Achieve with us™ Contest Finalists

Sponsored by ABILITY Magazine

Top Ten Vote-Getters – The Arc has selected a winning entry from among these finalists! The Grand Prize is a trip for two for two days to Washington, D.C. with the chance to share their story with their representatives on Capitol Hill. Also, ABILITY Magazine will feature the Grand Prize winner in an upcoming issue.


Grand Prize Winner – Tyler Smothers

“Putting His Passion to Work”

Tyler SmothersJoshua Smothers - Tyler Smothers has never been one for hoarding the spotlight. Make no mistake: He won’t shy away from any attention, but he’d rather share it with the people he cares about. Smothers’ affinity for social gatherings and his loyalty are two reasons a fourth annual bike ride that raises funds for The Arc of East Central Iowa is expanding this year to welcome other participants to ride, push or walk alongside Smothers on Sept. 18 at Clark Memorial Park in Hiawatha. “I had a blast during the first three rides, but I think more people should join me,” Smothers, of Cedar Rapids, said of the upcoming ArcStrong4 ride. “This way we can raise more money for The Arc.” The Arc of East Central Iowa, which offers services in eight counties in Iowa, empowers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to engage in lifelong opportunities to live, work and play in full inclusion in their communities. Smothers, 27, and his family have benefited from The Arc’s resources for parts of four decades. So when Smothers watched in horror as the historic floods of 2008 engulfed the agency’s headquarters in downtown Cedar Rapids, causing more than $800,000 in damage, he feared the worst. He assumed the daycare program he attended would be cancelled and that activities like bowling, movie nights or karaoke would be forgotten. “It was just terrible,” Smothers recalled.

For the first time in a long time, Smothers felt like his life was at a standstill. But finding a way to overcome insurmountable odds was nothing new to him. Born in 1984 with a rare birth defect - an occipital encephelocele - and Arnold-Chiari Malformation II, Smothers faced staggering odds of survival. He spent the first few years of his life in and out of hospitals. He has endured 12 major surgeries, receives his fluids through a gastrostomy tube and utilizes an apnea monitor while sleeping to follow his low heart rate and periods when he stops breathing. He uses a wheelchair for most of his daily mobility … except when he’s on his bike. Bike rides have always been a therapeutic outlet for Smothers, who helped create “Tour de Flood” in the fall of 2008 as an effort to raise money to assist The Arc with some day-to-day items during flood recovery. A modest goal of $2,000 was set. But when Smothers helped raise more than $18,000, he knew there was no stopping. Smothers has kept on pedaling his adaptive bike, and as the fourth annual event approaches, Arc officials hope to surpass the $40,000 mark overall. Delaine Petersen, Executive Director at The Arc of East Central Iowa, can’t say she’s too surprised the original idea to “flood The Arc” with donations is still a success three years later. “Tyler is an inspiration,” Petersen said. “He is a perfect example of what The Arc stands for. He has done wonders for the community.”

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“Dreams Do Come True”

Wendy EvanitskyWendy Evanitsky - I was born in Walton, New York on January 5, 1983, the only girl in a set of quadruplets. I was born 12 weeks premature, a mere 2lbs. 5 oz. I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the age of 10 months. I currently live in Hancock, New York with my family. My physical disabilities have kept my creative side trapped in an uncooperative body. I continued to be determined to find a way to express my creative side. After graduation, I searched for a program that would best fit my needs. I found it at the Thrive program run by the ARC of Delaware County in Hamden, New York. This opportunity opened a whole new world for me. My dream of working on the computer and creating colorful works of art was what began my hobby of creating greeting cards for friends and family. Because of the constant support and encouragement from my dedicated staff, my love of creating cards for friends and family, soon grew to something bigger, having my own greeting card collection...My own business. As of now, this dream is becoming a reality. I have joined a mentorship with artist and am learning all the pieces that go along with having a business. I look forward to this adventure and seeing my cards on the shelves for sale.

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“Finding Your Voice”

William LovellWilliam Lovell - Hello. My name is William Lovell. I was born in Roseville, Michigan in 1973 where I lived with my parents and two sisters. When I was 13, my family moved to Hohenwald, Tennessee. I graduated at Lewis County High School and attended most of my classes in the Special Education classes. I started attending Buffalo River Services, Inc. when I got out of high school. I have always been a very shy person and was not out in the community very much. The agency introduced a program called community participation and that opened up a whole lot of opportunities for me. You see - I have a intellectual disability but I have not let that stop me from doing the things I want to with my life. I have my own apartment and live by myself. I have been working at WalMart since April 2002. I love my job very much and would not want to work anywhere else. I am an active member of the Blondy Church of God, People First of Tennessee, and Lewis County Historical Society.

