Disability Day awards honor those who help disabled

By Jeanne M. Rideout / jrideout@cnc.com
Wednesday, November 6, 2002

They have opened the eyes of the needy and a swimming pool for the elderly and wheelchair bound.

They have opened up educational opportunities and job opportunities for the handicapped.

They have opened up their hearts.

The Weymouth Commission on Disabilities presented awards to more than 20 individuals and organizations who have enriched the lives of the town's disabled residents. The ceremony took place on Oct. 30 in the Council Chambers at town hall.

"October is disabilities month," Commission Chairman Peg Goudy said. "It is very important to recognize individuals, organizations, town agencies, and individuals who in daily life help the disabled."

Mayor David Madden acknowledged the important role citizens play in meeting needs that go beyond the spectrum of services the government can supply.

"I often say that a government has limited ability to do things," Madden said to the award recipients. "It is up to the citizens to step up and make these significant contributions in the lives of the disabled. It is people like you who make our community a better place."

Commission on Disabilities member Barbara Wight, a Weymouth High special education director for 34 years, had a wonderful surprise as the award was presented to Paul Adley, who volunteers his time to help produce the New Horizons program on Channel 10 for the Weymouth Department of Elder Affairs. Adley is a former student of Wight's.

"It was wonderful when I saw him walk up. I said, 'I know who he is!' Paul was one of my first students," Wight said.

Adley works at Employ-Ability, a nonprofit manufacturing company dedicated to the employment of people with disabilities.

"We are very proud of Paul's achievements," said Peter L. Neville, director of resource development for Employ-Ability. "Our company supports Paul's volunteer efforts twice a month when he helps tape two half-hour shows at the AT&T studio. There are several employees at Employ-Ability from Weymouth, and each one is a success story that involves their family, the school, and themselves."

Award recipient Maureen Murphy was president of the Weymouth Lions Club two years ago when the club was actively involved in Habitat of Humanity. The Weymouth Lions rechartered in 1998.

"The Weymouth Lions Club has accomplished much in the past four years," she said. "The club raises money to help the visually impaired, deaf, and those with special disabilities and donates money for eye research. The club has sponsored deaf children and purchased computers so legally blind children can do their homework."

Murphy led the audience in an exercise to experience, in a small way, blindness for a few moments. She asked audience members to stand up, close their eyes for five seconds, and shake hands with the person to the left of them, to the right of them, and behind them. People sometimes clasped hands right away, but sometimes felt their hand just sticking out with no responding grip.

"I can't find you," one woman said as she tried to shake hands with the person behind her.

"We would like to open the eyes of needy people who have waited a lot more than five seconds to regain their vision," Murphy said as the exercise concluded.

The next award recipients were a trio of teenage swimmers who helped make possible the reopening of Weymouth's Connell Pool, the only handicap-accessible pool in the MDC system. Last summer, when the pool closed due to state budget cuts, the town's elderly and disabled had nowhere to go for therapeutic swims.

Amy Marks, Nicholette Burnham, and Colleen Finewick helped change that.

"The Connell Pool, the only pool in the MDC system with handicap access, closed in July and stayed closed through September. This was more than a recreational loss to our disabled and to our senior citizens. It was a wellness thing their doctors prescribed," Goudy said. "State Sen. Robert Hedlund, state Reps. James Murphy and Ronald Mariano, and Mayor David Madden worked together to reopen the pool, while the MDC maintained that there was just not enough money in the budget."

The closing of the pool was also a loss to the Weymouth High swim teem. Without a place to practice, the team members could not take part in swimming competitions.

The situation was bleak until the MDC realized that Marks, Burnham, and Finewick were all certified lifeguards who were willing to volunteer their time so that the elderly and disabled could swim at the pool three to four times a week.

This was a real win-win situation.

"We really needed to get the pool open. It keeps the pool open for us and for them," Marks said.

"We appreciate all their help," Goudy said. "It was a team effort, no question about it."

The awards ceremony also threw a spotlight on how pets can enrich the lives of the disabled.

These awards were given in memory of animal advocate Althea Griffin, longtime president of the South Shore Human Society.

"There is no award that can do justice to all the good that Althea Griffin has done," Goudy said. "Althea was a great person."

Award recipient Ann Sava of North Weymouth is active with Partners for the Disabled, the South Shore Human Society, and Doberman Rescue. She took over the cable television show "Pet Search," co-hosted with Animal Control Officer David Curtin.

