AWS Foundation, in partnership with the Fort Wayne Fire Department, to offer Safety Kits Free to Families of Children with Special Needs

Fort Wayne  – AWS Foundation, in collaboration with the Fort Wayne Fire Department, will offer free Safety Kits to families of children with special needs. The kits are designed to safeguard against wandering and other dangerous situations involving children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Intended to assist family members and caregivers with prevention and when in emergency situations, safety kits are available daily between the hours of 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM at all 19 neighborhood Fort Wayne Fire Stations located across the city.

“Kids with special needs can be prone to wandering, to place themselves in dangerous situations and are much more likely to be bullied than others,” says Tom O’Neill, AWS Foundation Board Chair. “The goal of this safety kit is to provide families with a variety of tools designed to help prevent a potentially harmful situation from occurring and to give them more resources if an emergency occurs.”

Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation states, “The foundation developed the safety kit to proactively protect children with special needs who are among the most vulnerable members of our community. We’ve asked the Fire Department to help us distribute them because the local firehouse is a vital part of every neighborhood and plays a critical role should there be an emergency. We want kids to recognize it as a safe place and firefighters as their friends should they need help.”

Initial production consists of 2,000 kits. AWS Foundation sees this as a starting point as they work to better understand the unmet needs of children with disabilities in the community that could benefit from receiving a kit. The kit is designed to address a number of safety concerns from wandering, bullying and seclusion to safety prevention methods both at home and school.

Several items contained in the kit are produced by companies that employ individuals with disabilities with employment being one of AWS Foundation’s five community initiatives. The kits were assembled by FWCS students with special needs as part of the Scherer Resources vocational skills training program located at Anthis Career Center. The program prepares high school students with special needs as they transition from the school environment to work and community life.

“We’re fortunate to live in a caring and giving community that values and appreciates all residents,” said Mayor Tom Henry. “The City of Fort Wayne and the Fort Wayne Fire Department are honored to be part of this collaborative effort to make a lasting and meaningful difference for individuals with special needs.”

One of the biggest concerns expressed by caregivers who tend to people with cognitive problems is how to keep them safe. In children, wandering is a risk associated with many conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome and head injuries. A study by the Interactive Autism Network found that 49% of children with autism are prone to wandering from safety. A family may first become aware of wandering behavior when they are faced with the fact that a child has left the home, yard or their side unattended. Many children with a cognitive disability do not grow out of a tendency to wander as they enter adulthood. The Special Needs Safety Kit for Kids provides information and tools for prevention and to help families to develop a safety plan should there be an emergency.

“The Fort Wayne Fire Department’s commitment to this community doesn’t stop at the emergency response.  Prevention is a very important part of our mission to save lives and participating in this initiative will hopefully prevent injuries to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” says Fire Chief Eric Lahey. “The Fort Wayne Fire Department applauds the good work of AWS Foundation.”

Special Needs Safety Kits for Kids will also be available to families of children receiving developmental specialty care at Lutheran Hospital or Parkview Hospital.

Dual Diagnosis in the ID/DD Population

CEO Patti Hays was invited to write an article for the LookUp blog by The Lutheran Foundation.

We look for patterns in our surroundings.  Cave men looked for patterns of behavior in the animals they hunted.  Our understanding of the solar system was from those who looked for patterns in the change of the moon and the night sky.  Successful investors look for the patterns in the economy to predict stock market performance.   From earliest man to present day, problems are solved, solutions theorized and opportunities are found by those who see the patterns.


To read the full article, click here.

Fort Wayne Museum of Art

Exhibits featuring artistic images, works and reflections of living with disabilities.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art is presenting a trio of exhibitions featuring the work of artists who have forthrightly addressed, in varying ways, the effects of physical and mental disability on the creation of art. With major support provided by AWS Foundation, the exhibits on display March 11-June 11, 2017, include two solo exhibits by contemporary photographers working in the United States and an exhibit of artists from the FWMoA permanent collection.

Sharon, the photographic story of a father’s experiences raising his severely disabled daughter, meticulously traces the profound struggles internationally-acclaimed contemporary photographer Leon Borensztein faced while raising Sharon. Shown together for the very first time, this collection of more than 40 black and white photographic prints communicates the strength of Sharon’s spirit and invites us to consider the power of unremitting love.

