Awards Program

The Arc Tennessee annually recognizes people who have made significant contributions to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Award winners are honored at an Awards Banquet the evening before the TN Disability MegaConference. Our 2018 award winners are listed below.

Agency of Distinction
East Tennessee Children's Hospital
East Tennessee Children's Hospital hosts and is the community partnering company with Cerebral Palsy Center for Project SEARCH in Knox County working with individuals with disabilities in a 10-month internship work training program.  The hospital works to create positions to hire the Project SEARCH interns as employees. The hospital also has a Benevolence fund that helps employees during difficult times. This fund sponsors a food drive that has assisted interns with meals and provided groceries for home. The hospital continues to go above and beyond in assisting Project SEARCH interns to become employed, maintain employment and by providing resources to them.

Community Service
Kate Edwards Witt
Ever since Kate married into the Witt family in 2015 and joined The Arc Cumberland County, she has volunteered to chair or coordinate many projects and activities starting with being a hugger athletes at their Special Olympic track and field event. Her first real project was coordinating the annual membership meeting, awards presentations and family picnic, which she has continued to organize for the last two years. She took on co-chairing the chapter's annual Santa Project which provides Christmas for families in the Crossville network. She shopped for, stuffed and handed out 30 Santa bags. She has organized The Arc Prom, submitted the chapter for a social media campaign contest for a chance to win a year's worth of advertising and is now co-chair of this year's upcoming Special Olympics!  Kate can always be counted on to present fresh, new ways to involve more people and recruit young people to assist with projects. Her enthusiasm and love for her brother-in-law and others with disabilities is truly an appreciated asset to The Arc Cumberland County! 

Exemplary Educator
Leya Petty White
Leya is a Transition 2 teacher. She has an innate ability to understand where her students are and what they are capable of and never waivers on her expectations. Her expectations are realistic, achievable and come from a caring heart. Her special education career began as a teaching assistant. Everyone was so impressed with her ability to understand and work with students with disabilities that she was encouraged to return to school and received a Master's in Special Education. Parents have said that she has been a life saver for their families. Students describe her as "real" and have said that they arrive in her classroom with immature attitudes and leave no longer as children, but as adults because she makes them feel like anything is possible. She supports them not only at school but works with their families to carry over her expectations at home. Many of her former students stay in contact with her and she visits with them often.  She truly ignites the fire and passion for learning, growing and pursuing dreams!

Inclusive Employer
Vanderbilt University Dining Services
Vanderbilt Campus Dining is a non-profit university-managed auxiliary service providing food, community and sustainability to the Vanderbilt community. It is a model employer, having hired four alumni from the Next Steps at Vanderbilt Program as well as others through Project SEARCH or other employment connections. Vanderbilt Dining has provided Next Steps students with internship opportunities every semester, offering work experiences in the Munchie Marts, coffee stations and dining halls. It gives opportunities for career exploration and awareness as well as job shadowing experiences for all freshmen enrolled through Next Steps. Vanderbilt Dining also collaborates with Next Steps' instructors to teach students about kitchen safety using examples from their workspace. They go above and beyond to provide inclusive learning and working opportunities to Next Steps students and are closely involved in many levels on student career development.  

Public Awareness
Janet Shouse
Janet, the parent of a young man with autism, is a talented, passionate writer who is extraordinarily dedicated to communicating issues that help the public understand the needs of people with disabilities; and, she helps those with disabilities and their caregivers be effective advocates. She is very effective in explaining complex issues from public policy initiatives to employment to medical concerns in terms that are understandable. She has written articles on the ECF CHOICES program, an inspirational piece on "the dignity of risk" in which she sensitively addresses the struggle parents of children with disabilities grapple with in helping their children lead self-determined lives. She galvanized self-advocates and family members to join Disability Day on the Hill. Janet is always willing to share announcements, information and resources on her own personal listserv and through her blogs. She has a large following! She is an intelligent advocate, an articulate connector and a compassionate communicator in raising public awareness of disability issues. 

Work Initiative
Preston Vienneau
Preston took a risk when he decided to widen his job search and go through a process of identifying his strengths and skills with a team of advocates in a church (not his own) who were testing out a pilot program called Putting Faith to Work. He was open and honest with the team about what he wanted and what types of job responsibilities would interest him.  He enjoys data entry and wanted to work in an office. The team made a connection with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) and Preston secured a position as a TRIAD administrative assistant and has been there for three years doing lots of data entry! He collects data from 40-50 workshops per year. Preston's co-workers describe him as generous, kind, thoughtful and intentional. His supervisor says that he brings a gentle and joyful spirit to the office and is a pivotal member of their team.  One co-worker said that Preston is what TRIAD is all about because they are working to ensure people with autism spectrum disorders live meaningful lives, having a job they enjoy. We do what we do better because Preston is here showing us what our work aims to do. Preston contributes to the success of TRIAD by uplifting everyone, being a great team player, a strong self-advocate and an effective vessel through which all data flows!

