By Morgan Bryce
The East Alabama Area Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities held their annual awards luncheon last Tuesday at EAMC’s Education Center to commemorate the work of businesses, entities and individuals who help advance their cause.
EAACEPD chairperson Steve Smith kicked off the event with an introduction and reminder that October is “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” The East Alabama committee is one of 13 others statewide that is under the Alabama governor’s guidance and umbrella of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. Their service area includes Lee, Chambers, Macon, Randolph, Russell and Tallapoosa counties.
After enjoying a catered lunch, guests enjoyed a presentation from keynote speaker Penny Foster, who is one of the founders of the Exceptional Foundation of East Alabama.
Mark Coxwell of Butcher Paper BBQ received the Partnership of the Year Award. Through a partnership with the Easter Seals Achievement Center, his business is now a community-based job-training site for the organization.
Mayor Gary Fuller was recognized with the Public Service Award for he and his administration’s efforts to make Opelika “one of the country’s most business and family-friendly cities by 2023,” according to Smith.
“Mayor Fuller is leading in this effort daily to bring awareness to serving individuals with disabilities. It is no longer a conversation, it is at the forefront of planning, implementing and championing current and long-term goals to change the culture and provide people with disabilities the independence they need to advocate for themselves on a daily basis,” Smith said.
The Observer was honored with the committee’s Media of the Year Award for coverage of developments at Easter Seals. Publisher Michelle Key said she was humbled for her media outlet to receive this recognition.
“Our ultimate mission is to provide news ‘by local people, for local people’ to our readers. We love to cover and spread the word about the good work happening at places like the Easter Seals Achievement Center in our community that benefits people with disabilities,” Key said. “To receive this honor lets me know that our organization is keeping the public informed on things they want to know about that are happening in their backyard.”
Smith and department commissioner Jane Burdeshaw presented each winner with plaques and challenge coins. Following is a list of other award winners:
Advocate of the Year – Alicia Ogletree
Collaboration Award – RAPA
Educator of the Year – Ashley Brown, a special needs educator within the Horseshoe Bend School System
Employee of the Year (Large Business) – Abbey Willis, a local teenager with autism who works for AMC Carmike Tiger 13
Employee of the Year (Small Business) – Kittie Smith, who works for Willow Point in Alexander City
Employer of the Year (Large Business) – Dollar Tree stores in East Alabama/West Georgia
Employer of the Year (Small Business) – SAGE Dining Services
Partnership of the Year – Butcher Paper BBQ for their partnership with East Seals to be a community-based, job-training site
Student of the Year – Mary Bergman, an Auburn High School graduate who is currently enrolled at Opelika’s Southern Union campus and plans to pursue an art degree at the University of Montevallo and
Youth Leadership – Luke York, an Auburn High senior and son of Opelika Middle School Principal Keith York. He is involved with his school’s SGA group, member of a local guitar club and is employed at Chappey’s Deli.
Event sponsors were: Achievement Center Easter Seals, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, EAACEPD Committee, EAMC Education Center, Children Rehab Services, Jackie Johnson Employment Services, Premier OB/GYN, The Orthopaedic Clinic, Greater Peace Baptist Church, Lilies Pediatric Dentistry, Porter Residential, The Auburn-Opelika Korean Church, State Sen. Randy Price, EAMC, RAPA, Price Service Center, Inc., Si02 Medical Products, Auburn Bank, Borbet Alabama, Southern States Bank and Walton Law Firm.
For more information about the committee and its functions, call Smith at 334-705-2037 or visit www.rehab.alabama.gov.