More than 400 guests recently attended Developmental Services, Inc.’s 44th Awards Banquet and honored DSI clients, staff, advocates and businesses and community partners.

Whitney Fleagle, Loogootee

Blessings, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder. For the Fleagle family, the day five years ago that Whitney was born into their lives, they knew there would be significant challenges ahead for their beautiful blue-eyed infant daughter. But they also knew that her very existence was a miracle. Although the pregnancy was perfect, complications at birth kept Whitney from even breathing for several minutes. Whitney’s mother Emily says that her daughter’s survival was a miracle. However, Whitney was diagnosed shortly thereafter with Cerebral Palsy.

“She was definitely a fighter,” says Emily about those scary moments in the delivery room. “Whitney spent time in the Natal Intensive Care Unit, but she was able to come home with us.”

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Emily and husband Darwin moved with their daughters – 4-year-old Whitney and 1-year-old Cambrie to Loogootee, Indiana in 2018. Whitney enrolled in DSI’s KidStuff preschool in Loogootee where she received physical, cognitive, and speech therapies as well as opportunities to interact and with other children through play and learning activities. Emily and Darwin converted their one-car garage into a therapy room and stocked it with adaptive games, toys, and learning equipment so that Whitney could work on skills she would need for future independence in school and in day-to-day life.

Whitney graduated from KidStuff Preschool this past year and successfully transitioned to kindergarten. There she’s able to continue with many of the same proven therapies, activities, and methods for learning.

Of course, Emily is Whitney’s biggest advocate and cheerleader, especially when it comes to inclusion. She is passionate about Whitney being included and having friends as well as the same opportunities as her peers.

To further ensure Whitney’s successful transition to kindergarten and beyond, the Fleagles became very involved in social media and even started a blog on Facebook – “Praying for Whitney – Whitney’s Journey.” The family says they hope to help others by sharing things that they have learned by posting a pictures, videos, and tips.

Whitney and her family are also key movers of the Run, Rock & Roll fundraiser in Loogootee. This year’s second annual event raised more than $1,000 for DSI preschool programs as well as awareness for the organization.

One can bet their expanding network of friends will find plenty of inspiration from Whitney and her family. Although they anticipate many challenges ahead of them, the Fleagles find comfort in their faith and in the wisdom they have acquired during their journey together as a family. “We love life and want others to know there is lots of joy even though life isn’t always easy,” advises Emily.

Dennis England, Seymour

The Consumer Achievement Award recipient came to DSI a little more than a year ago and has already made a huge impact not only in his own life but in the lives of other clients and the staff who work and live in Seymour.

After entering DSI day program services in Greensburg a little more than a year ago, Dennis England literally needed to lose a significant amount of weight to save his life.

To trim his 406 pound frame, Dennis stopped eating fast food and joined a DSI cooking class where he learned portion management and how to prepare healthy meals.

In less than a year, Dennis England had lost 120 lbs.

“This required a level of self-sacrifice and determination that most of us can’t even imagine,” said a DSI staffer. “Dennis has really taken advantage of the services that DSI offers and he has remained extremely committed and focused on his goals to better himself.”

Dennis’ healthier life style has reaped dividends in virtually all aspects of his life.

He’s considered one of the most versatile production workers at DSI and is able to undertake contract work for Delta Faucet, AISON, and Walmart as well as janitorial duties at the workshop. When he’s not doing production work, Dennis participates in the Education and Enrichment program.

If that weren’t enough Dennis still manages to work part-time at Toyota’s cafeteria in Greensburg.

And he’s also not finished setting lofty goals for himself.

Currently, Dennis is saving his money to purchase a car and he wants to move out of the group home and into supported living.

Brad Tredway, Washington

The recipient of the Volunteer and Service Award has been a stalwart of DSI special events since the organization’s merger with Four Rivers nearly three years ago.

Brad Tredway always comes early to do some heavy lifting during setup at the DSI Golf Classic, D-Vine Wine and Beer Festival, the Client Formal Dance, and the DSI Walk, Run & Ride 5K. Even better, he stays late for the less glamorous cleanup detail.

