For 60 years, ACHIEVA, formerly Arc Allegheny, has been working to end the long history of isolation for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania through innovative programs and lifelong support systems.
Monday evening at the Sheraton Station Square, ACHIEVA presented its annual awards for everything from advocacy to awareness, and from employment to family support. Essential Public Radio (EPR)'s Behavioral Health Reporter, Erika Beras, was honored with the Excellence in Media Award.
Beras joined WDUQ, now EPR, in February 2009, and has produced more than one hundred stories on behavioral health issues, including an award-winning nine-part series, "Autism Through the Lifespan," which explored autism from diagnosis, through childhood, the teen years, education, caregiving, adulthood, research, and life after autism. In addition, Beras produced a series of 50 modules, "Living With," where individuals told their stories about their daily experiences with depression, or schizophrenia, or autism, or even addictions.
In honoring Beras, the ACHIEVA Awards selection panel noted: "Because of Erika's commitment of reporting these types of stories, the Pittsburgh community has become more informed and has a better understanding of the challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis."
Accepting the award, Beras thanked her former colleagues at WDUQ, her current colleagues at Essential Public Radio, "and especially the people who invited me into their offices, their labs, and their homes, and allowed me to tell their stories."
ACHIEVA honored 13 other individuals and organizations for their work on behalf of the disabled:
- Excellence in Advocacy: Kate Cala, Executive Director of East Suburban Citizens Advocacy, which creates and supports relationships between individuals with developmental disabilities and caring community members.
- Excellence in Community Awareness: Steel City Icebergs, an organization created in 2009 to enable children and adults with disabilities participate in ice hockey.
- Excellence in Family Supports (Individual): Shirl Lyndes, one of the creators of the Family Support Network in Beaver County. She has raised 102 foster children, all with intellectual or physical disabilities, or behavioral health issues.
- Excellence in Family Supports (Group): TRY, which was founded in 1970 and provides social and recreational experiences for people with disabilities free of charge.
- Distinguished Professional Service Award: Ray Rykaceski, Executive Vice President of ACHIEVA and Executive Director of The Arc of Westmoreland.
- Joe Ott Award: Ron and Patricia Chiurazzi, long-time dedicated, generous supporters of ACHIEVA.
- Tony Leech Award: Larry Kubey, member of the Arc of Greater Pittsburgh Board of Trustees; trainer for The Partnership, which provides training for families and self-advocates on disability related topics.
- Sattler Humanitarian Award: Gary Sellers, retired special education teacher (34 years); Chair of The Arc of Westmoreland Board of Trustees.
- Excellence in Legislation: Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA-14), founder of the Congressional Autism Caucus.
- Excellence in Professional Service: Pennsylvania Elks Home Service Program, which employs 26 registered nurses and home visitors to assist individuals with disabilities.
- Excellence in Employment: Giant Eagle Corporation
- Community Partner Award: Kennametal
- Excellence in Volunteerism: BNY Mellon