Promising Young Leader
Abigail Kidd
When Abigail started playing baseball about six years ago, she immediately noticed that not everyone could play ball on a regular baseball diamond. She realized her community needed an accessible, rubberized ball field. She came up with "Abigail's Plan" because she felt every child deserves a chance to play baseball.  She solicited sponsors and started an online campaign to fund her plan. She raised $350,000! Now, the Buddy Ball inclusive ball team that started with 11 players has grown to over 59 players! They have players from surrounding counties playing in their league. Her dream came true!  Abigail and her family also meet regularly with her legislators to talk about public policy that affects people with disabilities. This is just the beginning of many more "Abigail Plans" to come!

The Ruth Roberts Memorial
This award, in memory of Ruth Roberts, Merry Jensen’s sister, honors a sibling of a person with a disability.
Emma Shouse Garton
Emma has been, her younger brother, Evan's adamant supporter and advocate since he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was three.  She is always looking for ways for her brother and his friends to be fully included in school, work, social and recreational activities. Growing up, Emma was the "go to" respite provider for many families. She has expanded her support and interest of her brother into work life and has been at the Tennessee Council on Developmental disabilities since June 2011. She is very active in Tennessee Adult Brothers and Sisters (also known as TABS) and in the Tennessee Supporting Families Initiative. It is her passion to constantly be advocating for the inclusion of all individuals with disabilities in their communities. Everyone could use a sister like Emma! 

Direct Support Professional Above & Beyond
Linda Potter
Linda has been a part of the Bond brothers' lives since 1981, first as a teacher's assistant and bus driver. Throughout the years Linda worked as a respite provider in the family home. Linda also went to work at Hilltoppers Inc. at their day program.  In 2009 when the brothers moved into their own home with two other housemates, Linda went residential and is the only staff person who has been in the home since it opened.  Linda can always be counted on for reinforcing their self-help skills and she knows them like a second mother!  She trains every new DSP that comes through the door because she knows every little detail about every man who lives there and pays extra attention to their likes and dislikes when doing the grocery shopping. The Bonds don't want to think of the day that Linda retires because she has been there for their boys beyond the call of duty for many, many years.  Her devotion and longevity are commendable. 

Representative Jason Powell and Senator Sara Kyle
The Arc Tennessee is pleased to recognize Representative Jason Powell of Nashville and Senator Sara Kyle of Memphis for their interest in and work on passing HB2330/SB2330.  This legislation bans the use of corporal punishment for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans.  The motivation for this legislation came from a series of reports that showed students with disabilities are paddled at a significantly higher rate than students without disabilities.  Though some compromises had to be made for the legislation to pass, this law will significantly increase protections for students with disabilities. 

Senator Ferrell Haile
The Arc Tennessee also recognizes Senator Ferrell Haile of Gallatin for his efforts to pass SB1494 commonly referred to as the “Aging Caregiver” bill.  In 2016, legislation was passed that guaranteed access to Self-Determination Waiver services for individuals with intellectual disability who had primary caregivers age 75 and older. In July of 2016, the Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program was implemented and for the first time, home and community based services became available to people with developmental disabilities other than intellectual disability.  SB1494 expands the provisions of the “aging caregiver” law to include people with developmental disabilities.  Due to fiscal limitations, the law will go into effect with the caregiver age at 80, which follows the pattern of the original law. 

Megan Hart
Megan is an effective, ground-breaking advocate, not only for herself but also for others with disabilities.  Her experience as a self-advocate began during her childhood, as her family encouraged her to make her own choices and to express and follow her own interests. She lives her life not allowing her disability to prevent her from reaching her goals.  She defines self-advocacy as "a process of speaking up for oneself and being empowered to express one's own needs, goals and desires. Moving beyond that, it is learning how to speak up for others." As an undergraduate, she advocated for more curb cuts, ramps, elevators and other accommodations that benefitted others beyond herself and improved campus accessibility.  Her career choices also reflect her commitment to advocacy. After receiving a BA in psychology and completing an MA in human development counseling, she worked as community relations coordinator for the Technology Access Center of Middle TN, then as a funding specialist and council liaison with the Tennessee Technology Access Program. She joined Tennessee Disability Pathfinder in 2009 as education and training coordinator then became director of Pathfinder in 2012. She has served on numerous board and councils, including The Arc Tennessee's board of directors. Megan has the skills of a model self-advocate and is a problem solver who listens, learns and reaches out to others.  She truly merits the Self-determination Award!  Let's give Megan a standing ovation and a big round of applause as Scott presents her award.

