Disability Advocates Recognized by Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
Annual Event Salutes Legislative Leadership, Media Excellence, Advocacy, Community Service ; Rep. Donna Sheldon, Joseph Shapiro, Georgia HS Students and R. Denny Spear, Jr. Win Honors
ATLANTA, GA (August 2, 2011) – With well over 100 guests in attendance, at the annual Making A Difference Appreciation Ceremony, held at the Melia Hotel in Atlanta, Randolph Denny Spear, Jr. received top honors for community service as the GCDD Carl Anthony Cunningham Council Member of the Year. The award recognizes the council member who most depicts Carl’s leadership, humility and commitment to service, said Eric E. Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director. It was created in 2004, in memory of Cunningham who passed in 1999 during his term as Council Chair, and is credited for setting the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities on a firm foundation.
A retired Baptist minister and Dunwoody resident, Spear was introduced by GCDD Chair Tom Seegmueller from Albany and Kim Chester from Cartersville. Chester, the 2010 winner of the award, recognized Spear as a council member who “embodies the spirit of GCDD.”
“In the fevered pitch of policy discussions and legislative analysis, it’s often Denny’s voice that brings the core values of GCDD front and center, reminding us of who we serve and on whose behalf we work. Denny, always actively engaged in the work of the Council, has served GCDD on several committees and as Interim Vice Chair,” Chester said.
Spear attended the dinner with Varian, his wife of nearly 60 years, accompanied by 10 of their six children and 17 grandchildren. Spear is a parent advocate who has an adult daughter with developmental disabilities.
“It feels really good to have this recognition,” Spear said as he accepted the distinguished award. “But I can’t help but think of the tremendous caring of all the people here…who try to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. I hope we can always be reminded of and remember not only those in the Council, but those throughout Georgia who give time and love over and over again.” Spear received two standing ovations.
Also recognized at the Thursday evening, July 21 event were State Representative Donna Sheldon (R, District 105) for outstanding legislative leadership, Joseph Shapiro of National Public Radio (NPR) for his multi-part series covering the Georgia Children’s Freedom Initiative and six Georgia High School students, named Advocates of the Year.
Patricia Nobbie, PhD, GCDD Deputy Director recognized Rep. Donna Sheldon, from Dacula and NE Gwinnett County, for outstanding legislative leadership. Sheldon was acknowledged for her work on the Individual Development Account (IDA) legislation, which this past session was HB 226, and for “contributions to the greatest opportunity to improve transportation that we will likely ever see in our lifetimes.” Rep. Sheldon helped craft legislation creating 12 Special Tax Districts for Transportation along the Georgia Regional Commissions’ existing boundaries.
“This plan will give citizens the opportunity to vote on the transportation needs of their area to support them as they go to school, to work, and have an active life in the community,” Dr. Nobbie said.
In accepting the award, Rep. Sheldon said, "I have enjoyed working with Pat Nobbie and members of the GCDD as we work together to ensure that Georgia citizens with disabilities are able to obtain independence and make vital contributions to our communities. The Annual Appreciation ceremony was truly an inspiring night as I heard from many in the disabilities community share of their victories and desire to be able to enjoy the opportunities most citizens simply take for granted.
” Ruby Moore, Executive Director of The Georgia Advocacy Office (http://www.thegao.org/), profiled NPR’s Joseph Shapiro, who won the Media Excellence award.
“This past year Joe released an extraordinary radio series that included coverage of the Family Study Tour, organized as part of the Children’s Freedom Initiative. His research was not online or in a library, but up close and personal, in the community and in people’s homes. Joe spent two days with families as they learned for the first time they could be reunited with their loved ones...Georgia children locked away in institutions here and in other states. The parents of some of these children discovered that with the right plan and supports, their loved ones could return home, Moore said.
Shapiro was unable to attend, but asked Moore to accept the award on his behalf and in the name of Bylon Alexander, who was among those featured in his radio series. Shapiro reported how Alexander who resided in an Athens nursing facility, longed to live in a real home in the community, but passed away without realizing her dream, just a few days before the GCDD awards ceremony.
GCDD’s 2011 Advocate of the Year award was shared by six Partnership For Success (PFS) (http://www.partnershipsforsuccess.com/) students who collectively and individually have built friendships while serving their communities and earning the respect of their schools. PFS is a high school based program that believes a student’s ability to make important life decisions for the future begins in high school, if not earlier, and provides the opportunity for students to participate in activities that enhance their educational experience. Cindy Saylor, PFS Program Manager presented GCDD 2011 Advocates of the Year:
- Sara Cole and Kristin Womack of Apalachee HS, Winder, GA, Barrow County
- Lyndzi Vaughn and Nick Dyson of Flowery Branch HS, Flowery Branch, GA, Hall County
- Travis Baker and Katherine Walker of Colquitt County HS, Moultrie, GA, Colquitt County.
During the program, guests viewed the premiere of “Voices Beyond The Mirror,” GCDD’s newest public awareness video marking the 40th anniversary of the Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance Act of 1971. The video is the first in a series which will feature Georgians reflecting on everyday living with disabilities …past struggles and triumphs, and dreams for the future. GCDD produced the video in collaboration with SplendidVid. Honorees each received an open captioned copy of the video. Entertainment was provided by guitarist Joey Stuckey, known as the Official Ambassador of Music for Macon. With no sight or sense of smell (the result of a brain tumor as an infant), Stuckey refused to acknowledge the word “disability” growing up. To the delight of all, he chatted up the audience with motivational anecdotes, humor and performed two songs, ‘Georgia On My Mind” and “Truth Is A Misty Mountain”, a single from his 2011 album, ‘The Shadow Sound.’
The Making A Difference Annual Appreciation Ceremony was held in conjunction with the Council’s July meeting at which it adopted its five year strategic plan for 2011 through 2016. GCDD meets quarterly throughout the state to collaborate with citizens, public and private advocacy organizations, and policymakers to enhance the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities and their families. GCDD’s next meeting will be held in Gainesville, GA, October 13 - 14.