Laura Burnett

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Laura Burnett

Jeffrey Scherer

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Jeffrey Scherer

David Reynolds

2016 disABILITIES Expo – David Reynolds

Bill Bailey

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Bill Bailey

Abel Del Toro

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Abel Del Toro

Riverfront Fort Wayne’s Faces of the Fort

Riverfront Fort Wayne’s Faces of the Fort

This July, AWS Foundation was proud to attend the Riverfront Fort Wayne’s Faces of the Fort, which we supported through a prior grant. The river celebration event casted oversized beach balls to float down the St. Marys River – each featuring the artistic and self-expressive work of an individual with a disability.

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.

Arts of All 2015

AWS Foundation – Arts of All 2015

Patti Hays

Learning about disabilities while Finding Dory

The new Pixar movie, Finding Dory, premiered this past weekend to a record-setting opening for an animated film.  I was eager to hear about the next adventure of that charming little blue fish and visit once again with her friends-both old and new.  Just as expected, the unique personalities and depth of each character brought the story to life.

Characters Hank, a traumatized seven limbed octopus (Septapus) and master escape artist in search of solitude, Bailey the beluga whale who can’t echolocate and Becky, a disoriented bird who cleverly employs a pail as a rescue device all become our new friends.  Destiny, the near sighted Whale Shark, as well as the returning Nemo the clownfish with one malformed but amazingly functional fin, remind us of our own individual challenges.  This flawed but uniquely functional cast exemplifies the message that “…you can do whatever you put your mind to”.

I went in expecting a simple movie but was met with a film that gives each of us the opportunity to not only share this beautiful film with our children but to also discuss disability.  At the beginning of the movie, we see the sweet and easily distracted Dory, identified as having “short term memory loss.”  We learn how her parents support her path to independence by providing love, encouragement and realistic assistive devices.  We see determination and hard work paired with inspirational peer support helping others to reach their goals.  My favorite life message in the movie is preparing the child for the path rather than the path for the child demonstrated by Dory providing inspiration to Nemo and others to “just keep swimming.”

Unfortunately, Becky is characterized as “dimwitted” and there are images of bullying by a couple of sea lions to a smaller and less adept pup.  The audience I sat with laughed at these depictions but I hope that parents will see the opportunity to explain to their children other ways of seeing those with cognitive disabilities rather than as the object of humor or derision.

Dory is told by her parents that the best things happen by chance, and perhaps this film is a chance for families to include discussion about everyone’s varying abilities in life.  At AWS Foundation, we envision a community in which people with enduring disabilities are engaged fully and meaningfully in all aspects of life.   Finding Dory reminds us that working together; communities of diversity and inclusion are the ones we want to live in. See the Finding Dory preview by clicking here.

Patti Hays, CEO

AWS Foundation

AWS Foundation Announces $624,760 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $624,760 in grants to 19 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

Achieva Resources Corporation: $62,079 to fund a volunteer guardian coordinator position and state and national certification training.

Bi-County Services: $50,000 challenge grant toward the $600,000 capital campaign for an inclusive community playground in Bluffton.

Cahoots Coffee Café: $35,000 to hire a job coach and develop a vocational training program with the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative.

Camp Red Cedar:  $25,000 for camperships and adaptive recreation equipment.

Carey Services: $40,000 for Creative Abundance consultants and training for the new creative arts program.

Children’s Choir of Huntington County: $10,000 for the inclusive Joyful Songsters choir.

Deer Ridge Elementary School: $17,378 to expand the school’s sensory room.

East Allen County Schools: $26,700 for sensory rooms at Prince Chapman Academy and New Haven Middle School and develop an online sensory room training module.

Family Service Society: $25,000 for diagnostic and evaluative services for low-income children at risk for autism spectrum disorder, behavioral and related intellectual disabilities.

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre: $22,500 for three sensory-friendly performances for Project Lights Up!

Fort Wayne Museum of Art: $7,500 to research artists with disabilities for a proposed art exhibit.

Fort Wayne Youtheatre: $6,000 for the Backstage Insight sensory-friendly theatre program and workshops.

Greater Fort Wayne, Inc: $5,500 for two Leadership Fort Wayne scholarships for individuals with disabilities.

HearCare Connection: $30,000 for hearing aids and audiology services for low-income individuals with disabilities.

Ivy Tech Foundation: $50,000 for the greenhouse which will provide future hydroponic and culinary arts training and education for individuals with disabilities.

NeighborLink Fort Wayne: $25,000 to expand volunteer programs and home repairs for the disability community.

Parkview Huntington Family YMCA: $14,695 to purchase the multi-sensory BEAM system for the new Movement Studio.

The League: $20,000 for the Youth Services program for low-income special needs young adults.

Turnstone: $152,408 to expand recreational and social programming to the intellectual/developmental disability community and hire a program coordinator.