The Roger Blue Lifetime Achievement Award
This Memorial Award is The Arc Tennessee's highest honor named in memory of Roger Blue who was executive director of The Arc Tennessee until sudden death in 1997. The person receiving this award has a history of caring, working and supporting people with disabilities and their families and shares Roger's philosophy of respect, dignity and the freedom of choice.

The recipient of the 2018 Roger Blue Award is John Lewis. In addition to his career with TennCare and what was at the time the Division of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDS), John has served on our Board of Directors since 2011. He has served as Treasurer, Vice President, President, Past President and Secretary.  He has always been available at a minute’s notice to sign a check, lend an ear, volunteer his time and more.  Though a man of few words, those that John did speak were meaningful and moved The Arc Tennessee in a positive direction.  He was committed to ensuring the financial health of our organization and supported the growth of fundraising and development activities.  John has been that “quiet and steady force” for improving the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families for many years. 

Staff Values Awards

Lisa Edens, L&W Service
The Arc is pleased to honor Lisa Edens of L&W Service with the Integrity Award.  L&W Service has been supporting The Arc Tennessee with charitable donations through its gumball vending business since 1961.  That’s over 45 years of unrestricted financial support to our organization! In a world where businesses have become more focused on their own bottom line versus what they may do to benefit the community, L&W Service is a rare and welcome exception to the rule.  Throughout the years, the amount of funding from L&W Service has fluctuated based on the economy and overall change in the business landscape, yet their commitment to supporting The Arc has been steady.  This funding has been used throughout the years for The Arc Tennessee to provide special education advocacy for students and families to ensure they get the free and appropriate public education to which they are entitled and has been used to provide adult advocacy services so that people with I/DD can be connected to supports to which they are eligible. 

Monique Bernstein
Monique, Cat's mom, has been an indispensable part of Job Club at The Arc Tennessee since November 2015.  They rarely miss a meeting and she is always the first one to arrive and always stays after to help clean up and make sure all participants get to their transportation home. She regularly furnishes snacks for Job Club. At the January meeting, she brought a pot of homemade chili, a music player and games for Job Club participants. She always gets the word out to folks to attend the meetings. Monique is always very respectful to everyone at Job Club, especially to The Arc's lead in organizing the meetings.  She always brings fresh ideas on how to make Job Club more accessible for all involved.  Let's show Monique our gratitude and respect with a round of applause! Presenting Monique’s award is Dave Griffin.

Clancey Hopper
Clancey has an infectious smile and outgoing personality.  She is also her poised, which comes in handy with her job as a tour guide at the Grand Ole Opry and in being an advocate for people with disabilities.  Governor Haslam appointed Clancey to the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities.  As a member of the Council, Clancey has advocated for employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by sharing her own journey of landing her dream job at the Grand Ole Opry.  This past year, Clancey wowed Senate Judiciary Committee members as she testified about the importance of passing supported decision-making legislation so that she could have the supports she needs to make informed choices without losing her rights through conservatorship.  It takes courage to share your personal story with complete strangers so that something can be done for the greater good – especially when that personal story exposes the challenges you face in your life.  Clancey demonstrates that sort of courage every.

Disability Policy Alliance Disability Champion Award
The Disability Policy Alliance is a collaborative group of representatives from The Arc Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee. 

Senator Becky Massey and Representative Mike Carter were recognized for their commitment to passing legislation that opens the door for people with disabilities to use tools such as supported decision making to make choices impacting their lives.  The new law provides a platform for continuing to educate the community about the capabilities of people with disabilities and the importance of preserving their rights whenever possible.  Without their commitment to people with disabilities, this law would not have passed. 

North Star Award
Governor Bill Haslam
Governor Haslam has been a "guiding light" to Tennesseans with disabilities during his eight years in office. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

  • Tennessee became an official Employment First State
  • Memorandums of understanding were signed by multiple government departments to coordinate efforts toward increasing employment outcomes for people with disabilities
  • The DIDD Family Support Program became a recurring line item in the state budget
  • The Aging Caregiver laws were passed guaranteeing access to home and community based supports for people with I/DD living with elderly caregivers
  • The Step-Up Scholarship provides funding for young adults with disabilities to attend Tennessee’s post-secondary programs for people with I/DD
  • Tennessee was the first state to pass legislation to begin an ABLE program and the second state to implement it
  • The Employment and Community First (ECF CHOICES) program rolled out in 2016
  • The State Developmental Centers closed and the lawsuits were settled
  • The Positive Behavior Supports Act increased protections for students with disabilities against the use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion
  • Corporal punishment was banned for students with IEPs and 504 plans
  • People with disabilities are now included as part of the Governor’s Go-DBE (Diversity Business Enterprise) program
  • Millions of dollars in state funds were committed to increase the wages of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs)

Thanks to Governor Haslam’s support, Tennesseans with disabilities now have more opportunities than ever before to live, work and play in their community of choice.