It was a night full of celebration on Friday, April 21 when over 300 participants, family members, staff, board members, supporters, and partners came together at the Highland Park Country Club for NSSRA's Shining Stars Awards & Recognition Banquet. The annual gathering gives NSSRA an opportunity to recognize their outstanding participants, families, staff, advocates, partners, community members, and friends who have truly made a difference the previous year.
“We have a lot to celebrate tonight,” said Craig Culp, Executive Director, NSSRA. “This year is a milestone for NSSRA and NSSRA Foundation in many ways, as we applaud not only our fifteen award recipients but also celebrate the twenty year anniversaries of both Superintendent Mel Robson and NSSRA Foundation.”
Nine individual awards were given to the fifteen recipients. Mitchell & Valerie Slotnick and family were honored with NSSRA’s Family of the Year award, and Mitch is also a founding director of NSSRA Foundation. The Slotnick family has been involved with NSSRA for decades, closing in on forty years of participation in thousands of programs with their son, Jay. Since 1997, NSSRA Foundation has raised over $1.6 million for programs, scholarships, and vehicles. “Twenty years ago two of my associates stood in the back of the room with a basket and balloons,” said Slotnick. “I think maybe we collected $100 for the evening, and that was our first fundraiser. So to come through with the $1.6 million all these years later, through the hard work of so many foundation members over twenty years, is extremely gratifying.” Slotnick also made a point to recognize and thank NSSRA’s partner agencies, saying “I can’t begin to thank you, folks, enough for your support over all of these years.”
Jenna Davison, NSSRA’s Program Staff of the Year, has been working as an Inclusion companion since 2015. Working within four of NSSRA’s partner agencies, Jenna has supported more than 14 children in that period and has become a true advocate for each child she supports. “That first day of meeting my students, their hands grabbed and reached for mine,” said Davison. “And that’s how we conquered every day, every challenge, every hurdle.” Davison continued, “We faced them together as a team. These students have shown me kindness when I was nervous, they gave me a warm welcome when I was new, and they showed me love each and every day. I am so proud and so honored to be a part of their lives because they are such a big part of my life.”
NSSRA’s Gator Powerlifting team received the Gator Athlete of the Year award for their outstanding efforts at last summer’s Illinois State Special Olympics Summer Games. The six powerlifters won a combined 18 gold medals at the games, and not only did they show extreme improvement throughout the season, but they cheered each other on and put the team first. Powerlifter Bryan Parent of Wilmette got involved when some friends invited him to play basketball. “Three years ago I got involved with NSSRA playing basketball, and now I’ve been getting gold medals at powerlifting and I couldn’t be happier,” said Parent.
Glencoe Park District received NSSRA’s Partner Agency of the Year award for their extraordinary support of NSSRA’s programs, housing Rec N’ Roll Monday – Thursday afternoons, Friday night social programs season after season, and special events. Glencoe also provides spaces regularly for staff training, always welcoming the NSSRA team with a friendly and collaborative hand.
Special recognition was also given to NSSRA Foundation and NSSRA Superintendent Mel Robson in honor of their twenty year anniversaries. NSSRA Foundation supports NSSRA by providing scholarships and raising additional funds through fundraising events and their annual Holiday Appeal. The Foundation also underwrites the annual banquet and NSSRA’s Summer Bash, allowing participants and their families to attend at a reduced rate or for free. Of the $1.6 million that Foundation members have raised since 1997, they have provided over $215,000 in scholarships since 2009, purchased seven vehicles for NSSRA’s transportation needs, and provided $110,000 in start-up funding for NSSRA’s adult day program, Enriched Lifestyles for Adults (ELA). The ELA Program, now in its eleventh year, accommodates twenty adults and runs 48 weeks per year from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and is now financially self-sustaining. The Foundation has provided consistent, generous support throughout the years and has committed to run a capital campaign for NSSRA’s new facility when it is identified.
NSSRA Superintendent Mel Robson also celebrated twenty years with the agency in June 2016. Robson started at NSSRA as a Recreation Specialist on June 1996, was promoted to Senior Recreation Specialist in 1999, Senior Manager in 2005, and finally to Superintendent of Recreation in 2007. Fellow NSSRA Superintendent Candice Cunningham remarked Friday evening, “With twenty dedicated years of experience behind her, and countless more ahead, Mel has devoted her life to enriching the lives of people with disabilities.” She continued, “Along the way she has enriched the lives of the rest of us. She is a shining example every day, leading the way for all of us and displaying with heart and enthusiasm why it is we do what we do.”
Commenting on the evening, Culp concluded, “We couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular night with such wonderful people.”
NSSRA provides and facilitates year-round recreation programs and services for children, teens, and adults with disabilities who live in the partner communities. NSSRA is an extension of ten park districts, two cities and one village in the northern suburbs of Chicago. This partnership includes the Park Districts of Deerfield, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Lake Bluff, Northbrook, Northfield, Wilmette and Winnetka; the Cities of Highwood and Lake Forest; and the Village of Riverwoods. NSSRA has been creating an environment of belonging through play since 1970 and has the distinction as the first Special Recreation Association in the country. For more information about NSSRA and the programs and services they provide, visit http://www.nssra.org/.