3. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
    4. Autism Speaks
    5. United Cerebral Palsy (UCP)
    6. National Down Syndrome Society
  4. Read!!!  Support publications. Encourage investigative journalism. Join newsletter lists. The library can help you learn about public policy.
  5. Most important……VOTE.

We saw the community outrage when a Chicago area teenager with intellectual disabilities was restrained, taunted and abused by four individuals…and live streamed!!! Not only did law enforcement react but we saw a national uprising. As Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc shared “…it’s our collective responsibility to respect and stand up for the rights of people with disabilities.”

As one of our prior presidents said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.”   Harriet Tubman chose that option and look what she accomplished.  Or maybe you like Dr. Seuss who said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

Science Central Special Abilities Days

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation’s 2016 Community Report

We are pleased to announce that our very first Community Report is now available! Growth and opportunity were central themes this past year with a record number of grants and dollars awarded totaling over $3.6 million.

Our 2016 Community Report offers an inside look at the positive impact our grant making has on individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, their families and caregivers. It features a few of the foundation’s nearly 100 grantees that highlight our five initiatives; Social Enrichment, Education and Employment, Transportation, Early Diagnosis, and Housing. Each reminds us that there are many facets to a life well lived and keeps us focused on our mission to make a difference in every way we can.

This report truly expresses who we are, what we do and our aspirations for tomorrow.  We are excited to share it with you and to hear your feedback!

Click on the icon shown to view the report online. If you would like a copy mailed to you, please complete the form below.

2016 Community Report



[wufoo username=”awsf” formhash=”zu457nm1lp6tin” autoresize=”true” height=”901″ header=”show” ssl=”true”]

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

Canine Companions

Canine Companions

Dear AWS Foundation, 

On behalf of Canine Companions for Independence I would like to thank you for the generous $25,000 grant from the AWS Foundation. The grant, to be used to support the follow-up of NE Indiana grads, will ensure that those individuals and their assistance dogs have the support needed to be successful. I have enclosed an invitation to our upcoming graduation in May – an excellent opportunity to see our mission live. Thank you again and we hope to see you in May! 

Best Regards, 

Morgan Veach, Development Association 

Thank You Letter

Camp PossAbility, Inc.

Camp PossAbility, Inc., is a one week adapted summer camp for young adults ages 18 to 35 with physical disabilities who have a typical high school diploma or equivalent. Camp PossAbility also accepts those who are ages 16 and 17 with recent spinal cord injuries who are finishing a typical high school program. Camp PossAbility is based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but camp is held at Bradford Woods in Martinsville, Indiana.