Brad can also be a calming influence when the situation calls for it.

“I think Brad’s easy-going manner is a comfort right before a big event starts because most of us are experiencing a few butterflies,” says one DSI staffer of the honoree. “He’s also one of the first to arrive and the last to leave and you can count on him to do just about anything to help. He’s got a good sense of humor too and that’s something that’s always appreciated.”

This year’s award recipient is also a donor and makes regular sponsorship contributions to fundraising events through his privately-owned business “Lawn Lords.”

Magen Pillar, Columbus

The recipient of the Volunteer and Service Award has likewise been a key player at DSI’s many special events.

Magen Pillar has done everything from serving cake at the DSI Formal Dance for individuals with disabilities to selling 55 tickets at DSI’s D-Vine Wine and Beer Festival.

“In addition to supporting fundraising activities, Magen has also shown her commitment to DSI’s mission through her support of program initiatives, including the formal wear fitting day and the formal dance,” said a DSI program coordinator. “As a reporter for the Daily Journal Newspaper, Magen also volunteered as a guest speaker for the day program in Columbus and has spoken to clients about her job responsibilities as a journalist.”

Also like our first Volunteer and Service Award recipient, Magen has enhanced DSI’s fundraising efforts.

“She’s a virtual tornado selling fifty-fifty tickets at the D-Vine Festival,” said one of the event’s organizers. “Magen brings a lot of enthusiasm and energy to our events and she knows how to bring out the generosity in our guests.”

Perhaps we can attribute Magen’s getting to the bottom of our pockets to those same instincts she has as a journalist to get to the bottom of a good story.

Pam Land, Elnora

The recipient of the Direct Support Professional Award came to Four Rivers Resource Services 11 years ago with an extensive background in manufacturing – not social services.

However, a manufacturing government contract brought Pam Land to the agency to provide production income for services and skills training for clients.

“After the contract expired, Pam decided to stay with us,” said a co-worker. “After many years in industry, I think Pam found her true calling helping people with disabilities become more independent.”

Although she had never worked with clients before, Pam quickly proved to be a natural talent.

Her co-workers say her temperament, patience, and ability to communicate and take initiative have resulted in some very creative learning opportunities for DSI clients.

For example, Pam is great at integrating Holiday themes into fun learning exercises for the clients. For Halloween, Pam cleverly constructed a miniature golf course as a recreational activity.

As for Pam’s reliability and work ethic, that’s never been a concern because she never misses a day and is thorough with her documentation – certainly two under-rated but critical attributes.

Kevin Trotter, Seymour

Our recipient of the Direct Support Professional Award works with clients in the Personal Enhancement Program in Seymour but he is also willing to step in and help in other program areas.

Through PEP, Kevin Trotter provides community and facility-based habilitation for clients and helps them develop skills they can use to better express themselves and live more independently. This includes teaching them about food preparation and nutrition in cooking class, exploring talents through music, or creating and selling original works of art.

Other program activities carried out by Kevin include community trips whereby clients have the opportunity to enrich their lives through new experiences and make lasting friendships.

“Kevin is always positive and upbeat and he encourages the clients to do their best and reach for the stars,” said one co-worker. “You can’t help but be motivated when Kevin is around. I think he inspires all of us to better ourselves.”

Kevin’s co-workers also appreciate the fact that he is willing to pick up extra shifts in the group homes when there is an emergency. Kevin can also be found lending a hand at client events like camp and Special Olympics.

“I feel a lot of his peers look up to him and come to him if they need help with solving a problem,” said another co-worker of Kevin. “He always sees the positive in each and every individual that he helps. When it involves our clients, the little achievements mean as much as the big ones do to Kevin. He appreciates the unique contributions all of us can make.”

Kim Amberger-Fledderman, Batesville

This year’s Professional of the Year has been described as the Susan Lucci of the DSI awards ceremony. For those of you scratching your heads right now, Susan Lucci was the actress famous for having finally won an Emmy after being nominated 19 times – in other words, she was long overdue.

