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.

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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.

Maleah Steel

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Maleah Steel

Daryl Walker

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Daryl Walker

Joseph Hamilton

2016 disABILITIES Expo – Joseph Hamilton