I have been invovled with the Person Centered program since 2008. I am a certified trainer for the Person Centered Planning Together program. I have been to several different agencies throughout Tennessee teaching others how to write their own plans and how to find their voices. I won the Self-Determination Award for Tennessee in June 2008. I traveled to Portlan Oregon to attend the annual Gathering for Person Centered Program. I met a lot of new friends and did a lot of "first" for me such as riding an airplane, riding street cars, going down tunnels under the city, and standing up and making presentations to strangers. I have set on a panel with Michael Smull at the Mega-Conference held in Nashville to tell of my experiences with Person Centered programs. I recently graduated from the Partners in Policymaking training this year where each month we had to make presentations on several different subjects. I was so nervous at first buy everyone was very encouraging and made me feel welcome.

When I am not working, I assist with meals on wheels for the local Senior Citizens Center, water flowers in the downtown area for the Lewis County Pilot Club, and assist with October Heritage Festival Activities each year. I am a registered voter and take this very seriously. I take care of paying my own bills and live independently on my earnings from my job. I want others to know just because you may have a disability, you can do anything you set your mind to. Sure, I still need assistance at time and sure, I still get nervous trying new things and meeting new people, but that does not mean I will not try. The sky is the limit!!!!

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“Head Injury”

Debra GoodrichDebra Goodrich - Hi my name is Debra Goodrich and I live in Spokane, Washington. I was head injured 24 years ago. My biological father and I went off a mountain cliff. I flew out the window and hit my head and was knocked into a coma. My father had to find me and carry me about a mile to find help. Some people stopped and gave us a ride to the nearest hospital which was in Grangeville, Idaho. My father called my mom and younger sister who met us there, and my father and I were flown to Spokane’s own Sacred Heart Hospital where I remained in a coma for six weeks. I was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Once I woke up, I had to go through many years of therapy and relearn to walk and talk. Even now, 24 years later, I am still partly paralyzed on my left side, but if I receive Botox injections to help my left arm, hard, wrist, and neck relax.

During my free time, I like to attend the Community Center at The Arc of Spokane in Spokane, Washington. This spring, I was invited to attend a disabilities course at Eastern Washington University with five other members of the Community Center. The class was called Disabilities, Society, and Culture. I was excited to start the class and learn more about other people with disabilities and share my knowledge of disabilities.

At first, I was so nervous, but as days went by I started to learn more than I had ever expected! I worked with a group of EWU students in the class and told them my story about having a disability. Our professor taught us more into a life of a personal with a disability. He showed us what it is like for a person with a disability to have children. This class was a wonderful experience for me.

If I am chosen for this trip to Washington D.C., I will use my experience to help others with a disability in one way or another. It would be a great chance for me to share my story and help other people with disabilities.

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“Ashley Ann”

Ann Marie SutherlandAnn Marie Sutherland - I am writing this concerning my beautiful 19 year old daughter, Ashley Ann. Ashley was born ready for the world with hands moving quickly as if she was reaching for something in the sky. Ashley is still reaching for dreams that she.

Ashley would like to someday have a job in the community, have a house, & be married. It sounds like everyone else we know.

Ashley is now considered the children of now with developmental disabilities. She will attend school until the age of 21 & graduated 2013. She has been living at a group home in Washingtonville N.Y. run by the Crystal Run Agency for a year and a half. Ashley has to work so hard to achieve what some can do easily. She has grown & is determined to achieve. Ashley received an award for working at a Nursing Home during this last school year one day a week. It was not thought when she was young that would be achieved. The smile on her face would make you smile!!!!

Ashley was at the Letchworth Village Old Cemetery ceremony a few years ago. She is that beautiful young girl with blond hair & a blue coat. The children in the past were buried with a number & no name. They were not offered school & did not leave the institution grounds. Ashley is a good sign of how far the system has come. I believe Ashley will keep reaching her hands in the sky and achieve dreams that are important to her. I love you my dear Buttercup! Love, Mom

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“My Awesome Achievement”

Trey PetersonTrey Peterson - My name is Daniel Trey Peterson. My friends call me Trey. I’m 18 years old and I just graduated from New Hanover High School. It made me feel happy to graduate. I just got the Presidential award, too! It was a medal! Graduating high school was an achievement. I worked hard at school. I went to class and did homework. My classes were hard, but I worked hard. My favorite classes were Chorus and P.E. I’m a great singer! I got to sing in a concert! In P.E., I learned more about health. I learned about being healthy and eating healthy foods. I didn’t really like running. In my Occupational Preparation class, I learned about jobs. I did volunteer jobs at the YMCA and New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Now I am doing volunteer work at Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program. At the horse barn, I like to fill up water buckets for the horses and rake the hay. I’m trying to get a real job somewhere too!

