By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO
Recently, ACHIEVA held its annual “Awards of Excellence” event at Station Square in Pittsburgh. Since coming to ACHIEVA in December of 2017, I’ve had the pleasure of attending three of these wonderful events. I must say they get better every year. The room was at capacity to witness the 13 award winners receive their much-deserved recognition - from well-known members of our community, such as WTAE’s Elena LaQuatra and PNC’s CEO Bill Demchak, to those who typically fly under the radar but do such wonderful work to advance the issues important to people with disabilities. It was fascinating to attend this year’s awards event and listen to the incredible things people in our community do – not for the credit but for the simple opportunity to do good things for other people. I can’t thank the award recipients enough for the positive things they’ve done (and continue to do) and for attending our event to be recognized by their community.
The awards ceremony was indeed a great way to end a year that comes to its conclusion next week. And it was indeed a very good year at ACHIEVA. In 2019, we saw Board approval of a new Strategic Vision, including an updated mission, vision, and value statements, as well as seven strategic priorities to guide everything we do over the next three years. ACHIEVA also commemorated the Tree of Life tragedy, which took the lives of two men known to and supported by ACHIEVA for decades. The first funding award from the Cecil and David Rosenthal Memorial Fund was given in recent months, and two trees and a permanent stone marker were dedicated at the home where Cecil and David lived. (If you know of someone who would like to apply for funds through the Memorial Fund, please click here.)
Before I close my year-end message, I must recite the closing words of one of our Awards of Excellence recipients, Rita Cheskiewicz, who at the end of her acceptance remarks said, “our advocacy work is never done”, reminding the audience that, as we were celebrating the accomplishments of so many great disability rights champions, the Pennsylvania General Assembly was moving a bill to keep state institutions for people with intellectual disabilities open indefinitely. Senate Bill 906 has passed the Senate and is now being considered in the Houses of Representatives. Rita is right, our advocacy work is never done, and I call on everyone reading this who believes people with disabilities should not be hidden away in large, isolated institutions and instead be supported in typical neighborhoods to contact their state representative and tell them to oppose SB906. Defeating this bill once and for all would be an excellent way to start the new year of 2020.