Known by her peers as a consummate professional, this Children Services Manager has excelled in virtually every aspect of her profession.

Coordinating the efforts of over 50 therapists who cover some of the most rural areas in Indiana, Kim Fledderman ensures that children with special challenges receive the very best services and support.

Kim has also advocated for her therapists and the families that they serve at the highest levels through her involvement in numerous state and local committees and think tanks. This includes numerous First Steps and Indiana Association of Rehabilitation Facilities planning committees.

“Kim is very knowledgeable and speaks with State Level personnel on a regular basis,” said one DSI director. “Kim worked hard in communicating the need for increased service rates for First Steps and she has helped parents contact state legislatures to voice their concerns.

And yet, Kim has skillfully balanced her responsibilities as program manager with the more nuanced insight that requires one-on-one relationships.

When taking the position of manager, Kim continued with a caseload of children as a Developmental Therapist to stay focused on family and therapist support needs.

Sullivan County Public Library, Sullivan

The pinnacle of achievement for many DSI clients is securing a good job in the community. This requires a strong commitment from many parties including program and employment staff as well as the work applicant.

It sometimes also requires a leap of faith, an open mind, and a vision for a better community by the employer. This year’s Employer of the Year, has not only opened doors for DSI consumers to earn a paycheck, they have embraced the idea that quality of life also includes opportunities for lasting friendships.

About four years ago, the Sullivan County Public Library hired Edith Samm and gave her a chance to let her work skills and personality shine.

Although Edith quickly proved to be very competent in her job at keeping the building clean and tidy, the employees at the library have given her the chance to really grow socially.

“Edith is very sweet and outgoing,” said Jenna Armstrong, Youth Services Coordinator at the library. “She helps at the information desks and helps the patrons with questions they might have. She even crochets little things for us.”

The library even allows Edith to spend some time with Little Guy – a frequent canine visitor to the Library. And Edith plans to repay the affection by making Little Guy a scarf or sweater.

The success with Edith has prompted the Sullivan County Library to hire another DSI client who is working part-time and they see a prosperous and on-going relationship with DSI going forward.

Kelly Hoffman, Columbus

This year, DSI has introduced a new award to recognize an employee who inspires others by exhibiting all the characteristics of DSI’s SPIRIT initiative which are Safe, Positive, Involved, Respectful, Inspirational, and Team Focused.

This year’s SPIRIT Award recipient has worked in a variety of settings and programs including Employment services, Day services, Habilitation, and Residential Services.

Kelly Hoffman has parlayed a keen sense of empathy with professional instincts into a brilliant 16 year career at DSI. As Employment Manager she understands the unique talents and ambitions of individuals with disabilities looking for good jobs in the community.

Hoffman’s long history of success is attributed to long hours of hard work, leadership chops and a wealth of experience. This includes taking the time to talk to and understand the 12 Employment Specialists under her leadership and help them realize their greatest strengths and talents.

This combined with her acute knowledge of her clients and employers help create symbiotic relationships that are lasting.

Despite juggling many tasks, Kelly still has managed to maintain deep-seated friendships with many DSI consumers. Kelly has also been a staunch advocate for clients ensuring that they receive the benefits, entitlements, housing, transportation, and healthcare benefits they are entitled to.

Kelly’s leadership talents have shown brightest during periods of challenge and transition. She has led her employment team through critical changes in VR by offering them ongoing training and support. Kelly continues to work in the field with her staff and makes personal connections with consumers. She has built a program that serves 12 schools in four different counties and has ongoing communication with five different Vocational Rehabilitation offices and several Waiver Case Managers.

Her co-workers say that Kelly won’t ask any of her staff to do something she is not willing to do herself. And she proves it by filling in for them at a moment’s notice – covering a job site, helping to develop job opportunities, or assisting staff with documentation.

Judy Brown, Columbus

It’s one of the most common superlatives you’ve ever heard but “unsung hero” is really the best way to describe the contributions of this year’s recipient of the DSI Excellence Award.

