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Starbridge is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Community Awards. 

2017 Community Awards collage 

Their stories are below. Please join us at our Celebration of Champions, on Saturday, May 13, to meet, congratulate and celebrate these remarkable people!


Community Impact Award - Dr. Michael Doherty

Dr. Mike Doherty, Community Impact AwardThe Community Impact Award honors an individual or organization creating inclusive opportunities for people who have disabilities. We are pleased to bestow this year's award on Dr. Michael Doherty, Executive Director of The Arc of Chemung.

In his 40+ years working in the field, Dr. Doherty has provided tireless support to and advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in Chemung County and across the state.

Under his leadership, The Arc of Chemung has grown from a grassroots agency with a budget of $1 million to one supporting over 900 individuals and families, employing over 425 staff, with a budget of over $24 million.

Throughout that growth, Dr. Doherty has ensured the agency stays committed to person-centered services. He meets with all new staff to discuss its importance to people served by The Arc.

The Leadership Team of The Arc nominated Dr. Doherty for this award and applauded his visionary thinking. In 2005, Dr. Doherty worked with the Elmira City School District to develop the Community Job Center, a place to support non-traditional learners in transitioning from school to work. The job center was intentionally located in the Arnot Mall, providing a more inclusive community setting.

Dr. Doherty recognized a gap in supports for people with disabilities and behavioral issues in times of crisis. In 2014, The Arc of Chemung established START, a program to ensure that specialized providers are on-call to meet the challenges of the person in need. START currently supports about 75 people and their families.

Beyond his day job, Dr. Doherty has given his time and talent to a number of community boards, clubs, and organizations – Family Services of Chemung County; Glove House; and the Elmira Rotary Club, to name a few.

After 40+ years in the field, and 36 as Executive Director of The Arc of Chemung, Dr. Doherty will be retiring this summer. In announcing his retirement to their Board of Directors and staff, Dr. Doherty said, "Our core value at The Arc of Chemung is, 'The People We Support Are First.' I'm proud of our organization for creating a culture that lives by that value every day."

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Michael Doherty as we honor him with the Community Impact Award. 


Education Award - Gaie Sarley Goodness

Gaie Sarley Goodness, Education Award winnerThe Education Award honors a devoted individual in the field of education whose extraordinary efforts empower students who have disabilities to succeed.

We are pleased to recognize Gaie Sarley Goodness, Transition Specialist at Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, with this year's award.

In her 28 years at Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, Gaie has worked with hundreds of students and their families. She wants every student to be served in a person-centered way, to have a strong voice in planning what they will do after high school, and to have employment and agency supports ready for them.

Amy Mitchell, Director of Day Services at Lifetime Assistance, says, "Gaie is a trailblazer! Before there was something known as 'Transition', Gaie was doing it."

Gaie's colleagues praise her for her collaborative nature–

  • working with parents to get or keep them involved in planning for the future;
  • establishing relationships with adult agencies to create work experiences for students;
  • writing the curriculum that laid the foundation for today’s delivery of transition services; and
  • developing trainings on transition for professionals, job coaches, and families locally and statewide.

Years ago, Gaie was part of the team from The Advocacy Center, Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, and the Self-Advocacy Association of NYS to develop the "Creating a Life after High School" series. This program helps students ages 15-21 and their families explore options in work, education, living, and recreation. At the end of the program, successful graduates receive a small stipend to invest towards their future goals. Starbridge continues this program today.

Mia LaPointe, School Psychologist, says, "Gaie doesn't put any limitations on anyone's ability. She says, 'Yes, let’s try it. Let’s go for it!'"

Gaie is an innovator, pushing the envelope with her collaborators to open up opportunities. As a work-based learning coordinator, Gaie worked with employers to develop jobs for students based on their needs and skills.

Colleen Dox-Griffith, Gaie's colleague and nominator for this award, shared some words from Gaie’s husband, Michael, who was a social worker at BOCES and who passed away late last year:

"Gaie proved herself time and time again to be a really good team member and collaborator. Gaie always put the student's needs first – if there was an issue that involved administrative stuff, she has always taken the student side. If you work with Gaie, you are expected to give your best efforts as she does."

Please join us in thanking Gaie Sarley Goodness for her efforts in empowering students who have disabilities to succeed. 


Founders Award - Lawana Jones

Lawana Jones, Founders Award winnerThe Founders Award honors a parent or family member of a person who has a disability who exemplifies our founders’ commitment through their efforts to improve the quality of life for people who have disabilities. This year, we are pleased to recognize Lawana Jones, founder of The Autism Council of Rochester.

