MOUNT VERNON — Salutes to four award winners capped a luncheon held Thursday at the Mount Vernon Developmental Center to kick off Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in Knox County. A broad cross-section of well over 100 officials, staffers, families and residents of MVDC gathered in the historic facility’s Great Room for the affair.
MVDC superintendent Ernie Fischer welcomed the crowd, pointing out a number of notable attendees, including Danville’s Danielle Brown, Miss Wheelchair Ohio 2009. Steve Oster, superintendent of the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities followed, drawing attention to the big change in the state’s name for his department, dropping the “MR” in MRDD. This change, Oster said, was the result of self-advocating people with developmental disabilities who lobbied the state for the change.
Guest speakers highlighted the county’s early intervention program. Jami France told how her daughter, Katerina, born premature and weighing only 4 pounds, 3 ounces, has been helped by the program with physical therapy that has helped control gastric problems and aided in the threeyear-old girl’s socialization.
“Not all counties offer such advanced and in-depth services to the people who live there,” France said.
The developmentally disabled Connie Guy had a moment in the spotlight, fulfilling a desire she expressed after last year’s luncheon to address the audience herself. She talked about how much she loves working and interacting with people, drawing attention to this year’s awareness campaign slogan to the general community: “Just like you.”
A memorable visual from one of the recent awareness campaigns was young Kristen Cobb in a walker. Cobb appeared with her father, Donald, who talked about how he and his wife, and whole family, have been helped enormously by the early intervention program, which identifies problems earlier than traditional diagnoses, giving families ways to help their young disabled person help him- or herself.
Ninth-grader Rachael Bell was named the Youth Volunteer of the Year for her extensive work for Special Olympics, where she has helped athletes in both track and field and basketball. According to Oster, Bell is a constant cheerleader for the disabled, helping them strive to be their best.
The Ohio State Grange was named the Volunteer of the Year. Oster said that the longtime organization is very civic-minded and always willing to partner with other agencies. It was the grange which provided the equipment for last year’s Celebrity Omelet Dinner, an event which will be repeated this year on March 18. Grange president Gary Brumbaugh of Fredericktown accepted the award.
The Distinguished Service Award went to Jeanette Carpenter, who volunteers much of her free time to help the same people she works with during her regular work hours. Oster said that Carpenter received a large number of nominations and goes far beyond the requirements of her job.
“When we were told that only county board employees were allowed to drive our bus,” Oster said, “She stepped up, giving up some of her evenings and weekends to transport individuals for Special Olympics to different events.” Carpenter accepted the award tearfully.
Sitting next to Carpenter, Cathy Mitchell began to both tear up and squeal with excitement when she realized that she was being selected as the winner of the Individual Achievement Award. Oster described Mitchell as dependable, outgoing, hardworking and loyal, saying that she is involved in many community service projects, is involved at her church, and represented the county board Wednesday at a meeting in Columbus to help shape the future of employment for individuals with disabilities.
Commissioner Allen Stockberger read a proclamation naming March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in Knox County. Oster and Fischer closed the program, thanking attendees for making the kickoff twice as large as last year’s event.