High Contrast

Starbridge is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2018 Community Awards. Please join us at Among the Stars, on Saturday, May 5 to meet, congratulate, and celebrate these remarkable people!

Photo collage showing Starbridge 2018 Community award winners


The Advocacy Award is being given to two outstanding people who demonstrate the power of advocacy to create positive change in the lives of people who have disabilities.


jeiri in dcAdvocacy Award – Jeiri Flores

Jeiri Flores will tell you she is a proud Puerto Rican and a passionate advocate for equity and rights. She will also tell you she’s just getting started making change.

As a child, Jeiri acted as a Spanish-language interpreter for her family in the community, and in school and healthcare settings. As she grew, she developed advocacy skills to ensure she received the best education possible. 

After graduation, Jeiri continued on to SUNY Brockport, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and African-American Studies. At Brockport, Jeiri created an advocacy group for people with disabilities and their allies to create a more accessible environment on campus for people with physical and invisible disabilities. 


Read more about Jeiri Flores

Since graduation, Jeiri has broadened her skills and her reach. She is a NYS Partners in Policymaking® graduate, and is part of Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities' Spanish Interpreter Training and ASD Job Club. In 2015-16, Jeiri participated in University of Rochester’s LEND program. LEND, which stands for Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, is an interdisciplinary training “focused on improving the health of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and special healthcare needs”.

After completing LEND, Jeiri was asked to return as UR’s first-ever Self Advocacy LEND Faculty member. In this role, she has impacted over 50 trainees and 13 UR LEND faculty members so far. She has served as a lead on a new Medical Humanities Seminar for UR medical students to help change the way healthcare providers deliver care to people with disabilities across the lifespan.

Nominators Melissa Penisse and Carrie Burkin shared this:

“Jeiri is skilled at challenging ableist assumptions held by our society about people with disabilities through her expertise… and through her lived experience. She adeptly notices and describes inequities and policy shortcomings that leave out or actively harm people with disabilities. From her participation in classroom settings, to conference panels, to individual level conversation, she consistently acts in her role as a leader to help educate our community members in a powerful and respectful way.”

Not long ago, Jeiri was asked if she had any advice for self-advocates in communicating their needs or desires. Her response was, “Two things. One, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help; no one does anything alone. Two, you are the expert on all things about you, so don’t be afraid to express your wants, needs, and desires.”

Jeiri, we are in awe of your determination and dedication to making meaningful, positive change.

It is our privilege to recognize Jeiri Flores with a 2018 Advocacy Award.



Photo of Navlette James

Advocacy Award – Navlette James

In her 27-year career at the Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office, Navlette “Navie” James has distinguished herself as a leader, a natural communicator, and a true advocate – creating positive change for people on an individual level and system. Navie says, “Advocacy is the foundation for all movement towards change, and it is more important today than it has ever been.”

Navie began her career as a recreation therapist and what was then called a qualified mental retardation professional. From the beginning, people noticed her ability to inspire, challenge institutional structures, and encourage people with developmental disabilities to advocate for themselves.


Read more about Navlette James

Over time, she has worked as a Rights Advocate, Service Coordinator, Family Care Home Liaison, statewide Forensic Liaison, and is now the Treatment Team Leader for Region 1 of the DDSO’s State Operations. According to nominator Steve Jarose, “Navie has worked to dismantle the ‘cultural wall’ of doing things the way they have always been done, she has questioned the status quo which says ‘we know best’, and she has advocated for the dignity of risk.”

Focusing on the person and their interests and wishes has led Navie’s approach to providing services. Steve shared this anecdote:

“As a Service Coordinator, Navie intervened on behalf of an individual to address conflict among the individual, his parent, and group home staff. Navie convened all parties, including Mental Hygiene Legal Service to represent the individual’s interests. At the meeting, the dynamic shifted and the group focused on what the individual wanted. As a result, he blossomed and began to engage in social outings, develop a romantic relationship, enjoy alcoholic beverages in a socially responsible manner, and live on his own.”

Navie believes in the inherent capacity of every person, and in the right of every person to follow their dreams with support in community-based settings.

In her personal life, Navie is the proud mother of two adult children – a nursing student in Texas and an educator in China. And she is a doting grandmother to “an adorable 3-year-old grandson” who is currently living in Dubai.

We are honored to present Navlette James with a 2018 Advocacy Award!



Photo of Kathy Lee

Inclusion Award – Kathy Lee

The Inclusion Award is given in recognition of a person’s efforts in creating inclusive opportunities for people who have disabilities.

Kathy Lee has worked as a Special Education Teacher at Mary Cariola Children’s Center for more than 30 years. Children who attend Mary Cariola Children’s Center have multiple disabilities and complex medical needs. Coworkers describe Kathy as unflappable with her dedication “to make each student’s school experiences memorable, meaningful and motivating.” 



Read more about Kathy Lee

In her first year of teaching, Kathy was summoned to meet the school’s founder and namesake, Mary Cariola. As nominator Greg Kamp wrote, “The ninety year old community advocate and Rochester pioneer told Kathy, ‘You seem like a nice girl.’ Kathy still gets goose bumps when she talks about what happened next. Mary cupped her frail hands around Kathy’s cheeks and said, ‘Love my kids.’…. For more than three decades, Kathy has loved those kids.”

