Twenty-Five at 25 is the culmination and the expression of gratitude we all share along the Lakeshore for people who have changed our region for the better. Their efforts to affect place have created a more accessible and more welcoming community for people of all background and ability.
During the next five months, the Disability Network/Lakeshore will unveil 20 people and five corporate partners who have worked, mostly behind the scenes to positively change the Lakeshore.
Twenty-Five at 25, includes this website, as well as physical landmarks that the organization will install throughout the Lakeshore region to establish permanent recognition of the selfless actions of these people and organizations.
After four rounds, we are preparing to announce the final grouping of four leaders and a company that will conclude our Twenty-Five in 25 program.
With that, we are handling Round Five differently.
Rather than tell you who has received a 25 in 25 recognition, we want YOU to tell us who should be our final five.
As both visionary and executive director of Gracious Grounds—a nonprofit organization that is developing housing opportunities for people with disabilities—Sandy has committed the last three years of her life toward its creation. A teacher, educator, administrator, and entrepreneur whose dogged determination has turned her dream into reality, she understands the value of inclusion and is driven to give all people the best there is to offer. Sandy is also a past recipient of the Ability Award.
Helen has a heart for those marginalized, institutionalized, and often forgotten. Advocating for, engaging, and empowering her two children with disabilities, she has also reached out to others in roles with Holland Public Schools, Heritage Homes, Community Mental Health, and Christ Memorial Church. Her reciprocal approach works with those with disabilities rather than deciding for them.
Phil has worked tirelessly as Director of Community and Neighborhood Services for the City of Holland. In that role he has championed the concept of livable communities and complete streets. Holland is a city that has a better understanding and embrace of complete streets and livable communities and what they mean to all citizens regardless of one’s ability. With current and future street project now done with these concepts in mind, barriers are no longer part of Holland’s future.
While teaching at Grand Haven High School, Stanley started a transitions class and brought presenters from various agencies, careers and backgrounds to speak with the students in the classroom. As a result, before the students graduated, one third of her classroom had employment.
Stanley resigned from her position at Grand Haven High School to start the nonprofit, Transition Bridges, with a goal of connecting adults with disabilities within the community to resources and employment. Stanley hopes Transition Bridges can act as a community liaison that supports and creates profiles so that employers see the person they are hiring with a set of unique gifts and skills, instead of someone with special needs. Deb is also a past Ability Award recipient.
Haworth demonstrates their values through commitment to community and inclusion by partnering with local agencies and exploring ideas to address barriers and provide job opportunities to individuals living with a disability. Haworth has a legacy of supporting community programs developed to assist the underserved in local communities, including programs that focus on individuals with disabilities, refugee resettlement and employment placement, veterans and returning citizens. Specifically focused on outreach for individuals with disabilities, Haworth has partnered with Lakeshore Clubhouse through Community Mental Health, Michigan Career & Technical Insitute through Michigan Rehabilitation Services, and Juniper, LLC. All are local organizations that provide training, support, and employment placement assistance. Lakeshore Clubhouse has placed individuals at Haworth in both a manufacturing and office environment. MCTI trained individuals to operate machinery in the Haworth wood manufacturing plant and Juniper has placed individuals Haworth’s manufacturing environment as well.
Martie has led a movement at her church to build a sensory room, provide tools for worship, and educate staff about children with disabilities. She has a servant’s heart and is passionate about caring for those who are vulnerable. Her background includes 24 years as a special education teacher and 15 as the adult coordinator of Holland’s Special Education Ministry. She is a curriculum author for people with developmental disabilities and a disability leader in her denomination.
Donna is a past recipient of the Ability Award and is a parent of a child with a disability who is passionate about including young adults with disabilities in community life. She founded and directs Compassionate Heart Ministry, which provides both social and service opportunities for teens and young adults. Through Compassionate Heart’s year-round drop-in center and through two weeks of Summer Serve mission trips, families are finding a safe harbor and places of support and engagement, and young adults with disabilities are forming lasting relationships with typical peers from the community.
Keith Van Zoeren
Elizabeth is a long-time advocate for people with disabilities who lives with cerebral palsy and speaks personally and courageously about the “silent epidemic of abuse.” Through Ottawa County Community Mental Health, she teaches a class twice a month to those who have been hired to be caregivers to people with disabilities. She has traveled to Washington D.C. and to Lansing to advocate for better laws and programs for people with disabilities and chairs the consumer board of Macatawa Area Transit.
Keith worked at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services for 30 years and served on the Ottawa County Community Mental Health board for 8. He is also a former board chair for Friends of Kardelen — a ministry in Turkey caring for orphaned children with disabilities — and Benjamin’s Hope, and is active with three granddaughters with physical disabilities.
Elhart Automotive Group
When valued employee Rob Schwarz’s life was changed by his illness, Elhart took immediate action to make physical modifications to their dealership facilities to accommodate their friend. Rob was able to provide Elhart customers the excellent service that they grew to expect. Customers noticed and shared their appreciation for the sensitivity shown to Rob and his disability from his co-workers. It is that sensitivity and drive to take action that continues to propel the Elhart family and business to embrace those with disabilities, including debilitating diseases such as mental illness. Wayne Elhart was the visionary behind the creation of opportunities for those faced with physical challenges, incarceration and substance abuse within the Elhart company. It remains the family and company’s mission to bring mental illness awareness and suicide prevention education to West Michigan and beyond to fulfill Wayne’s wishes.
