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.

For 2020, The Arc TN Awards will be virtual. The deadline for nominations is Wednesday, September 28th, 2020. Award winners will be honored at our Virtual Awards Event on Wednesday, November 4th at 3:30pm CST via Zoom.  

Virtual invitation and details will be emailed to all registered attendees.

To submit a nomination online, CLICK HERE.

To view a complete list of the award categories and print out a nomination form to submit via email, fax or postal mail, CLICK HERE

2020 Award Categories & Criteria

Agency of Distinction
Honors a public or private community organization that provides exemplary supports and demonstrates a commitment to community inclusion for people with disabilities.

Community Service
Honors an individual or group who has demonstrated commitment to the mission and positions of The Arc by volunteering time locally or on a statewide basis to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities or working on special projects or events.

Exemplary Educator
Honors a Tennessee educator or leader in education who has demonstrated excellence in providing for the education of students with developmental and other disabilities. Nominees for this award may include teachers, principals, administrators, school board members, college faculty or researchers.

Inclusive Employer
Honors a Tennessee employer with an exceptional record of providing inclusive community employment opportunities and accommodations for people with disabilities.

Public Awareness
Honors outstanding efforts by state and local media entities or individuals that create better public understanding of people with disabilities. The award recognizes a variety of broadcast, print, and internet mass media, including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, podcasts, and blogs.

Work Initiative
Honors a person(s) with disabilities who shows the initiative to start and/or operate his/her/their own business or an employee with a disability who has had a positive impact on their work environment.

Honors an outstanding self-advocate who is a role model for others.

Promising Young Leader
Honors an individual (under age 22) or a group whose members are age 22 or younger, who have demonstrated outstanding leadership potential as seen in volunteer efforts on special projects or events that enhance opportunities for people with disabilities in their community.

The Ruth Roberts Memorial
Honors a sibling (brother or sister) of a person with a disability who, through their community involvement and advocacy efforts, creates an environment that fosters inclusion for all.

Direct Support Professional (DSP) Above and Beyond
Honors a DSP with $500 whose first allegiance is to the person he/she supports, who demonstrates the DSP Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics can be found HERE.

List of 2019 Award Winners

Here are the most recent recipeients of The Arc Tennessee Awards.

Agency of Distinction
Hendersonville Church of Christ

For over six years, this church has graciously allowed The Arc Cumberland Valley and their Project 22, a social club for ages 16 and up, to use their community room, kitchen facilities, gymnasium and youth facilities for board meetings and events. They also host a summer camp and provide any accommodations needed. They truly consider The Arc and its members a part of their ministry! Their partnership has enhanced the lives of young adults with IDD in their community! 

Exemplary Educator
Tyler Lisowski

Tyler is a teacher in the Metro-Nashville Community Based Transition Program working with students 18-22 on job skills. What makes him unique is that he makes sure that every student he teaches leads their IEP Team meeting! When asked to co-present at the PIE conference, he brought along one of his students so that she could share her experience on leading her meetings. Students love Tyler for empowering them to be leaders and make decisions!  He is a true inspiration to his students, their families and other teachers!

Community Service
Oaklawn Baptist Church

Pastor David Mahan and his church have demonstrated commitment to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities in the Crossville community. They have graciously provided space for The Arc Cumberland County’s winter Structured Athletics sports activities and annual Prom. This church also hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. The congregation volunteers for these activities, providing snacks, coaching and cheering. Their weekly bulletin lists The Arc’s activities and their Pastor posts shout outs on social media. They truly are an inclusive church, providing a nurturing environment, not just in worship but in the community, making it fun for all!

Inclusive Employer
Jay Wilson, Shelbyville Quick Mart #9

Jay is an exemplary manager who focuses on inclusion, seeking opportunities to employ individuals with disabilities. When he took the position, one person with a disability was already employed. He soon approached Skills Development Center to hire another one! He emphasizes strong natural supports on the job, assigning new employees with a seasoned coworker to help train and guide them. He truly stands out as a proponent of competitive integrated employment. All communities need a small business manager like Jay!

Public Awareness
Cecilia Melo-Romie

Cecilia is a member of the TN Disability Pathfinder staff. She identifies community-based services, supports and providers for Spanish-speaking families. Knowing that connecting with these families was crucial and realizing the unique barriers and challenges individuals and families from other cultures face when trying to get disability services, using her stellar networking skills, Cecilia has coordinated numerous Spanish radio and television interviews, PSAs and newspaper articles. She has definitely increased public awareness of available disability services and supports!

Work Initiative
Jamal Burgess

Jamal has an exceptional work ethic. He began working in janitorial services at Progress in 2017 with a job coach. Within a few months, he was working completely independently. During the holidays, he decorates a tree for everyone, on his own!  He is thorough, polite, brings happiness into the workplace and does an outstanding job. Progress is a better organization with him on their team!