Judy Brown is DSI’s IT Manager and part of a small team of professionals that ensure that hundreds of computers and information systems across half the State are not only in working order but customized to meet the specific needs of their users.

“Judy has been supporting DSI program staff for many years,” said one Senior Manager. “Without the technical knowledge, support and dedication of staff like Judy, it would be virtually impossible for our DSPs, managers, and senior management to do their jobs effectively. DSI’s goal is to provide the best programs for our clients, and Judy has quietly made a significant impact toward that end.”

Ironically, when Judy Brown first came to DSI in 1979, typewriters and paper file folders were about the only options for record-keeping.

Although her four decades of service make her among the most tenured employees in DSI’s history, Judy’s co-workers are also appreciative of her gentle temperament and ability to explain complex technical concepts to inexperienced staffers.

Jennifer Heinemann, Hope

Jennifer Heinemann’s tremendous talent might actually be surpassed only by her dedication to her work and the clients she serves in the Education and Enrichment program. This year’s Community Impact Award recipient has helped clients reach untapped creative potential many never thought possible.

As Professional Art Consultant, Jennifer has rejuvenated the art program by helping DSI consumers learn new creative techniques and discover their own artistic styles. The works of art, jewelry and photography that the clients are creating are beautiful and many of the pieces they have sold can be found in people’s offices or homes or worn as clothing accessories.”

According to DSI staffers, Jennifer has also introduced clients to diverse art mediums and has spent several months traveling to other DSI facilities to share her expertise with other employees. She’s even created a newsletter with ideas for various projects so that staffers without a formal background in art can facilitate creative activities for clients.

The DSI marketing and development departments and event committees are blessed to have Jennifer as well. She has used her talents to design smart logos and designs that have appeared on T-shirts, calendars, invitations, table center pieces, and event decorations.

Tommy D and the Moose Lodge, Sullivan

The Community Impact Award goes to a service club and a particular member of that organization for demonstrating the kind of empathy and commitment to community that enriches not only lives of individuals with disabilities, but all of us in so many ways.

Tommy Doris, a member of the Moose Lodge in Sullivan County, inspired other club members to get involved with DSI clients four years ago. Tommy D, as he is known by his friends, would provide Karaoke free of charge to consumers. For those who seemed too shy to participate, Tommy D would encourage them and let them choose music they were comfortable singing.

He also coordinated DSI activities with the Moose Lodge including cookouts for clients.

“Tommy D. and the Moose Lodge have really given our clients some great opportunities to interact with others, build self-esteem, and have lots of fun,” said a DSI staffer.

Sadly, in July, Tommy D. passed away and many of the clients whose lives he touched miss him dearly. However, the Moose Lodge continues to provide a Karaoke day for the clients every month.

A new event emcee has stepped in to play the client’s favorite songs and the Lodge members are committed to hosting cookouts, Karaoke, and other events.

Elizabeth Webber, Lexington

This next award recipient has served as a developmental therapist for First Steps for nearly a quarter of a century. Along the way Elizabeth Webber has not only touched the lives of many children and families through her professional talent, she has nurtured a level of trust and compassion that embody the very best the First Steps program has to offer.

For many years, Elizabeth has skillfully helped children and families with different goals prepare for their futures in preschool, kindergarten, and beyond.

“Elizabeth understands how important it is for her to build good rapport with each child and establish a high level of trust,” said one Senior Manager. “She must also communicate with a child’s parents throughout the duration of therapy. This could involve asking parents important questions and explaining her analysis after each session.”

“Elizabeth has an analytical mind, an empathetic nature and outstanding communication skills,” said DSI’s First Steps Coordinator. “She’s an expert at evaluating the development of children, communicating with parents, recommending therapeutic techniques and maintaining records.”

As testament to Elizabeth Webber’s impact on the children and families she has served over the years, many of the clients she has served are now appreciative parents.