Pat is passionate about providing an accessible venue and programming for people of all abilities at the Felt Estate in northwest Allegan County. To overcome structural limitations inherent in restoring the historic Felt Mansion, she relies on programmatic creativity and her desire to welcome people of all abilities, cultural backgrounds, income levels, and more.
An inclusive education pioneer, Barbara has impacted thousands of churches and children with disabilities through perseverance, innovation, love, and wisdom. For 27 years, this teacher, consultant, author, speaker, and ministry director has combined her background in special education and deep conviction for inclusion to shape inclusive, interdependent faith communities across the United States and Canada. More recently, she is equipping churches to apply principles of universal design in their congregational worship practices.
Oriented toward justice with an educational background in special education, Ruth is the founding director of Disability Network Lakeshore and her passion and leadership over her 18 years in this leadership role emphasized inclusive communities that engaged all citizens, including those with disabilities. Ruth is known for encouraging communities to remove barriers and contributed directly to major steps forward within the Lakeshore community in regards to affordable and accessible housing and public transportation.
Dan exemplifies community in his work as Allegan County Transportation Director and is a consistent advocate for people with disabilities. A past board member and president of Disability Network/Lakeshore, Dan has participated in several Allegan County organizations through the years, creating partnerships that increase participation and quality of life for citizens in Allegan. Dan has strived for a better community throughout Allegan County by strengthening Allegan's transportation system so that all individuals have access to participate in their communities.
DNL would like to recognize Herman Miller and its many efforts to support diversity and inclusion. These efforts include the formation of Herman Miller’s ACE (Ability Centered Employment) Partnership, which provides opportunity and meaningful work to those who may not have the opportunity otherwise, Herman Miller’s Disability IRT (Inclusive Resource Team), an employee based working group that focuses on identifying ways that Herman Miller can engage, include and improve the lives of the disabled community both internally and externally, and a partnership with ACT (Artists Creating Together) that works strengthen the creative capacity of young, brilliant minds, and the communities in which they live. These efforts wouldn’t be possible without many key players working through several programs including: Suzy Gerow, Nick Butterfield, Becky Kinsler and Kevin Walker.
Following a stroke in 1983, Rob became a strong advocate for disability rights. As a longtime board member of the Disability Network of Holland, the Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association in Grand Rapids and a member of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, he produced a more accessible and equitable community. Wherever Rob went, people greeted him as their friend. A devout Catholic, Rob was a cantor and choir member of St. Francis de Sales Church, his childhood parish. Following a fire in 1995 that destroyed the church building, the presence of Rob and others with disabilities influenced the architectural planning phase that made the new church facility fully accessible, enhancing the church's welcome of people of all abilities.
It was Forrest's persistence that made Holland more accessible for people using wheelchairs. He worked for a barrier-free city: better public transportation, a wheelchair lift at the train station, a ramp at the Civic Center, electric doors in buildings and a smoother ride for wheelchairs in Centennial Park. Forrest was 2 years old when he contracted polio, which paralyzed his right side. Growing up, his family never dwelled on his disability. Later, he and his wife, Ruth, raised four children. He retired as engineer at Herman Miller Inc., left his mark throughout the Holland area. He pushed -- but with a "bright smile" no one could ignore. Forrest passed away in 2010.
Dr. David Myers
David is a hard of hearing person, the son of a hard of hearing mother who became completely deaf in her later life, and the author of a memoir of his experiences with hearing loss and hearing technologies. For decades David has advocated for and supported hearing assistance initiatives, including the website, HearingLoop.org, a nonprofit informational organization dedicated to enabling hearing aid compatible assistive listening. With its major college, churches, and public venues all looped, David has helped Holland become a model community in serving the needs of people with hearing loss.
Since her son Ben was diagnosed with autism at age 2, Krista has dedicated her life, energy, creativity and passion to creating opportunities for others. Her vision, Benjamin’s Hope, is an inclusive 40-acre community of integrated, faith-centered learning, adventure and worship that provides meaning, security and hope to those impacted by the challenges of autism and other developmental disabilities. People from around the country are visiting Benjamin’s Hope to learn how it might be replicated in other communities.
DNL has partnered with Meijer on its diversity and inclusion efforts in a number of ways, connecting primarily through one of their Diversity and Inclusion Council member’s, Robyn Afrik. The work includes: Formation of the Team Member Resource Group Meijer Disability Awareness & Advocacy Group (mDAAG), the launch of Meijer’s first National Disability Employment Awareness Month and various trainings and leadership events featuring panels with parents of children with disabilities and employees with disabilities. Throughout these efforts, DNL has partnered with mDAAG leader, Dorrie Tompsett and members, Lana DenHarder, Pete Horrigan as well as Supply Chain Leaders, Thomas Freeland, Jeff Gustinis, Marcelo Olivarez and Shannon Luther.
"Concentrate on your ability and your power to change lives."