Each year, in conjunction with the celebration of October as Disability Awareness Month, the City of Fresno Disability Advisory Commission (DAC) recognizes individuals, organizations, and City employees that have improved the quality of life for people with disabilities in Fresno. Recipients will be honored on October 26, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. during the City Council meeting as part of the commemoration of October as Disability Awareness Month.
The recipient of the DAC’s 2017 Individual Achievement Award is John Bower. The recipient of the DAC’s Organization Achievement Award is Sunnyside Bicycles. The recipient of the City of Fresno employee award is Brian Barr. The recipient of the City of Fresno Department award is Airports Department under the leadership of Vicki Calderon and Melissa Garza-Perry.
John Bowers Leads the “Rock Steady” boxing class for individuals who live with Parkinson’s Disease. As he describes it, Parkinson’s interrupts signals being sent from the brain to the body, however, boxing aims to improve that communication between the brain and body. He leads classes twice a week, incorporates stretching, weight training and fun exercises like bean bag tosses to improve hand-eye coordination.
“John is passionate, caring and most importantly driven to help everyone reach their goals. As the lead trainer for the Rock Steady program I have seen John not only connect with the community but also inspire others as well in the process,” said Andre McMahon in his nomination.
John and Vanessa McCracken opened Sunnyside bicycle shop with the mission of eliminating barriers to getting on a bike and finding creative ways to connect their clients through cycling. This same attitude has carried over into their approach of volunteering with Best Buddies for their annual cycling fundraiser. Best Buddies is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with intellectual and development disabilities through friendships, leadership development, and integrated employment opportunities. Sunnyside Bicycles recruited one of the largest teams in the Best Buddies bike event with over 70 local riders raising almost $100,000 for the program.
Jessica Brooks, State Director of Best Buddies California noted that “with the support of the McCracken’s and their cycling community, Best Buddies has been able to positively impact the lives of over 500 individuals with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Central Valley and spread awareness about the abilities of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout the community.”
The McCrackens have also been ongoing supporters of the local iCan Bike program, which teaches people with disabilities to ride a regular two-wheel bike. They have actively participated in the program for five years by coming to the camp, assisting families to purchase the correct bike for their child, offering a “trade up” program for the children’s bikes, and sending staff to volunteer at the camp.
Brian Barr is a Capital Development Specialist in the Department of Public Transportation (FAX). In this capacity, he is the lead on several key FAX projects that impact accessibility including the Manchester Transit Center exterior renovations, Courthouse Park Shelter Renovations and the FAX ADA Self Evaluation and Fixed Route Bus Stop Survey and Transition Plan. Barr recognizes that access to public transportation is crucial for people with disabilities, taking meaningful steps to guide FAX capital development incorporates accessibility and actively works to remove barriers to access at all of the City’s transportation facilities.
“In the field of construction management, there are so many moving parts. It is easy to push along the project because it is not quite 100%. However, with the City of Fresno Department of Transportation, we do our best to cultivate the Culture of Excellence. This trickles down from our leadership. Brian Barr demonstrates competency in his field and a commitment to follow [Accessibility] guidelines,” said Leena Mendoza in her nomination statement.
The Airports Department, under the leadership of Melissa Garza-Perry and Vikkie Calderon are recognized for bringing California’s inaugural “Wings for Autism®” program to the Fresno Yosemite International Airport on May 13, 2017. Wings for Autism® is a program by The Arc of the United States launched in 2011 that provides individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families with a real-life simulation of the air travel experience. Wings for Autism® has been hosted at various airports across the country with Fresno Yosemite International Airport serving as the first airport to host the program in California. The program serves to help alleviate some of the stress families may experience when traveling by air. Airport, airline and TSA personnel will also receive a valuable training opportunity in assisting individuals with autism and working with families to ensure their safety and comfort for a positive travel experience.
Lori Ramirez, Executive Director of the Arc Fresno-Madera shared that “while there were many other individuals who helped to support this event, it was Melissa and Vikkie who were committed to every step of the process and were open and eager to hear our advice and input on how there could be some challenges for these individuals.”
“On this day the City of Fresno DAC recognizes the individuals and organizations who, through their advocacy and actions, have served to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities in Fresno,” said DAC Chair Frances Reyes Acosta. “The recipients personify the concept that ‘Inclusion Drives Innovation.’ They are important because they have put people first, to promote Fresno as a more inclusive environment for the benefit of us all.”