The second exhibition, Expressions of Existence, will take its cue from art history and from the FWMoA permanent collection showcasing the work and careers of artists throughout history who have explored the ways in which their disabilities have affected their creative work. The work in this exhibit, which spans the years 1797 to 2013, is not a display of disability but an expression of all lives which are at once comparable and contrastable—synchronous but separate. This exhibition includes works by Jackson Pollock, Wesley Neal Rasko, Marie Laurencin, Chuck Close, Ginny Martin Ruffner, Andy Warhol, and Francisco Goya, among others. This exhibition’s didactic materials will be supplemented by Braille text.

Finally, the series will conclude with an exhibit of the work of Timothy Archibald and his son Eli, who has autism. ECHOLILIA is an eleven-image curation from a larger body of work that was published in the identically titled book (Echo Press, San Francisco, CA, 2010. 70 pp., 43 color plates). Taken at their home in El Sobrante, California, these primarily unstaged images intimately narrate a tense but respectful artistic and personal relationship between father and child, when the two are learning to understand the meaning of autism and the importance of awareness.

Each exhibit’s labels will be printed in font that is easy for individuals with dyslexia to read as well as presented in Braille. Planned programs for this series of exhibits include an artist talk and tour on April 8 from 10:30am-12pm with Timothy Archibald and his son, Eli, with a deaf interpreter present. The talk/tour is free with FWMoA admission. On May 4 at 12:15pm Chief Curator Charles Shepard and Curator of Special Collections Tiffany Street will lead a gallery tour of all three exhibitions, with a deaf interpreter present. The tour is free with FWMoA admission.

On April 29, a tour for the vision impaired will take place.

These exhibitions are organized by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, led by Chief Curator Charles Shepard, and Curator of Special Collections Tiffany Street. Sharon is co-organized by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

For more information visit or call the Fort Wayne Museum of Art at 260-422-6467.

Patti Hays

From the CEO: Disability Awareness

French artist Henri Matisse was purported to have said “It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everyone else.” The brilliant mind that brought us impressionist images like The Dance and The Dessert and who, when left bed ridden at the end of his life, switched to paper cuttings, was troubled because he was different. What beauty we would have lost if Matisse had “painted like everyone else.”

March is Disability Awareness Month.  It is the opportunity for us to appreciate our differences and advocate for equity. We all want to be connected, authentic and competent. Too many with disabilities, as it was for Matisse, may feel “less than”.  What can you do to help build a more welcoming and inclusive community for individuals with disabilities?

Acknowledge! I remember as a girl my mother reprimanding me “not to stare” when I saw a person with a disability. The wheelchair was intriguing to me but in following her well-meaning directive, I looked away. A smile and greeting might have opened the conversation, benefitting us both. We can all help with the feeling of connectedness by just communicating.

Remember to speak directly to the person with a disability, not their companion. Don’t assume that the person doesn’t have the ability to see, hear, comprehend or respond to you. If you don’t understand what has been said, a simple “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand” is the best response. Allow time for a response as well. If it is possible that they did not understand your comments, rephrase rather than just repeat.

Ask! If you want to be of help, remember to ask first. To say “may I be of some help?” rather than to step in and do something for the person, is more respectful of their sense of competence. Touch, as with any stranger, is appropriate only when invited. That goes for the wheelchair, a service animal, or any other mobility device that might be used.

Awareness!  Words such as crippled, handicapped or retarded are offensive. Remember, it is person first language…a child with autism (not “an autistic child”) or a woman with a disability (rather than “the disabled woman”). If you make a mistake, apologize. Don’t allow your fear of making a mistake contribute to someone feeling isolated.

Be aware of your environment. Are doorways, elevators, hallways, and aisles clear and is accessible seating available at all times? If you have ever used crutches or pushed a stroller, you have perhaps appreciated easy access.

Is your business or place of employment welcoming to people with disabilities? Is there a provision for an employment application not online? Is the individual encouraged to identify their disability without consequence? Unemployment for the disability population is more than three times that for the able bodied and neurotypical population. Authenticity comes from employment.

Advocate! Above all, be an advocate. It isn’t uncommon to be relatively unaware of the issues of people with disabilities. It may only be that when someone close to you has to manage in a world not designed for them that you gain a little more of an understanding. Or, it might be when a story hits the media as it did earlier this year when four young people in Chicago restrained, taunted and abused a young man with intellectual disabilities.  Not only did law enforcement react but we saw a national uprising.

ACT! Each of us, regardless of our varying abilities, has something to contribute. Each of us “paints” in our own manner and fashion. How do we find our place in the world…and help everyone else find theirs?

Disability Awareness Month 2017

Disability Awareness Month aims to bring attention to the positive impact people with disabilities make in our communities and promotes a message of inclusion and acceptance for everyone.