Sava, who suffered a severe back injury, has a helper dog. She goes into Weymouth schools to let students know the important role a helper dog can plan in the life of a person who is disabled. Sava's Doberman Reeza can get her credit card, fetch her clothes, and slip her socks off her feet at the end of the day.

Sava's first helper dog was Chelsea, who was with her from 1989 to 1994, when Chelsea died.

"She changed my life so much that I knew I had to share my story," Sava said. "Basically, she saved my life."

Animal Control Officer Curtin, who also received an award, has dedicated many hours to matching up people with pets.

"People who have disabilities are often alone," Goudy said. "Dogs tend to make their lives so much easier. It makes them feel much better. Dave tries very hard to have a dog adopted and find every dog a good home. People with disabilities often have that home to offer. He had placed a lot of disabled pets - pets who have lost their vision or lost a limb -with disabled people."

The "Pet Search" program has done a lot to let everyone know which dogs and cats are up for adoption.

"Once 'Pet Search' started, it is rare now for an animal to be put down. In the past, 200 pets would be put to sleep each year. Now, because of 'Pet Search,' it has been only four pets over the past four or five years. In some cases, the dogs were destroyed because they were dangerous," Goudy said.

Curtin expressed gratitude to those who have come forward to adopt the abandoned pets that mean so much to him.

"If it was not for the disabled community, many pets would not find a home," he said. "I want to thank those who gave homes to my buddies."

Muriel Carlsen, Althea Griffin's sister, and Isabelle Oliveri, both members of the South Shore Humane Society, and new Society President Robert MacKay, each received awards.

Carlsen spoke of the early days when the two sisters first banded together to help animals with no homes and to give Curtin a hand.

"Dave didn't have much help," Carlsen said. "My sister and I cleaned cages and helped any way we could. What kept us going was the vision of what we can accomplish if we all work together. Without Althea, none of this ever would have happened. All that has been accomplished shows what we can do if we just push ourselves beyond ourselves."

"All credit must go to Althea and her volunteers," MacKay said.

Margot Quadros was honored for her work to establish the All Paws Rescue, a shelter for cats similar to the South Shore Humane Society shelter. All Paws started in 1992.

"They do get these animals adopted out to people who need them, often the disabled," Goudy said.

"Not only do we need to find homes for these cats and dogs, we must take care of them. We give financial help for medical care and to spay or neuter pets for those who cannot afford it," Quadros said.

The evening could not have been complete without awards presented to the Weymouth Police Department and the Weymouth Fire Department.

"Our police and fire departments often do not get the recognition they deserve. Many people don't see it when they do things that are above and beyond. They are there every day for the disabled and non-disabled alike," Goudy said.

Several service organizations were honored, organizations "dedicated to charity," according to the representative of the Weymouth Elks Club.

"The people involved are truly gifted, full of vision, full of hope for the future. They give all their money away to help others," said the representative of Weymouth Sons of Italy.

"We make money and give it back to the community. We like doing things, and we like doing things for people. One of the things we like best is to raise money and give it away," said the representative of the Weymouth Eagles Club.

Also honored was Dottie Norris, a 35-year SPED bus driver.

"She greets these children with a smile and a song," Goudy said. "They have such a wonderful time with her, they don't want to get off the van."

Norris commended her fellow school van drivers.

"I want you to share this with me," Norris said.

Easter's Country Kitchen also received kudos for its community service, as did Jack Hartley, a member of the Commission on Disabilities.

Also receiving awards were "Disney Dan" Dan Kertz and George Souley of the Dreams Come True foundation, which is dedicated to giving critically children their wishes.

Award recipient Phil Forde of Boston Sports told how extending a helping hand to someone who is disabled can surprisingly enrich one's life.

Forde has hired Danny, a high school student with special needs, to work at Boston Sports. The teen did an exemplary job, and Ford became his personal trainer.

"It is making a change in Danny, but it is also making a change in me," Forde said.

"Those who seek to predict the future... might first look to the past. The past is a mirror -- and those who ignore its sometimes dark reflection, are doomed to repeat it... Will it be those seeking redemption who shall decide the future... or will those driven only by greed and envy shape our destiny? Even a hundred years later, the outcome is still very much in doubt. .." Outer Limits(Heart's Desire)