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Governor’s Council on Disability announces winners for 2022 annual awards

Shiny star statue award made of gold

The Governor’s Council on Disability (GCD) has selected the award winner and honorable mention of the 31st Annual Inclusion Award and the 10th Annual Youth Leadership Award.

The Inclusion Award and Honorable Mention are presented annually to recognize private and public employers, individuals, and organizations that have successfully included people with disabilities in education, employment, housing, leisure activities, universal design and website accessibility.

The annual Youth Leadership Award and Honorable Mention are presented to recognize an outstanding Missouri youth (age 16-26) with a disability that has demonstrated exemplary leadership by making a difference in their community.

2022 Inclusion Award winner: Tim Lewin, Embassy Suites St. Louis – St. Charles

Embassy Suites St. Louis – St. Charles and General Manager Tim Lewin have demonstrated excellent inclusive practices for many years. Lewin has created a dynamic, supportive culture that welcomes individuals with disabilities to the hospitality industry. He built this culture by partnering with local programs including Easter Seals, Community Living, Project Search, and most recently, the BCI Skills Center and the St. Charles Bridge to Success program.

The Skills Center partnership began in the summer 2021 and trains adults with disabilities for direct hire. The program teaches hard and soft skills on-site at the hotel. Today, the partnership has resulted in four completed classes and six new hires. The program’s six-month job retention rate is 100%. The Bridge to Success partnership began in 2019. In the Bridge program’s first three years, 33 high school students completed internship rotations at Embassy. These experiences give students an up-close look at competitive employment. Embassy uses a simple mentor model to welcome individuals with disabilities and reports that inclusion has naturally become part of its culture. Organic growth has led to adults with disabilities comprising 25% of the total staff.

With Lewin at the helm, Embassy Suites has demonstrated a deep and lasting commitment to inclusion. The business has gone above and beyond, even during the pandemic, to mentor and hire. Lewin models kindness, understanding, and a work ethic beyond reproach, which leads everyone on his team to do the same. He is an inclusion champion in every way.

Honorable Mention: Brock Sousa, Hannibal Public High School

Brock Sousa is a teacher for the Hannibal Public High School, but other titles include coach, advocate, mentor, friend, and jack-of-all-trades. Sousa embodies inclusion and employment first in a rural area. He has been helping others see the importance of a diverse workforce, inclusive practices, and community outreach opportunities.

This started with the BEST Program (Basic Employment Skills Training) in 2017. The program has collaborated with Hannibal Regional Hospital, GAMM (Workforce Development), Vocational Rehabilitation, Learning Opportunities Quality Works, and two County Senate Bill 40 boards. In the first BEST year, four students applied for jobs and began working at Hannibal Regional during the school day through the school year. Sousa made sure that students received the same orientation and followed all hospital guidelines just as every other hospital employee and he ensured that the hospital received specialized training on inclusive workplace practices. Today, the program has grown to 16 students, 4 community job sites, and many continued agency partnerships.

Sousa continues to encourage and implement tiered programs to prepare students throughout their middle and high school careers to prepare for the BEST Program by running a high school coffee shop, filling vending machines for the school, and engaging in life skills training. He strives to give students every opportunity possible to gain work experience and access to their local communities so that they can be included and involved. Sousa’s efforts and impact will continue to evolve for generations to come. As the quote from Verna Myers goes, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” As for Brock Sousa and those he engages with, the dancing never stops.

2022 Youth Leadership Award winner: Holly Connor

Holly Connor is senior at Clayton High School in St. Louis, who is an aspiring singer, actor, and musician. Holly plans to attend Webster University this fall to pursue a degree in Vocal Performance and piano, and she is working toward to becoming a voice over actor for animated films and cartoons. Holly hopes to continue to create and expand awareness, acceptance, and inclusion, especially within the Arts, as she wants arts for all.

Holly has extraordinary music skills, and her passions are performing live musical theater, singing opera, and playing instruments. She plays piano, tap dances, studies ballet, composes original music, loves telling stories, and has a natural gift of voice and comedic timing. In the past six years, she has been cast in over eighty musicals, plays, cabarets, and musical reviews in school, youth theaters, and professional organizations. She sings soprano in chorale, jazz, and a cappella show choirs. Holly has voice training in both classical and opera singing, and musical theater. Holly has sung the national anthem a cappella at St. Louis Blues games. This year, she was the pianist in an orchestra alongside professional musicians. Holly is an award-winning Braille user and has done disability awareness presentations to enlighten others. Holly does not let her disabilities interfere with sharing her message that people of all abilities can be included. She has made friends with others in the arts world, education world, and the disability community. Throughout her life, Holly has spread story of awareness, acceptance, and inclusion with others as she also strives to improve the quality of life of other people with disabilities.

Honorable Mention: Samantha Keeney

Samantha (Sam) Keeney is a senior at Van Buren High School, and a graduate of the 2022 Missouri Youth Leadership Forum. Sam is a very outgoing young woman. She enjoys being a member of her high school’s Quiz Bowl team, and has achieved the all-conference title for two years. Sam is also a very active member of the Senior Beta Club. She does not let her disability define or limit her future. Recently, she provided a presentation at a transition conference to share her experience at the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum.

Sam plans to attend Three Rivers Community College in the fall, before attending Missouri State University in Springfield to study history and become a teacher. Her goal is to make history fun for all of her students.

Sam advocates for others, and provides support and encouragement for her peers. She is very studious about knowing the laws and regulations when it comes to having any disability. She wants everyone to be treated fairly and respectfully, and sees everyone as equal.

The awards will be presented to the winners at the Power Up Assistive Technology Conference & Expo in Columbia on April 4, 2023.

For additional information, go to gcd@oa.mo.gov.

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