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.

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces $636,333 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $636,333 in grants to 16 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

About Special Kids: $25,000 for parent education programs in northeast Indiana

Camp PossAbility: $25,000 for camperships for summer camp

Canine Companions for Independence: $25,000 for companion training and placement follow up in northeast Indiana

CORE: $35,000 for prevocational skills training for high school students

Community Transportation Network: $25,000 for expanded transportation services

Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana: $50,000 for a Care Transition Nurse and $60,000 to train and prepare consumers for community-based employment

Fort Wayne Curling Club: $25,000 for adaptive curling instruction and leagues

Fort Wayne Dance Collective: $50,263 for Dance with Disabilities program

Fort Wayne Dance Collective: $8,740 for a three-day residency featuring AXIS Dance Company

Fort Wayne Housing Authority: $15,000 for a chair lift for the new Resource Center

Junior Achievement: $25,000 for BizTown and financial education programs for students with special needs

McKinney-Harrison Elementary School: $25,000 for a new accessible playground

Riverfront Fort Wayne: $15,000 to implement a public civic community art project engaging under served populations

Passages: $35,000 for the Spotlight Avenue performing arts program

Pathfinder Services: $25,000 for Summer at Last day camp

Wellspring: $25,000 for the Older Adult Program

YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne: $142,330 for staffing, programs, and equipment for adaptive services

ADA 25 December

Meet Zach McConnell, diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2.

AWS Foundation icon

AWS Foundation Announces $353,220 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $353,220 in grants to 12 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

Arts United: $25,000 to support the Arts Campus planning initiative

Cardinal Services: $25,000 for a new arts program

Caring About People: $10,000 to provide affordable mental and behavioral health services

Citilink Access: $50,000 for increased on-demand Access service needs

Community Transportation Network (CTN): $15,000 matching grant for a new lift-equipped van and fuel costs

Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation: $25,000 for the “b instrumental” program

Fort Wayne Park Foundation: $50,000 for the Freimann-Botanical Conservatory Walkway Connection

Headwaters Counseling: $15,000 to cover counseling costs

Interdisciplinary Community Autism Network (ICAN): $25,000 for “Feed the Senses” comprehensive sensory program

SCAN: $63,440 for an assessment tool and online training program for staff working with families with undiagnosed intellectual disabilities

Science Central: $11,780 to host four Special Abilities Days and enhance the virtual tour tool on the website

Volunteer Lawyer Program: $38,000 for Guardianship Program

PBS 39

AWS on PBS 39 Primetime

PBS 39

PBS 39 Primetime ran a program on Friday, December 11 featuring the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Local guests to the show discussed the great progress our community has made to remove barriers for individuals with disabilities, as well as the work that remains. The AWS Foundation is very proud of their many ADA videos featured throughout the show.

Click here to watch the program.

Halie Smith

ADA 25 November

Meet Halie Smith, born with cerebral palsy.

Patti Hays

AWS Foundation Names Patti Hays as CEO – effective December 1

Patti HaysFort Wayne, IN — November 11, 2015 — AWS Foundation announced today that its Board of Directors has appointed Patti Hays as Chief Executive Officer effective December 1, 2015. Hays has served as interim CEO since June.

“After a national search and meeting with a number of exceptional candidates, we are confident we’ve selected the best leader to achieve the Foundation’s mission,” states Don Steininger, AWS Foundation’s Chairman. “With Patti Hays taking the role of CEO and the full support of the Board of Directors, we have the leadership needed to realize our vision. Patti’s significant experience, passion and drive will play a pivotal role in expanding the Foundation.”

Previously, Ms. Hays served as Sr. Vice President of Business Health Development for Lutheran Hospital and most recently as an independent consultant for organizations seeking assistance with strategic growth initiatives. Hays holds a Master’s of Nursing degree from Louisiana State University Medical Center and serves on numerous nonprofit boards.

“I’m honored and excited to have the opportunity to be part of such a meaningful mission,” states Ms. Hays. “Through our initiatives, grant-making activities and community partners, AWS Foundation has the ability to address the needs of children and adults with disabilities.”

“Northeast Indiana is a welcoming community with even more we can do to be inclusive of everyone. I believe the Foundation’s vision and assets will enable us to ensure that those with enduring disabilities have the same opportunities to experience all that the region has to offer from education and employment to social and recreational activities,” says Hays.

Ms. Hays succeeds Mike Cahill who recently left the position to assume the role of President and Chief Executive Officer at Physicians Health Plan of Northern Indiana.

“Patti is a strong and persuasive advocate who knows the Foundation and where it wants to go,” says Mr. Cahill. “She is passionate about the Foundation’s mission and a good choice to challenge the community to think differently about disabilities. I look forward to seeing what comes next.”