For the past 25 years, DNL has consistently worked in Allegan and Ottawa counties to create communities where people with disabilities can participate, contribute and belong. The organization was formed in 1992 as the Center for Independent Living. Its purpose has always been to provide assistance for residents of Ottawa and Allegan counties who have disabilities, whether or not those disabilities are apparent.
DNL now annually serves about 1,800 people whose challenges range from job skills training and housing needs, to benefits planning and transitioning from rehabilitative care to living independently. DNL also plays a leadership role in identifying and addressing accessibility issues in the community.
The first 10 individuals/organizations recognized are:
Dr. David Myers: Myers has advocated locally and nationally for the installation of induction loop systems in auditoriums, church sanctuaries and other public venues (including 400 in West Michigan alone) to assist hard-of-hearing people who use hearing aids. His comprehensive website, writing, family foundation and tireless advocacy have garnered awards from the Hearing Loss Association of America, the American Academy of Audiology and the hearing industry.
Rob Schwarz: Schwarz was an advocate for people with disabilities and a champion for DNL. Following a stroke in 1983, he advocated for disability rights and adaptive sports, including the early days of the Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association in Grand Rapids. Schwarz loved fishing from the accessible dock on Lake Macatawa's south shore. Wherever he went, people greeted him as their friend, especially as he "did his laps" downtown in his wheelchair. A devout Catholic, Schwarz 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 Schwarz and others with disabilities influenced the architectural planning phase that made the new facility fully accessible, enhancing the church's welcome of people of all abilities.
Krista Mason: Since her son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism at age 2, Mason 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.
Forrest Fynewever: Fynewever contracted polio at the age of 1 and throughout his life was an advocate for people with disabilities. He graduated from Eastern Orthopedic School, Davis Tech High School, Grand Rapids Junior College and Michigan State University with a BSME degree in mechanical engineering. He was active in barrier-free environment in Holland, the renovation of Centennial Park, the ramp at the Civic Center, elevator in City Hall, electric door openers in many buildings and curb cut-outs on Holland streets. He was also active in the EEO and civil rights for people with disabilities.
Meijer: 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 members, 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 and Pete Horrigan, and supply chain leaders Thomas Freeland, Jeff Gustinis, Marcelo Olivarez and Shannon Luther.
The second group recognized featured:
Dan Wedge: Wedge 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 DNL, he has participated in several organizations through the years, creating partnerships that increase participation and quality of life for citizens in Allegan. Wedge has strived for a better community throughout Allegan County by strengthening its transportation system so that all individuals have access to participate in their communities.
Pat Hoozee-Meyer: Hoozee-Meyer 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.
Barb Newman: An inclusive education pioneer, Newman 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. Newman, a Grand Haven resident, was named the DNL’s Ability Award winner for 2017.
Ruth Stegeman: Oriented toward justice with an educational background in special education, Stegemen is the founding director of DNL, and her passion and leadership over her 18 years in this leadership role emphasized inclusive communities that engaged all citizens, including those with disabilities. She 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.
Herman Miller: DNL recognized Herman Miller and its many efforts to support diversity and inclusion. These efforts include the formation of the company’s Ability Centered Employment Partnership, which provides opportunity and meaningful work to those who may not have the opportunity otherwise; its 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 Artists Creating Together that works to 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.
See Monday’s Tribune for the next 10 honorees.