Lawana has been advocating on behalf of people with disabilities for over 28 years, beginning with her daughter, Marsche, who has autism. Like most parents, Lawana worried about what services and supports would be available to Marsche as she transitioned out of school.

Lawana has worked tirelessly to provide Marsche with opportunities to live the best life possible, and decided she could not wait for someone else to create something for her daughter. Lawana forged ahead and created her own nonprofit, The Autism Council of Rochester.

In an interview, Lawana said, "What people tend to think is, 'we need to fix them.' We don't need to fix them. We need to be educated about autism and how we can best support them."

Since 2005, over 1000 people – individuals, families, students, and professionals – have participated in programs offered by The Autism Council. From specialized autism conferences to trainings for educators and first responders, from support groups to sports clinics – The Autism Council has had a broad impact.

Through her efforts and partnerships, Lawana works to change local, state and federal priorities and policies. She believes that, as the identification of autism and other related disorders increases, so must the level of support for families living daily with the challenges that come with having a child or young adult who has a disability.

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama’s staff invited Lawana to attend the first "Autism Awareness Day" at the White House. In 2015, Lawana was appointed to the Monroe County Community Services Board for the Office of Mental Health. Most recently, Lawana has assumed the role of chairperson for the Developmental Disabilities Subcommittee for OMH.

Lawana has said, "It is extremely important that we work to remove all barriers for employment and job opportunities for people with autism and other disabilities, because they want to work and contribute in their own communities."

In 2015, Lawana collaborated with Wegmans, the University of Rochester, the City of Rochester, and other major employers to host the first specialized job and career fair for people on the autism spectrum. The event gained international attention, and Lawana was nominated for the "Community Leadership Award" at the 2016 World Autism Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Lawana, it is our privilege to recognize you with the 2017 Founders Award. 


Self Advocacy Award - Jensen Caraballo

Jensen Caraballo, Self Advocacy Award winnerThe Self Advocacy Award honors a person with a disability who leads the direction of their daily life through advocacy, personal choice, and responsibility. We are pleased to recognize Jensen Caraballo with the 2017 award.

Jensen faced challenges early in life, living in foster care. When Jensen was 15, the foster care system placed him in Monroe Community Hospital. What was expected to be a few months’ stay ended up being five years of living in an institution – or, as Jensen will tell you, exactly 2,135 days.

At 18 years old, Jensen started advocating for his independence. It took three years. He finally achieved his dream of freely living in his own apartment. He faces the physical challenges of living with his disability, but, as he describes, "I make my own decisions, I pay my own bills, and I do my own thing."

Jensen's work as an advocate has continued. He graduated from Partners in Policymaking® and has delivered trainings on independent living issues to other graduates.

He currently serves as a self-advocacy fellow for LEND, the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities program at the University of Rochester. Through LEND, Jensen helps other fellows from the fields of medicine, social work, and therapy understand what it is like to have a disability and how to be better advocates for people with disabilities.

Jensen wrote, directed and starred in a video to raise awareness about people with disabilities living in nursing homes. He asks viewers to become allies in creating a world where people with disabilities can live free. He is an active partner in ADAPT, a national grassroots movement that "organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom."

Carrie Burkin, a Starbridge program coordinator, says, "Jensen’s advocacy style is one to be admired. He is quiet yet mighty. Jensen has great pride in who he is and what he stands for. He is someone you just want to be around."

When asked what advice he would share with other self-advocates, Jensen warns against leaving too much up to others:

"I learned that when I left it up to others to get the ball rolling, I would get stuck. The moment I told myself 'You gotta do something,' that's when things started to change for me."

Jensen, you are a remarkable advocate, and we are so pleased to be able to honor you with this award. 


Youth Award - Sapna Ramesh

Sapna Ramesh, Youth Award winnerThe Youth Award honors an individual, age 21 or younger, whose efforts make a positive difference in the lives of people who have disabilities. This year’s winner is Sapna Ramesh.

Sapna is a senior in the Pittsford Central School District. In her four years in high school, Sapna has volunteered for over 150 hours as a peer volunteer with the TIES program. TIES (Together Including Every Student) is a program of Starbridge that promotes the participation of students and young adults who have developmental disabilities in inclusive, organized extracurricular and community activities.

Dale Cameron-Kody, the TIES Coordinator for Pittsford, wrote a glowing nomination for Sapna. In it, Dale described Sapna as "a delightful young woman who has gone above and beyond."

TIES volunteers learn how to support participants according to their individual needs. Along the way, the volunteers gain more understanding of disabilities and diversity, and make a positive difference in a peer’s life.

