Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities Shares Service Delivery Options at Conference of Peers

Service and Support Administrators (SSAs) and individuals served by the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities gave a presentation in early October at the Synergy Conference, a conference held annually at the Kalahari Convention Center where individuals receiving services and DD professionals from across the state learn and have fun together. Over 800 people attended the conference, and many of them attended this session presented by our Board employees and the individuals they serve. SSAs Becky Criswell, Destiny Jones, Maggie Thurston, and director Felicia Zendejas joined individuals Melanie Feizkhah, Evan Goretzki, Carly Sabo, and Kristin Webb to share with their peers valuable information in a session entitled, “I Don’t Have A Waiver, So What About Me?” They detailed how people receiving services can utilize their community resources and individual budgets to help them live fulfilling and independent lives without a Medicaid waiver, as well as how using tools such as Charting the Life Course and making connections with those around them to empower them to make decisions and take charge of their own lives.


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


STIR-ring Up Some Learning and Fun

Project STIR–standing for Steps Towards Independence and Responsibility, had its Northwest Regional training in April. There, some of our individuals went to learn about important skills such as self-advocacy, knowing yourself, understanding your rights, conflict resolution, and more. Those who graduate from a Project STIR training have the chance to return to a subsequent session and teach others the skills they have learned or support someone new to the training as an ally. 5 of the individulas we serve graduated from this 3-day training held at the Village Barn in Monroeville to become the next group of Ohio’s leaders. Another one of our individuals who had already attended a prior training returned as a support for a friend attending the class, and 3 more returned to teach or help organize.

Congratulations to our newest set of Project STIR graduates!

The Project STIR reuinion picnic in Columbus is on Friday, May 5th 2023 for those who have graduated from at least one STIR training.


Autism Acceptance Month with OCALI

April is Autism Aceptance Month! Take some time to learn about ways that you can support people on the autism spectrum with these resources from OCALI. Each week OCALI will spotlight resources to support individuals and their families at each stage of their lives:

Week 1: Early Childhood

Week 2: School Age

Week 3: Family and Caregiver Resources

Week 4: Adolescence into Adulthood

You can find the resources on OCALI’s website HERE



The Erie County Board Of Developmental Disabilities Partners With Local Cinemark To Host Sensory-Friendly Movie


SANDUSKY, OHIO, March 11, 2023: The Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities partnered with Cinemark Theater in Sandusky to coordinate an opportunity for those with sensory challenges to see a movie in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable to them. In the spirit of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a sensory-friendly movie screening of The Amazing Maurice will be held at the Cinemark Theater. The lights in the theater remain on and the volume is turned down to avoid overwhelming those with sensory challenges. The Erie County Board of DD will provide fidget toys to allow people that require more sensory input to move and play while they watch. This March, keep those with developmental disabilities in mind as local businesses and individuals begin to plan more events so they can be enjoyed by all.


Doors open at 10 AM, movie starts at 10:30 AM on Saturday, March 11. To reserve your tickets, please call 419-626-0208. Seats will be limited to accommodate a sensory-friendly experience, so reserve your spots while space is available.


The mission of the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities is to inspire, empower and support individuals and their families. 

Night to Shine Honors Individuals

This past Friday, the Chapel in Sandusky partnered with the Erie County Board of DD to host Night to Shine. Sponsored by the Time Tebow Foundation, Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience to celebrate people with disabilities. The experience for each honored guest–many of whom receive our services, included a limousine ride, a red capret entrance, paparazzi, a catered dinner, and a crowning moment where a buddy who accompanies and supports them throughout the night places a crown or tiara on their head to give them the opportunity to be King or Queen of the prom.  We had an amazing turnout Friday night, and all in attendance had a wonderful time. Thank you to all of our honored guests and volunteers for making this an unforgettable experience!

Employee Spotlight: Andy Swaisgood

Hello. This is Andy Swaisgood, Customer Care Coordinator with the Clearwater COG (Council of Governments). I have been supporting ECBDD since April of 2021.

What does a Customer Care Coordinator do?

  • Conduct customer satisfaction research for individuals and their families, community partners, and county board staff.
  • Analyze data related to customer experience feedback and make recommendations regarding areas for improvement, in relation to customer satisfaction.
  • Design and direct continuing education by developing and conducting training on latest best practices in our field of work.
  • Cultivating a positive work culture, through the use of trauma informed care. (This is my favorite job opportunity!)

What is Trauma Informed Care?

  • Trauma Informed Care is understanding how chronic stress and trauma affect the brain and body, so we can help identify our own stress responses and build a self-care plan that keeps us performing at our best even in stressful situations.
  • It’s asking, “what happened to you?” instead of “what’s wrong with you?”.
  • It’s responding to our co-workers, individuals with lived experiences and their families, with empathy and curiosity instead of with shame and blame.

I am honored to work for a place that puts an emphasis on customer experience and the trauma informed care practices, I mentioned in this introduction. Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or want to learn more about what I do at ECBDD, the best way to reach me is by email at

Santa’s Workshop at the Sandusky Mall

This past weekend, we hosted our annual Santa’s Workshop event at the Sandusky Mall. Partnering with the mall allowed us a larger space and interactions with Santa, and many families who attended the event went shopping afterwards. We had a great turnout and lots of fun! The event featured a scavenger hunt, letters to Santa, crafts, games, temporary tattoos, a photo booth and face painting. Thank you to all who came out to join us at this festive holiday event and we hope to see you next year!