This March, AWS Foundation, along with individuals, businesses and organizations across the state will be promoting the theme of this year’s campaign which emphasizes that people with disabilities want to be treated just like anyone else.

“Too often, people with disabilities are called inspirational for simply living their daily lives and doing activities like going to work, playing sports, or taking care of their yard,” said Christine Dahlberg, executive director of the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities. “These individuals don’t want to be objectified or treated differently, such as when the undefeated high school wrestler lets a competitor with Down Syndrome win. They don’t want to be the subject of someone’s college essay or featured in an inspirational Facebook meme. They are people with complex lives, hopes and dreams, and just want to be treated like everyone else. The Council applauds AWS Foundation for joining in the important effort to spread awareness.”

As in previous years, Disability Awareness Month 2017 will be celebrated with community-based activities carried out by thousands of advocates and people with disabilities throughout the state. Activities include mayoral proclamations, art contests and awareness campaigns in schools, government agencies and businesses.

For more information about Disability Awareness Month 2017 activities and how you can participate, call Andie Mosley at 260.207.5796.  If you would like to order free Disability Awareness materials from the Governor’s Council, visit or contact the Council at

disABILITIES Expo Sponsors & Exhibitors Wanted

Make plans to sponsor, be an exhibitor or attend this year’s disABILITIES Expo in May. Why not do all three?

The 8th annual disABILITIES Expo is a one day event scheduled for Saturday, May 13th at the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum. It’s a great opportunity for individuals with disabilities, families, caregivers, service and product providers and advocates to connect, network and learn.

Becoming a corporate sponsor is a great opportunity to publicly show your support for the disability community. Register as an exhibitor to spotlight your products and services that benefit those living with a disability. Your participation is needed to make this event a success.

The disABILITIES Expo provides individuals of every age and stage of life with helpful information on a wide range of topics. In addition to an abundance of helpful products, services and ideas, the day is filled with activities, entertainment, and hands-on experiences designed specifically for individuals and families affected by a disability.

Each year, volunteers, provider agencies, advocates and others from across northeast Indiana work to make the expo possible. We are proud to be the presenting sponsor for eight consecutive years and continue to be overwhelmed by the crowd’s positive feedback and enthusiasm. We hear the excitement of exhibitors and attendees as individuals discover and take advantage of new opportunities that can help improve quality of life and overall health. Individuals and exhibitors come back year after year to benefit from the wealth of information, products and services available all in one place.

We all know how much advertising your business or nonprofit can cost. Leverage this popular event to your advantage. The disABILITIES Expo features a full day with individuals who plan to spend the day enjoying activities and performances, learning about service and program opportunities, and walking away with a bag of information to use throughout the year. Event day attendance is free to the public. The Memorial Coliseum does charge a $5 parking fee. To be a sponsor or register for a booth, click here now or visit to learn more.

Social Enrichment: Every Day Philosophies from Winnie the Pooh

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”  “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

I like Piglet’s expectant outlook of what exciting things might happen today. Planned or not, it gives much talk about at the end of the day. But does that happen for individuals with disabilities? The 2016 Individual Experience survey conducted by the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community Center on Community Living and Careers revealed a disheartening statistic that it likely doesn’t happen. Of the 16,888 respondents, 74% on the Community Integration and Habilitation or Family Support waiver reported spending the majority of their day in their residences, an activity center or sheltered workshop.

From the early days of our grant making, we recognized the difficulties individuals and families experience trying to connect with others. Through our Social Enrichment initiative, we help create those connections be it through the arts, museums, sports or recreation.

As Pooh says, “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” And, yes, there are places to go!

Among those places, these have events in March:

  •  Jesters ─ a performing arts program through the School of Creative Arts at the University of Saint Francis. Each Saturday, more than 75 youth and adults gather to learn about theatre, dance, singing, musical instruments, puppetry and visual arts, which culminates in a theatrical performance.


  • Science Central ─ making science education an extra special and safe experience, Science Central launched Special Abilities Days that feature sensory-friendly environments and hands-on experiments to delight scientists of all abilities.


  • Turnstone ─ not only do families struggle to find accessible recreational facilities, so do organizations serving the intellectual and developmental population. This year, Turnstone expanded its programs to respond to that need.


To see a complete list of opportunities happening around the community, visit the Foundation’s community calendar.
Not to overlook Pooh’s first thought of the day…breakfast is okay but I find brunch to be more exciting, and you?

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



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