Sapna’s support goes beyond what is expected. For example, Sapna helped a student in a track class to stay motivated by creating a game to help him stay with the activity. "The coach was impressed and the student’s mom was thrilled."

At times, Sapna has used strategies she learned to help students who were being bullied to get out of those situations. The coordinator applauded Sapna for her willingness to ask questions, take suggestions, and model her volunteer skills for other volunteers.

Kathy Costello, TIES Program Director, tells this story to highlight the impact that TIES volunteers make for peers who have disabilities.

"One young man had attended a school dance with his teacher, but no other students hung out with him because he always had an adult with him. Through TIES, he had a peer volunteer with him, which gave him the opportunity to meet other students. The next day he was giving high fives to people he had met at the dance. He finally felt like a full member of his school community due to that support."

Sapna, thank you for your part in helping your peers feel welcome and included. We are proud to honor you for the work you are doing to make a positive difference in the lives of people who have disabilities. 


Outstanding Community Partner Award - Individual Category - George H. Gray

George Gray, Outstanding Community Partner Award - Individual winnerThe Outstanding Community Partner Award – Individual Category honors a person who has demonstrated generous and sustained support of the work of organizations like Starbridge. The 2017 recipient of this award is George Gray.

George is a partner in the law firm of Gray & Feldman LLP, in Rochester. He has over 37 years of experience in estate planning and administration, as well as providing for the legal and financial needs of people who have disabilities.

George and his wife Pat have a son Peter, whose learning disability prompted George's interest in LDA Life and Learning Services, now part of Starbridge, many years ago.

George joined the Board in the 1990s. In that role, George has served on the Executive Committee as well as the merger task force. He has connected potential supporters and donors to the agency, resulting in significant financial assets for Starbridge. George assisted in creating the LDA Foundation in the late 1990s, a Board Investments fund administered by the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

His dedication to better outcomes for people in our community shines through. He serves as the guardian for a young man with developmental disabilities who had no one else to help him. His law firm is committed to making legal services available to individuals in our community who are traditionally underserved.

Over the years of George's participation with LDA and Starbridge, and the Norman Howard School Foundation, he has learned much and developed expertise in the legal needs of people who have disabilities and their families. Last fall George was the lead presenter in Starbridge’s "Planning for the Future: A Three-Part Webinar Series to Explore Legal and Financial Options" for people who have disabilities. He has written two books: one on estate planning, and the other on special needs planning.

Throughout the years, George has been a valued partner, giving generously of his time, wisdom, and financial support.

Colin Garwood, President/CEO of Starbridge, shared this about George:

"George has been a steadfast supporter of me as I endeavor to lead and when I have to make decisions that are challenging or controversial. He listens first and then offers calm and sage advice... even when the situations sometime seem unsolvable. George is the barometer, heart and soul of the board... and the unofficial social director."

Please join us in honoring George Gray for his outstanding support. 


Outstanding Community Partner Award - Organization Category - Wegmans

Wegmans logoThe Outstanding Community Partner Award – Organization Category honors a company that has demonstrated generous and sustained support of the work of organizations like Starbridge. The 2017 recipient of this award is Wegmans.

Wegmans shared this with us:

Wegmans is committed to making a difference in every community it serves through the support of non-profit agencies and organizations that help enrich store neighborhoods. At Wegmans, we think diversity drives success. It is part of our everyday culture by providing opportunities for everyone to grow and reach their goals. We take pride in our long-standing commitment to employing people with disabilities throughout our company. We feel it’s important to play an active and ongoing role to ensure people of all abilities have an opportunity for meaningful employment that can help them gain a true sense of inclusion in the community. We take this role seriously, not only through employment opportunities, but also through financial support of organizations like Starbridge that ensure people with disabilities have access to the resources and support they need for a fulfilling life in their community.

Starbridge Employment Counselor Dave Mauro shared, "I have worked with many Wegmans stores and have dealt with human resources, front end managers, helping hand managers and sous chefs. They have all worked well with me in helping the person I am supporting be the best that they can be. I feel that the individual’s employment growth is because we all work well as a team to help them grow."

Starbridge Employment Counselor Kimberly Schaeffer said, "Wegmans is such a supportive working environment. They are always working to help employees learn, grow and better themselves. They encourage positivity and optimism in the work place and are always looking for new ways to improve the workplace. Such a great company!"

"Wegmans has not only supported individuals through employment but has provided significant financial support of our special events, and educational conferences and workshops. We appreciate their long time commitment to our mission," said Krystyna Staub, Vice President of Philanthropy at Starbridge.

Please join us in honoring Wegmans for its outstanding support.