Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
Mayor's Disability Advocate of the Year Awards - 2013
Mayor Annise Parker Presents
2013 Disability Advocate of the Year Awards
Four Houstonians honored for exceptional service to the disability community
October 22, 2013 -- Houston Mayor Annise Parker, joined by City Council member Wanda Adams, presented the 2013 Mayor’s Disability Advocate of the Year Awards today in City Hall Council Chambers. Coinciding with the citywide celebration of Disability Awareness Month in October, the awards were presented before City Council members and an audience made up of members of the disability community, nonprofit agency leaders and other citizens.
The Mayor presented four awards, including one posthumous award, recognizing individuals for their exceptional volunteer service and contributions benefiting the disability community of Houston. The awards honored three adult advocates, including one recipient with a disability, and one youth advocate.
"We extend our gratitude to these advocates and honor them for their dedication to serve citizens with disabilities," said Mayor Parker. “They are not only making a difference in the lives of persons challenged by disabilities, but they are also inspiring us to do what we can to help. Their work reflects that spirit of caring, inclusiveness and equal opportunity for all citizens that we so much value as Houstonians."
Selected by an awards committee from a pool of nominees submitted the by public by open invitation, the award recipients are as follows:
Donald Whitehead - Community Advocate of the Year (Advocate with a disability)
Left paralyzed from the waist down due to a motorcycle accident at age 23, Donald Whitehead went on to graduate with honors from Sam Houston State University and launch a successful career in the financial services industry. He volunteers at TIRR Memorial Hermann and Quentin Mease Community Hospital. As a former athlete, Mr. Whitehead is a firm advocate of rehabilitative sports and therapeutic recreation. He organizes handcycle rides, golf and fishing tournaments along with other volunteers. He also serves as a mentor to people who experience life-changing injuries. Mr. Whitehead was nominated by Jasmine Harrell, a team member at the Whitehead Group at Morgan Stanley, who wrote: “His persistent smile, warm handshake and great sense of humor provide comfort to those in the midst of devastation. He is a committed role model and seeks to help patients feel comfortable and confident in public. He helps raise awareness for many of the issues that people with disabilities face.”
Kimberly Brusatori - Community Advocate of the Year
Kim Brusatori has been raising awareness about disability issues for over a decade—creating solutions to obstacles and being the voice of those who are not able to effectively advocate for themselves. In September 2000, Ms. Brusatori and several other parents of children with disabilities founded Village Learning & Achievement Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a day habilitation program, employment services, transportation, respite, after-school care and family support services. The day habilitation program encourages people with disabilities to increase academic skills, participate in community service projects and enjoy recreation activities with friends and peers. The client base has grown from six people to over 180, growing steadily since 2000. The Village now features four facilities—Village at Plum Valley, Village Community Center, Village at Stoney Glen and Village at Hickory Glen. Their mission is to create the support and services to affect positive changes in the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and the local community so that these individuals can reach their maximum potential and a level of independence. Kim Brusatori was nominated by Devon Alexander and ten other individuals, who wrote: “Kim’s struggle to raise a child with developmental disabilities has been the city of Houston and the Greater Lake Houston’s gain. Kim found that there were no childcare or adult care centers that would accept Kyle [her son] or private schools that would enroll him. Over the years it became evident that services and programs were lacking in the community, so Kim took it upon herself through The Village. She has worked tirelessly with families, the community and organizations to make a difference in the lives of adults and children with disabilities. Kim’s energy knows no boundaries.”
Alexandria Toledo - Youth Advocate of the Year
Alexandria Toledo is the embodiment of what a good sister should strive to be. For the last ten years, she has been an advocate for children with autism. She helped teach her older twin brothers with autism how to read and solve math problems. Every night, she would train them on how to perform life skills like how to tie their shoes or make their own lunch for school. Her experiences with her brothers inspired her to write a book when she was in the 5th grade, entitled 25 Times to Love My Autistic Brothers. In the book, Miss Toledo details the work required to help teach her brothers independent living skills. She also wrote and starred in her own video to raise awareness about bullying of children with disabilities. In middle school, Miss Toledo volunteered to help children with disabilities improve their reading skills, including at the Dan Center for Autism. As a result of her efforts, Miss Toledo was invited to be a speaker and panel member at two United States Autism and Asperger’s Association (USAAA) World Conferences, at which she spoke to audiences of over 400 people. Alexandria Toledo was nominated by Jerry Blum, who wrote: “For the last ten years, Alexandria has been a sister, teacher, advocate, presenter—and most importantly—someone who cares deeply about the challenges that are faced when autism is in the family. Her work has improved the lives of countless autistic children and their families in the Houston area and beyond.”
Barbara Craig - Community Advocate of the Year, Posthumous Award (accepted by husband Arthur Craig)
Barbara Craig, who passed away in August, dedicated most of her life to improving the conditions and opportunities for people who are deaf. In 1980, Ms. Craig and her husband Arthur Craig moved to Houston, where they ministered to people who are deaf for 33 years. She served as secretary at Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church for the past two-and-a-half years, and she supported her husband's work at the only correctional facility for people who are deaf in the nation. She helped to create and support open doors to rehabilitation and a bridge from incarceration back into the community. Ms. Craig was nominated by Dr. Julie Howard, who wrote: “Her heart and soul was in working with the Deaf community and she truly believed that they too were an essential part of God’s family. Her dedication to this community and her eagerness to bridge the communication gap sets her apart from many.”
The Mayor’s Disability Advocate of the Year Awards are administered by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, a division of the Department of Neighborhoods, and the Houston Commission on Disabilities. For more information, visit www.houstontx.gov/disabilities or call 832-394-0814.