Promising Young Leader
Elizabeth Graham Pistole

Elizabeth Graham, an accomplished dancer, started a diverse dance group for girls with special needs, that includes her sister, Natalie. They are The Dancing Divas! Through her own ingenuity, she created a 501c3, not-for-profit organization and uses funds raised to purchase costumes and supplies. They have performed at festivals, events and parades. They have been featured in The Tennessean and Cool Springs Living. Elizabeth Graham has a gift for leading and wants everyone to lead a productive and meaningful life. This dynamic young lady is most deserving of the Promising Young Leader Award.

The Ruth Roberts Memorial, named in memory of Merry Jensen’s sister, honors a sibling of a person with a disability.
Chelsea Hilton
Chelsea supports her brother, Chad, in all aspects of his life. She also supports others to be active in their community. As a volunteer, she designs flyers and gives out awards at The Arc Cumberland County’s Special Olympics and Structured Athletic events. On World Down Syndrome Day she posted on Facebook: “What a blessing to have such amazing, beautiful people in this world...and to have the best big brother a girl could ask for!”  The world would definitely be a better place if all people with disabilities had a sister just like her! Chelsea is most deserving of some brotherly love!

Chapter Excellence
The Arc of the Great Smokies

Under the leadership of Cheryl Spencer and Kathy McGee, this newly affiliated chapter hit the ground running in Blount and Sevier Counties. They keep their membership up-to-date on all matters through email communications and monthly face-to-face meetings, with guest speakers, alternating between counties. Families in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains are engaged and informed. This chapter has partnered with the Blount County 911 service for free meeting space and with local parks on getting an accessible playground. There is a lot in the works, so you will be hearing more! This chapter is most deserving of the Chapter Excellence Award.

Direct Support Professional
J Granberry

J fulfills all responsibilities of the DSP Code of Ethics but what really stands out is J keeps everything person-centered, is committed to letting Kevin, the man he supports, be in the pilot seat and make all the decisions, even “bad” ones! When Kevin attends meetings and events, J excuses himself and quietly remains in the background, like a shadow, but is there if needed. Kevin says that J has helped him build confidence in himself and make new friends. He says that J is truly a great guy and his friend. They have a wonderful relationship and a very busy calendar! They are a great team, it works, and both are very happy! J is most worthy of this award for his dedication to Kevin.

Presidential Award, given by The Arc TN’s board president, Ann Curl.
Debra K. Payne
Debbie dedicated her entire career to improving the lives of Tennesseans with IDD.  From her first job as a direct support professional to her final job as Commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the positive impact she had on the lives of people with intellectual disability is evident to everyone. Debbie had a way of inspiring everyone in the disability field to believe that there was nothing we couldn’t achieve if we all worked together. She is most worthy of The Arc Tennessee’s Presidential Award for her years of service!

Lisa Davis

Lisa is an active member of The Arc Cumberland County. She lives alone, does her own cooking, cleaning and washing. She does not have any supports outside her family and friends in The Arc. She is a valued employee at Joshua’s Pet Treat Bakery, sings in the choir at her church and is an elected representative for The Arc Cumberland County’s Recreation Advisory Committee. She also volunteers for the Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll drive. Her friends say she is the most determined person they know and that she is pure and sincere, always striving to be the best person she can be! Lisa truly merits the Self-determination Award! 

Senator Kerry Roberts and Representative Sam Whitson

These legislators shepherded the Katie Beckett legislation this past session through committees with a focus and determination seldom witnessed around a bill carrying a significant fiscal note.  Thanks to expert planning with the disability community and coalition building among other legislators, children with significant disabilities and complex medical needs will now have access to critical TennCare services that were previously denied because their parents’ income made them ineligible.  The Arc Tennessee and other disability advocacy organizations are grateful for their commitment to Tennessee families and their meritorious work on this monumental legislation! 

Staff Values Award - Justice
Tennessee Disability Coalition

When the Disability Coalition sets their mind to something, they usually succeed.  When the creation of a Katie Beckett program was identified as their #1 public policy priority, they set the wheels in motion to make it a reality.  Their careful planning, building coalitions, mobilizing families, securing strong bill sponsors, educating legislators and garnering a strong media presence resulted in overwhelming support to pass this legislation.  Because of their commitment, families raising children with complex disabilities and medical needs will now have access to TennCare services for which they were previously ineligible.  The Tennessee Disability Coalition truly exhibits the value “justice for all!” 

The Roger Blue Lifetime Achievement Award
This memorial award, named in memory of Roger Blue, who was executive director of The Arc Tennessee until his sudden death in 1997, is The Arc Tennessee’s highest honor.
Elise McMillan
As co-director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, past president for the Board of Directors for The Arc of the United States, and a member of the Board of Directors for The Arc Tennessee, Elise has impacted the field of intellectual and developmental disability in countless ways.  Her incredible skill of facilitating collaborations and alliances where none existed previously has resulted in opportunities for people with IDD to experience college, to “think” employment, to live in their own homes, and to live self-determined lives.  Elise’s unique perspective as a parent and as a professional has impacted systems change at the state and national level.  She is a role model and mentor to countless others in this field!