Several people have written to ask me about the award I received on Friday. It had been mentioned in the comment section and curiosity was then aroused. Well, I admit that I was taken quite by surprise at winning the award, and was really honoured to do so. First some background about the award:
A few weeks before Vita's retreat last year Manuela Dalla Nora and I were talking about the upcoming event. After a pause, Manuela began to talk about how, at one time, she was the only public face of the agency. She represented Vita at various committees and sat at all the tables where decisions were made, she went to the charity events, she met with family groups. She was, she said, to many people, Vita. With the growth of the agency in size and in sophistication, she said, that was no longer true. We had various staff who took responsibilities to give presentations, to represent Vita at functions, who wrote and published articles, who spoke with authority about issues of importance to the organization. Further Vita staff were going into other organizations and training on abuse prevention and sexuality.
It was then that she decided that Vita needed to recognize staff that went above and beyond, that had developed skill sets and talents that they were sharing with the larger community. We needed, she thought an award for work outside of Vita, representing the best of Vita. In a couple of hours we had the framework for the award developed. She thought we could do the first one at that years retreat but after a day or two decided that it would need to wait until the following year. She needed time to develop criteria and a process for selection.
She didn't have time.
Only weeks after that discussion, Manuela passed away suddenly.
Those of us on the Executive Management Committee decided, in one of our first meetings, that we would go ahead and create that award and name it in her honour. It was an award that anyone in the agency could win, except the Executive Director. Nominations would be open to the whole organization and there would be no set limit to the number of people who could win in any given year. We opened up the nominations and I gladly nominated several staff within the organization. The mere nomination process made me recognize the depth of talent that we have within the organization.
On Friday, we had our staff retreat, the awards were handed out, I'm going to go ahead and list the winners here:
Michelle Barlow and Nicole Twigger-Cotton won, individually, for work they did often as a team. Nicole and Michelle were the first staff I trained at Vita to do the abuse prevention class for people with disabilities. They were good at it almost immediately. They went on to develop, all on their own, training on abuse awareness, prevention and reporting for all Vita staff. With the change in legislation in Ontario requiring all people with intellectual disabilities in the province be trained in abuse prevention, Nicole and Michelle began travelling Ontario offering train the trainer sessions. They, in doing this, became Vita to many staff and many agencies. They were the people that Manuela first spoke about when thinking of this award.
Domenic Pisante won for his work on developing Self Esteem classes and heading up the Disability Pride activities within Vita. Domenic has written articles about this work that have been printed in Canada and reprinted far and wide. He has spoken at conferences on the necessity for service providers to develop a disability pride attitude and agenda in their organizations. He is now being sought out as a speaker on these issues and regularly receives emails from around the globe about Disability Pride and Self Esteem Training.
Ann LeBlanc won for her work with Vita's Self Advocacy group called, 'The Rights Group.' She represents Vita, along with our self advocates at a number of tables and at a variety of self advocate events. She has assisted our self advocate group in developing skills in presentation and in speaking up and speaking out. She has been sought out by other organizations to talk about how to support self advocacy without co opting the agenda.
I sat was got all teary watching these young people get up and get their awards. They all so richly deserved them and I was so very proud to know, and to have worked, with all of them. I was then surprised to have my name called. I did not know I had been nominated and had not thought of myself in relation to the award. I was shocked and surprised. As I rolled up to get the award I had tears in my eyes thinking of that conversation I'd had with Manuela. I remembered thinking how uncommon she was - she was not only comfortable with sharing the spotlight, she did so eagerly. It was an ability she had to recognize ability in others.
I think that one of the reasons that Vita got through this year of mourning, to that moment of celebration on Friday, was precisely because she built a strong organization with a strong set of staff all of whom have a strong desire to both serve and lead. We were lucky to have known her.
And as much as we miss her.
She was there Friday, with tears in her eyes, watching Vita thrive.