“I’ve been with Elizabeth when she is noticed by a former parent or child she had worked with and she always gets a big hug,” said another co-worker. “You can tell there is genuine love and respect in their eyes. Elizabeth is the definition of excellence to me.”

Dane Whitlock, Columbus

DSI would like to honor a long-time friend who has made an extraordinary impact in the lives of many children and adults with disabilities over the years.

For many years, Dane Whitlock has been instrumental in securing major funding and volunteer support for programs like Education and Enrichment and special events like the Golf Classic, Client Formal Dance, and numerous holiday celebrations for clients. As DSI’s liaison with Cummins, Dane has seen to it that some of the most ambitious joint projects in DSI history were realized.

Dane has also made it a point to get to know many DSI consumers and has established some close friendships.

“He’s made a lot of friends around DSI because he loves to interact with everyone,” said a DSI staffer. “Dane comes in to teach cooking classes for the clients and he loves to grill and serve food during cookouts.”

Indeed, Dane Whitlock has been many things to DSI including fundraiser, volunteer, consultant, and liaison. However, to most of the clients and staff at DSI who do not see the significant behind-the-scenes work, they just consider Dane a very good friend.

And that alone makes him worthy of this award.

Mel Fields, Newpoint

At last year’s Annual Banquet DSI announced that it would be begin presenting an annual award in honor of Steve Sacksteder. Steve served as Four Rivers Resource Services Chief Operating Officer for 31 years and was a key visionary and administrator of services for children and adults with disabilities.

The first recipient of The Steve Sacksteder Award is like the award’s namesake in many ways. Perhaps most notably is his long tenure with the same organization.

Mel Fields began his career at DSI in 1986 as a Rehabilitation Social Worker. Over the next three decades Mel has held leadership positions in virtually every aspect of DSI including Industry Manager, Director of Business and Industry, Executive Director of Programs, Director of Supported Living and Day Programs, Executive Director of Quality and Programming, and Chief Operating Officer.

“Mel’s experience and talent have been invaluable to the agency,” said DSI CEO Shane Burton. “His contributions to program excellence and client safety can’t be overstated and he’s one of the hardest and most devoted employees I’ve ever seen. If I could clone him I would in a second. He’s that important to DSI.”

Some of Mel’s contributions include ensuring DSI’s successful transition from numerous mergers and overseeing many of the day-to-day operations of one of the largest non-profit organizations of its kind in the state.

But it’s also the little things that Mel represents that earned him this prestigious honor.

Despite having such immense responsibility, Mel makes it a point to help at many DSI special events as well as support staff appreciation initiatives like the SPIRIT campaign.

And Mel’s positive energy can be felt every day.

His signature line is “I feel like a million bucks!” and he encourages his co-workers to celebrate the Holiday Spirit all year round. In fact, during the holidays Mel travels to several DSI facilities and plays songs for the clients and staff on his piano.

Elaina Sims, Columbus

This next award was established two years ago to honor DSI’s longest serving Chief Executive Officer, Bill Hadar.

Administered through the Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County this $1000 award marks a new tradition that will perpetuate the achievements and dreams of future professionals dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others.

This year, DSI is pleased to announce that Elaina Sims is the recipient of the William K. Hadar Scholarship Fund.

Elaina is a Columbus East graduate and earned the scholarship for high school academic excellence, extra-curricular activities, and community involvement. The scholarship is administered through the Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County.

Elaina is majoring in biochemistry at Indiana University and received her award at a graduation ceremony in the spring.

Teresa Hooten, Greensburg

You see their names in annual reports and legal contracts and they can be found at open houses and groundbreaking ceremonies. But few of us know just how important they are or how hard they work for DSI.

The DSI board of directors set the direction of the organization through policy, expertise and vision.

They are asked to dedicate much of their time and receive no financial compensation. They serve because they are all profoundly dedicated to DSI and its mission helping children and adults live better lives.

This year, DSI would like to recognize Teresa Hooten, who will be stepping down from the board this year, for her outstanding service as not only a board officer but friend and advocate of DSI.

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