Building Bridges: A Night of Recognition

On Thursday, October 12, the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities held our annual Building Bridges Awards Banquet at Ten Fifty-Eight in Sandusky. This banquet aims to celebrate the outstanding community partners that help make our mission to Inspire, Empower and Support possible. An all-time high of 53 nominations were received, all full of success stories, collaboration, and inspiration. We are so proud of all the winners and nominees and grateful for those who took the time to submit nominations that celebrate and recognize community partners, individuals, providers, and advocates who support those with a developmental disability.


The Above and Beyond Award recognizes those for their integrity, creativity, and flexibility in providing direct services to individuals with developmental disabilities. They demonstrate a strong commitment to going above and beyond for individuals.


Winners: Sarah Kaya | As the leader of Unified Students, Sarah has been a driving force in encouraging and supporting her peers to embrace their connection with Special Olympics. Through her caring nature and genuine passion, Sarah has inspired fellow students to rise to their full potential and make a meaningful impact.


Dylon King | Dylon has been there for me since the day we met.  When my doctors try to talk to him, instead of me, Dylon makes them talk to me.  He keeps me calm and helps me socialize with others.  Dylon sets alarms on my phone, so I remember to do important things.  Dylon contacts me every day just to make sure I’m good and to see if I need anything.


Cassel Care | Cassel Care has been very attentive to my sister’s care and needs.  Our family is very grateful for the relationship that my sister has built with Cassel Care. They are caring, committed, and provide excellent customer service for her care and safety.


Other nominees included: Amanda James, Amanda Klein, Barb Marshall, Carol Lane, Cathy Miller, Claire Findley, Denise Flugga, Gary Lou & Ann Cebull, Heather Hillenbrand, Herbe Donald, Katelyn Miller, Katie Garner, Libby Boros, Melissa Zeller, Morgan Staltaro, Nicole Orman, Rising Sun Centers, Sherry Lane, Sue Stout, Tiffany Felter, and Tracy Baker.


The Community Partner of the Year Award recognizes those for promoting inclusion and opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities. They are agencies or organizations that are committed to building partnerships in Erie County for an inclusive community.


Winner: Golden Corral | For the past year, we have been growing in numbers for our monthly game night and have struggled to find a location to meet our needs.  Then, I found Golden Corral’s party room.  Not just a party room, but a free party room that can hold up to 45 people where people can get whatever food they want, with no wait. All the Managers at Golden Corral have been more than welcoming and accommodating, along with a special staff person who always makes sure we have a great time!  This server is interactive and gets to know everyone there, with a smile and positive attitude that makes all feel included.


Other nominees included: Darcy & Keith Munden, Erie County Senior Center, First Christian Church, Life Out Loud, New Story Schools, Sandusky Library, and Sandusky Taxi


Nominees of the Betty Rinderle Award are recognized for their personal achievement and exceptional growth.  They will have a success story about how they achieved personal accomplishments through hard work, learning, or physical well-being.


Winners: Julie Kessler | Julie is a Sanduskyian through and through.  She’s a member of the oldest church in town, loves her Blue Streaks, and is very busy in the community. Giving back and contributing is something Julie values to her core.  Julie volunteers at church, Care and Share, and the animal shelter. This summer, she participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which is a very meaningful organization to Julie. She has not stopped her personal growth and achievement. She is someone people can look to and admire.  Not for something she has overcome, but for all she does and all the gifts she freely shares with others in her life and community.


Kali Ohlemacher | Kali has worked hard toward her goal of creating a Unified Generation.  She is a member of the Sandusky High bowling team and has participated in all the Unified Sports, Sandusky has to offer. Kali has strived to help more schools create Unified programs.  Kali has traveled across the country and even over seas to Germany to learn and advocate for Special Olympics.  She was recently chosen to serve as a US Ambassador for the Special Olympics from 2023-2025.  Additionally, Kalie earned the title of USA Today Special Olympics High School Athlete of the Year!


Other nominees included: Annee Smith, Julie Cyrek, Mackina Leonardo, Melanie Feizkhah, and Shaun Zeno



Recipients of the Steve Lippert Advocacy Award are recognized for their outstanding commitment and dedication to individuals with developmental disabilities. Nominees will have made a positive impact in Erie County by encouraging and supporting people with developmental disabilities.


Winner: Anisha Chopra | Anisha embodies a drive and passion for everything Special Olympics.  She provides an opportunity for not only fellow students within her school, but her community as well. Anisha has worked hard toward her goal of creating Unified Generation.  She has championed the Unified Program at Sandusky High School and strived to help more schools create Unified programs.  She planned and executed a unified basketball game at the school and invited other schools as opponents. She coordinated students to make welcome signs, a cheering section for schools in attendance, announcers, cheerleaders, a band, and even a mascot.


Other nominees included: Ability Works, Anabel McFadden, Corey Wade, Lesley Swope, Mary Kalizewski, Ted Kastor