Two nonprofit organizations that advocate for the well-being and independence of people with mental, physical and emotional disabilities recently presented awards to clients and those who work with them.

The Arc of Jackson County conducted its annual meeting and awards banquet Thursday night at the Knights of Columbus in downtown Seymour. That organization handed out three awards, and Jackson Developmental Industries presented two awards.

Baxter Service Award

The Arc’s Baxter Service Award went to Shelley Whitcomb, who has worked in direct support and as a direct caregiver for 25 years.“That is a labor of love,” said Kerry Bonney, president of The Arc of Jackson County.The award is named after the Baxter family, who helped start The Arc in the county more than 40 years ago. It is given to a direct support professional who exemplifies service.

“She has a couple of dogs, Daisy and Sammy; and she has even introduced her dogs to her clients, which is always helpful, especially when a client loves dogs,” Bonney said of Whitcomb. “She goes above and beyond taking clients out into the community and looking out for their welfare.”

Whitcomb said she entered the direct support field right out of college and was happy to find her niche.

“I love The Arc because it gives voices to people with special needs who have concerns like the rest of ours, struggling with issues of not just their disability, but just relationship issues,” she said.

“I think Anne Baxter was helpful in letting me learn more about Arc when I called her a few times,” Whitcomb said. “She was really the one who let me know what Arc is all about. I think it’s a great organization because it gives (clients) self-esteem, which we all strive for.”

Community Service Award

Another honor presented by The Arc was the Community Service Award, which goes to an individual, business or organization that exemplifies advocacy in the community and serves as a role model for others, according to board member Carla Ault.This year’s recipient was Schneck Medical Center’s rehabilitation services department and the volunteer work of Andrea Zagata.Holly Wischmeier, the Seymour hospital’s director of rehabilitation services, met Zagata’s sister, Melissa Wilson, through her work activities.

“We were talking about how Andrea had volunteered at a nursing home for 10 years in Pennsylvania,” Wischmeier said. “She had come to our state and was unable to find a place to volunteer and maybe there were things she can do in our department.”

Since July 2014, Zagata has volunteered six-and-a-half hours per day three times a week.

“She helps us clean equipment, stock towels. Anything that I need, she comes and helps me, so she’s a great help,” Wischmeier said.

Before she was presented the award, Zagata read a poem she wrote, which is something she likes to do in her spare time.

“Volunteering at Schneck Medical rehab services is worthwhile. It does the heart good to see others smile,” Zagata read. “Therapists are there to help patients in every way and hope that they are better with each passing day. The people I work with there are so very nice. Their hearts are filled with compassion and not ice.”

Bonney said the hospital staff members are happy to have Zagata as a volunteer.

“Isn’t it wonderful when you get a good one?” Bonney said, referring to a staff member with a good work ethic. “It’s absolutely fantastic when you get a good one, and you don’t ever want to let them go.”

Educator of the Year

The Arc’s final award, Educator of the Year, went to Angie Schepman, a special education teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour.Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education at Seymour Community Schools, said Schepman has played a vital role in the lives of her past and current students.In receiving the award, Schepman gave all of the credit to her students.

“This is for all of the kiddos — my past students, my future and my present rock stars I have in my classroom,” Schepman said. “Every day, I go to work doing something I love, and they make it easy. I recognize them for this, and I dedicate this to them.”

Melvin Maynard Award

Jackson Developmental Industries’ first honor, The Melvin Maynard Award, goes to an individual who shows remarkable drive to become independent, is a positive role model for others, helps others and is a joy to be around, said Laura Keith, day program manager with Jackson Developmental Industries.The award is named after the son of Marvin and Ruth Maynard of Seymour. Melvin Maynard died in 1990 at the age of 35 when he was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle to work at Lee’s Inn.This year’s recipient was Diane Thomas.

“Thank you for everything you do, and it’s a joy to work with you,” Keith said while presenting the award to Thomas.

“Thank you, JDI, for being my support,” Thomas said.

Employer Award

The Employer Award was presented to Denver Glenn, representing Aisin USA Mfg. Inc. in Seymour. That award goes to an employer for support of individuals with disabilities by providing work opportunities.“Currently here in Seymour at JDI, we have three great customers, but one customer generally has really done great work with us,” said Michael Ames, industry manager with Jackson Developmental Industries.“We have huge demands from them every day, great communication, great partnerships with them,” Ames said. “We’ve got anywhere between four and eight clients, depending on the day, that work on these employer’s demands, and our client workers are adamant. They want to know ‘Where are we at?’ ‘How many have we shipped?’ ‘How many do we have to send out today?’”

Glenn said it is Aisin’s privilege and honor to support the community.

“This is demanding. We have multiple trucks per day that arrive at the facility and come back to Aisin because we’re automotive and it’s just in time,” Glenn said. “You folks do a great job, and we appreciate your support. Together, we build a better community.”

At a glance

Awards presented by The Arc of Jackson County

Baxter Service Award: Shelley Whitcomb

Community Service Award: Schneck Medical Center’s rehabilitation services department and volunteer Andrea Zagata

Educator of the Year Award: Angie Schepman

Awards presented by Jackson Developmental Services

The Melvin Maynard Award: Diane Thomas

Employer Award: Denver Glenn, representing Aisin USA Mfg. Inc.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.