Barbara Hendel: The Ability Center of Toledo celebrates its centennial in runway style

·4 min read

Oct. 17—The Ability Center of Toledo is celebrating 100 years of service, well, technically 101 due to the pandemic.

There was a celebration in September on its Sylvania campus with community partners and friends, some with their assistance dogs. Outgoing executive director Tim Harrington led a toast to the center's rich history and exciting future which will be led by the new executive director Stuart James, who was most recently the executive director at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, Calif., where he reinforced the vision of a truly inclusive world and nearly tripled the organization's endowment.

In addition to the refreshments, entertainment was a mural painted live by artist Chris "Chilly" Rodriguez.

It was also a time to bid farewell to Mr. Harrington who was a member of the inaugural class at Opportunity Kindergarten via the Toledo Society for Crippled Children which was housed in the Libbey House. Then he attended Camp Cricket for kids with disabilities. As an adult, he became the director of development for the Ability Center before becoming the executive director in 2000.

The Ability Center, thanks to Mr. Harrington's leadership, has gained national recognition for leading the center through numerous advocacy victories, from transitioning 850 people living in institutions out of nursing homes, to launching the nation's first bachelor's degree in disability studies at the University of Toledo, and to starting a first-of-its kind employment partnership with the Toledo Museum of Art.

The center, Mr. Harrington said, has pledged to become the most disability-friendly community in the country via the development of partnerships with housing, transportation, education, health care, accessible spaces, employment, and social opportunities.

The Ability Center is being highlighted during the Libbey House Foundation fall lecture series "100 Years of Disability History in Our Community." The first lecture was "The Boy Who Changed the World: Toledo and the 'Crippled Children's Movement", by Barbara Floyd, Libbey House board member and historian, who talked about Toledo's early history of assisting persons with disability, beginning with a young boy born in 1901 without legs and arms.

The second lecture was "The Ability Center of Toledo at 100" by Dan Wilkins, director of special projects at the Ability Center.

On Oct. 21, Kim Brownlee, author of the book The Toledo State Hospital will discuss the hospital's history of helping those with mental illness.

Oct. 28 is "Disability History: A Personal View" by Mr. Harrington about his life and how society changed the way it regards persons with disabilities.

The lectures are free and start at 7 p.m., after a 6:30 p.m. reception in the Libbey House at 2008 Scottwood Ave. Space is limited. For tickets, go to libbeyhouse.org. Attendees are asked to wear a mask.

ANOTHER centennial celebration for the Ability Center was the 36th annual Style Show and Luncheon presented by the Auxiliary to the Ability Center Oct. 6 at The Pinnacle. About 400 ladies and a few gents gathered for the day, which started with vendor shopping, raffles, a silent auction and socializing over cocktails followed by a tasty lunch with a chocolate raspberry dessert which many ate before the meal while sitting at tables centered with lily and ivy arrangements by Myrtle Flowers and were sold after the event.

Then it was lights, cameras and action as emcee Sashem Brey of WTVG-TV, Channel 13 welcomed everyone and models, including consumers and staff, strutted the runway in fashions from Chico's, j.jill, Ragazza, and Vivian Kate, and a new shop, Hip to the Groove.

It was more than fashion and fun. Interspersed were highlights of what the Ability Center does for the community, an important aspect of the show, said Claire Browning, event co-chairman with Karen Lumm. They were assisted by 20 dedicated committee members.

About $40,000 was raised. Thanks go to sponsors including presenting sponsor Barbara Stewart plus gold sponsor Gwen Ames; silver sponsors Andersons, Alice Schorling, Claudia Sundberg, Mary and Mark Tucker, the University of Toledo, and Arlene Whelan. Also, Claire Browning and Karen Lumm, Hanna Howard Realtors; Complete Laundering Services, Premier Bank, SoFo Foods, Walker Funeral Homes, Waterford Bank, and many others.

THE 17th annual Kaleidoscope Breakfast fund-raiser for A Renewed Mind, a division of OhioGuidestone, at The Pinnacle on Oct. 5 raised $70,000. Some 200 attendees enjoyed breakfast while shopping at the silent auction.

The program featured guest speaker Kelly Wingate, who adopted a 21-month-old girl found in an abandoned apartment, abused and neglected. Her daughter, who was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and received services through DoubleARC, is now 28 years old. Clinton Longenecker, retired University of Toledo professor, asked folks to give beyond their abundance and who wouldn't, after hearing Kelly's story?

Honored was Sr. Suzette Fisher, SND, in her 30th year with DoubleARC, the nonprofit organization that began the fund-raiser breakfast. (DoubleARC merged with A Renewed Mind in 2018.)

Community leaders were thanked. Volunteerism awards went to Betty Heitger and Mike Schnapp.

Media awards presented by Matt Rizzo, president, A Renewed Mind, went to Karen Gerhardinger, Maumee Mirror, Melissa Voetsch, 13ABC, and London Mitchell, Cumulus Broadcasting.

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