Kathy takes her students out in the community or brings the community into her classroom as often as possible. She established a classroom 4-H Club, known as the Busy Bees. Their specialty is quilting. Kathy connects adaptive switches to sewing machines so the students can provide power while a staff member guides the machine. Busy Bees’ quilts have won ribbons at the Monroe County and New York State Fairs.

When the classroom curriculum is focused on animals, Kathy brings in the Seneca Park Zoo Mobile, the Reptile Guys, and others. When art is the theme, she brings in art teachers and therapists so the students have the opportunity to create and learn.

Kathy’s students have taken trips to enjoy performances from the RPO and experience a day in the life of a college student at Roberts Wesleyan College.

One parent, Mary Overfield, shared, “Kathy sees potential in every student in her classroom, and strives to ensure that ‘her kids’ are included in every opportunity in which their ambulatory and non-disabled peers participate. She is also a big believer in giving back to the community, stating, ‘Every person has the ability to help others out on some level, so I want to teach these kids compassion and service in addition to the required curriculum.’”

In her personal life, Kathy claims to be pretty boring, and that her dog Albie has the friends and the social life. But as she talks about her hobbies and interests, it becomes clear: when she finds something she enjoys, she wants to give her students a chance to try it too.

Kathy is determined to see her students – Mary Cariola’s kids – have opportunities to be included in the community, and she does not accept “no” for an answer.

Kathy Lee, it is our privilege to recognize you with the 2018 Inclusion Award.



ashley donlon web2Rising Star Award – Ashley Donlon

The Rising Star Award is given to a person in recognition of their achievements and their bright future creating positive change for people with disabilities.

Natural supports are relationships most of us have in our lives – friends, neighbors, coworkers, and others – and they are a vital part of being truly included in a community. For children who have disabilities, particularly those in separate classrooms, the opportunities to feel included may be much less frequent than for other children.

Ashley Donlon distinguished herself as a natural at inclusion when she was in sixth grade. As nominator Ann Cole wrote, “Ashley took note of children in her school’s self-contained special education class. It was important to her to include these students in her life. I assumed more typical peer interactions would call Ashley away, especially since my daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. But the relationship grew, not only for my daughter, but for others in her class.”


Read more about Ashley Donlon

Ashley joined a “Lunch Bunch” that was inclusive, and together the kids enjoyed lunch and played various card and board games.

Ashley and Ann’s daughter spent time together outside of school, and through those interactions, Ann says, her daughter learned how to be a friend. When Ashley’s family took her on vacation, she would return with a gift for her friend. Over time, Ann’s daughter began to do the same.

In high school, Ashley joined TIES – Together Including Every Student – as a peer volunteer, and accompanied participants in cooking classes and bowling club.

Recently, Ann’s daughter started a private social group through Facebook. The group has 265 people as members, many of whom have disabilities. The group started out going to movies and now bowls together as well. Ashley is a regular in this club.

Ashley is a student in the Nursing Program at Monroe Community College. As a nurse, she will be able to carry her passion for caring and inclusion into the healthcare system.

Ann has high praise for Ashley:

“Autism can be an invisible disability. Some others are more visible. I want to give Ashley some much-deserved recognition for making it invisible to these students. She never once – in all the years since she befriended my daughter – showed any sense that these kids were different in any way. She displayed every sense of enjoying them because she does. Ashley considers herself included.”

Ashley says, "I believe the importance of inclusion is that it gives every person the feeling they belong and that they are accepted."

It is our privilege to recognize Ashley Donlon as the 2018 Rising Star for her efforts to create a more inclusive world for all.



Photo of David DeGraff and Sharon Pluta DeGraff

Outstanding Community Partner Award – David DeGraff & Sharon Pluta-DeGraff

The Outstanding Community Partner Award is given to recognize David DeGraff and Sharon Pluta-DeGraff for their vision, determination, and philanthropy to support people with disabilities in our community.

David and Sharon’s son, Jason, was 19 years old when they first encountered LDA Life and Learning Services (now Starbridge). As Sharon recalls, “I didn’t know where to turn for guidance and assistance with an adult child with developmental disabilities and such complex needs.”


Read more about David DeGraff & Sharon Pluta-DeGraff

In the 20 years Jason and his parents have worked with LDA and The Advocacy Center, now Starbridge, much has occurred. “Jason has transformed into a much more accepting individual who is able to live fairly well on his own. He still needs assistance but the growth is amazing,” Sharon says.

A Service Coordinator at Starbridge shared, “They are exemplary in the way in which they foster their son's individuality and independence, while simultaneously ensuring that he has the supports needed to assist him in reaching his goals.”

David and Sharon not only appreciate the transformation they have witnessed in their son’s life, but they also want to ensure that others in the community can benefit from the supports and services Starbridge provides. They have been steadfast supporters of the organization and its mission for many years.

In recognition of their partnership with Starbridge, the Welcome Area at 1650 South Avenue was dedicated in their names at a ceremony in September, 2015. Colin Garwood, President/CEO of Starbridge, comments, “Dave and Sharon are great partners to Starbridge, and their commitment to help others is inspiring.”

David and Sharon are active in supporting many causes in the community. On behalf of Starbridge and the people we serve, we thank you for your steadfast support.

We are pleased to honor David DeGraff and Sharon Pluta-DeGraff with the 2018 Outstanding Community Partner Award.