By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Wednesday, October 17, Darden Rehabilitation Foundation held its annual meeting and award ceremony at the Downtown Civic Center in Gadsden.
Darden is one of 26 community rehabilitation programs in Alabama and is number one in the state. The program serves clients with disabilities in five counties: Etowah, Cherokee, DeKalb, Marshall and St. Clair.
The annual meeting and award ceremony served as an opportunity to swear in new board members and board officers. Etowah County Probate Judge Bobby Junkins is the newest Darden board member. Circuit Judge William Rhea swore in the board.
Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services State Office Administrator Mark Vosel attended the event. Vosel spoke about Darden’s work and how the work is centered in kindness.
“Kindness is not wimpy, ooey-gooey emotion,” said Vosel. “It can actually change things. What you’re about to see here today is because of kind people, of good people, to help people achieve, to help people overcome and employers that are willing to give people a chance. It’s not a hard thing to do to be kind but it does take a choice.”
Darden Rehab also presented awards to clients, partners and staff for their hard work.
“This is my favorite part of our luncheon is being able to hand out some awards,” said Darden Program Coordinator Dana Johnson.
David Hicks was honored as the Etowah County Employee of the Year. Hicks has battled issues with Autism Spectrum Disorder but was motivated to work to afford a car. Hicks was hired by Max Packaging, where he has excelled at his work.
“Because David has been able to overcome some of the obstacles that for so long stood in his way and because he has proved to us and the people at Max Packaging that he and other people with disabilities can make good employees, it is my privilege to present David Hicks as our Etowah County Employee of the Year,” said Johnson.
Nathaniel Dobbs was honored as the Cherokee County Employee of the Year. Born at 27 weeks into his mother’s pregnancy, Dobbs remained in the hospital for 17 months and required nursing care when he returned home.
“When informed that Nathaniel would probably never progress to be more than a nine-year-old, his family refused to accept this,” said Johnson. “Through hard work, perseverance, they have taught and pushed him to be as successful as possible and to be self-sufficient. Nathaniel was able to overcome these obstacles, complete 12 years of school and graduate with a high school diploma.”
Dobbs is gainfully employed with Weiss Lake Egg Company in Centre.
Andrew Rooks was honored as the St. Clair County Employee of the Year. Rooks has been employed at the Winn-Dixie in Trussville for four years. Rooks’ supervisor raved about his performance and said that he is incredibly kind, making sure his expecting boss is walked to her car to ensure her safety and spending his own money on candy and stickers for children who visit the store.
Jack’s restaurant in Springville was named as the Supported Employment Partner of the Year. This Jack’s location hired two Darden clients and allowed the employment specialist to work alongside clients to determine if working a Jack’s is a good fit. Jack’s Manager Vonda Bothwell accepted the award.
Salli Mathis with the Darden Rehab Driver’s Education Program presented the Public Service Partner of the Year award to Katie Lee and Hollie Miller, two State Department of Motor Vehicles employees in Glencoe. Lee and Miller work with clients to help them feel comfortable and prepare to pass the learner’s license test and the driving test required to obtain a driver’s license.
“They really go out of their way to help our consumers be able to get their license,” said Mathis. “I’ve seen them come from behind their desk, go over to the computers and read the questions to them and state the information in a way that the consumers can understand it and make the best choice. I would probably say that 10 to 20 percent of the people that have taken that test in Glencoe have actually passed that test not because of what Ginger and I do, but because examiners took the time to be kind to them.”
Noccalula Falls Park was honored as the Community Partner of the Year. The City of Gadsden and Noccalula Falls Park are long-time partners of Darden Rehab. Every day, Darden is able to send four clients to help with grounds keeping duties at Noccalula Falls Park. Noccalula Falls Supervisor Christina Richardson accepted the award.
“Darden has worked with Noccalula Falls for a very long time,” said Richardson. “We actually have an employee that has been with us for 25 years, and he worked through Darden at Noccalula Falls before he came to work with us. So, it’s been a very long partnership at Noccalula Falls, and our landscaping staff could not do all that they do without the help of Darden. If you visit Noccalula Falls and you think it looks beautiful, it could not look the way it does without the help of Darden and their consumers. Thank you guys so much for working with us.”
The Educator of the Year award was presented to two Cherokee County special education teachers: Wendy Moon from Cherokee County High School and Wendy Rogers from Spring Garden High School. Moon and Rogers not only teach but also advocate for their students. They were instrumental in making the Job Exploration Program in Cherokee County a success.
Micah Harris was honored as Darden Employee of the Year. Harris began working at Darden when he was only 19 years old in 2011. He has been a dedicated, hard worker that is motivated to help others. Darden employee Ernest Calloway was honored for 15 years of service and Beverly Watts was honored for 20 years of service.