Darden Rehab holds annual awards luncheon


By Sarrah Peters, News Editor

Darden Rehabilitation Foundation recognized employees and employers at its annual luncheon and award ceremony on Wednesday, October 19 at the Senior Activity Center in Gadsden.

Darden helps individuals with disabilities that pose a challenge to employment to find jobs. The foundation serves five counties. 

After the Invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, United Way Director Joanne Hightower welcomed everybody to the event. Then, Darden Rehab Director Lynn Curry introduced and recognized the Darden Rehab board members. She thanked Wilbur “Bubba” Masters and Kent Black, two members leaving the board, for their service. Judge Billy Ogletree then swore in the board and its officers for the upcoming year.

Program Coordinator Dana Johnson announced the award winners. The awards were presented by the job developers who nominated the consumers and employers.

Payton Boland was named the Cherokee County Employee of the Year. 

“She never failed to do anything that was asked of her,” said Johnson. “She always followed up with job leads and had a great attitude.”

Boland has been working at American Apparel in Centre since January 2015, and her supervisor says that she does a wonderful job.

Shay Robinson was named Student of the Year.

“She has proven that hard work and determination are keys to overcoming any obstacles and barriers,” said Johnson. 

Robinson began working with Darden as a senior at Gadsden City High School, and obtained a job at Hardee’s. She currently works at Johnson’s Giant Foods and attends Gadsden State Community College.

Spencer Lucas was named Etowah County Consumer of the Year. Lucas began to work with Darden in 2014 as a student from the Alabama School for the Blind in a summer work program.  After graduation he became a Darden consumer. He currently works at Cash Saver grocery Store in the produce department.

“Spencer’s story is truly a success story,” said Johnson.

Alanza Bronner was named the “I Can Do It” award winner. He began working at Dirt Cheap, which was close enough that he could walk. Then, the store moved from Alabama City to Rainbow City. Dermined to keep his job, Bronner arranged transportation for himself.

“When you want to work bad enough, you find a way,” said Johnson.

Dirt Cheap Manager Lawanda Hester was named the Etowah County Employer of the Year. She has employed two of Darden’s supported employment consumers.

“She is kind, patient, consistent and fair,” said Johnson. “She has high expectations, but works with them to help them reach their full potential.”

Mabel Clark and Don Smith of Goodwill in Marshall County were named the Marshall County Employer of the Year. The Goodwill has employed five of Darden’s consumers, all of whom still work there. 

“We appreciate employers with big hearts and this is truly the case with Goodwill of Marshall County,” said Johnson.

DMV employee Charles Cunningham was awarded the Public Service Award. As lack of transportation often prevents consumers from working, obtaining a license is often a goal. Cunningham works closely with job developers to help get the consumers driving as soon as possible.

Jason Dendy was named Employee of the Year. 

“Transportation was a barrier for Jason,” said Johnson. “His main means of transportation was his bicycle. But he persevered.”

Dendy was offered a position by Sherrie Kelley and the Etowah County Commission as a kennel tech at the Etowah County Animal Shelter. As part of the employment, the shelter provides him with transport to and from work. Dendy has performed so well, that his responsibilities have increased.

For going above and beyond the duties of a employer, Kelley and the county commission were named Partner of the Year for “their kindness and understanding that transportation is a great barrier to employment for some.”

Team One Hyundai of Gadsden was names Darden’s Platinum Fundraising Sponsor. Randy Smith accepted the award on behalf of Team One Hyundai.

Darden honored its employee Holly Elliott for 10 years of service and its workshop employees Jeff Harris and Todd Swann for 20 years of service.

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