This autumn, I’m going to the Transition Program for Young Adults. This will help me get ready for a job. I will also learn how to ride the bus to any place I like. I would like to ride the bus to Golden Corral or the Arboretum. I’m sad and I will miss high school, but I feel happy and excited about the Transition Program. I’m going to miss my friends from high school, but I’ll meet new friends at the Transition Program.

I’m a cool guy. I like going out to eat. My favorite foods are Buffalo wings and pizza. I like hot sauce and blue cheese on everything. I learned how to pay with my own money! I like to hang out with my family and go to the beach. I’m learning how to surf. I also like to go to the gym to be healthy. My favorite gym class is Zumba because I like to dance. I really like music. My favorite band is The Beatles. My favorite music is Rock’N’Roll. My favorite instruments are the drums, the piano, and electric guitar. I like to turn the radio up! I know what years songs were made. I like to travel in the east coast USA. I love America! Some of my favorite places to visit are Orlando, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m a happy guy and I’m fun. I would love to go to Washington, DC with Theresa and my Mom. It would be an awesome way to celebrate my graduation!!! Mom and Dad are proud of me!

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“Angels on TV”

IvanSam Wojciechowski - Klunk...Klunk...Klunk. It’s 7:30 am on a Saturday in April of this year, and we awaken to the sound of something repeatedly hitting the window of the spare bedroom on the second floor of our house. Alarmed, we cautiously peer out the window….it’s Ivan practicing throwing and catching by himself by throwing a baseball against the house. It’s finally nice enough outside for him to transition from a long winter of a similar exercise of bouncing a ball against the wall above the fireplace in the family room. He’s wearing his Angels jersey, just handed out at practice the night before. He is determined to play for “the Angels on TV” someday. Ivan, who turns twelve this summer, was born with Down syndrome. After attending dozens of his older brother’s baseball games, it was obvious several years ago that Ivan wanted to play baseball, too. It did not take him long to perfectly mimic all of his brother’s actions, or “moves” from the field in front of a mirror. As there was not a special baseball league for kids like Ivan in our area, we decided to enroll him in the “regular” tee-ball league when he was five. He was the only “special needs child” in the league, and was very limited in skills and coordination compared to most of his teammates. But he didn’t care, if he even realized it. The fact that he was wearing the same uniform, sitting in the same dugout, and cheering for the same teammates was all that mattered to him. Ivan played three seasons of tee-ball, then three seasons of “coach pitch”. “Normal” kids play two years of each, but we had to plead with the league each winter to allow him to play with kids a year or two (or sometimes three) younger than him so that he would at least have a chance at fitting in, since the “normal” kids were progressing (and growing) significantly faster. This year was to be a major challenge, as the league was firm in not allowing an eleven year old to play another year of coach-pitch, which was designed for seven and eight-year-olds. So our only choice was to enroll Ivan in the much more competitive “Pony” league, a somewhat competitive “normal” baseball league. On June 16th, the Angels, in second to last place, faced their biggest challenge of the season. They were playing the Twins, the second place team, who were “stacked” with ten-year-olds. The Angels were mostly nine-year-olds, with one “special needs” player, the only one in the league. IT was a close game throughout, and that “special needs” player drove in the tying run and scored the winning run in the upset of the season (the Twins went on to win the championship). It is common to hear people say that many with Down syndrome today are getting meaningful jobs, getting married, even driving. Perhaps Ivan will be the first to play for “the Angels on TV”.

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“Zach & Opitz G Syndrome”

ZachCharlotte Parscal - My son Zachary was born with a rare genetic disorder called Opitz G Syndrome. Opitz G is considered an 'orphan disease' as there are not many people who have it. There aren’t enough people with Opitz G syndrome to have a lobby group to campaign for federal funds to research this syndrome, like other, well known diseases. As a result, most families affected with Opitz G Syndrome have only each other, on the internet, for support and advice.

Opitz G is characterized by midline defects, but sometimes the outer extremities are affected too. It isn't only physical, it can and often includes Autistic-Like behaviors, like Zach has. Zach was five months old when he was diagnosed. At the time we were advised he would never walk or talk, and to seriously consider if we want to have any more kids.

This was devastating at first, but if you don't tell someone they can't do something, then I guess they don’t' know! Zach is 16 now, and has completely defied every negative prediction made about him, not only walking and talking just fine, but he goes to regular high school.

Zach has a passion for history, especially Military History, and he absolutely loves it! As a result, he has taken AP History classes every year in High School, and excelled at them. We often play a game called ‘Stump Zach’ and ask him random history questions, and he is correct every time. He loves the subjects of Geography and different types of Government. Zach is also a passionate reader, devouring books faster than I can buy them.

My husband and I are extremely proud of Zach. This is a kid who we were told would never walk or talk, and he has showed the doctor’s with those dire predictions how wrong they were!

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“Greg is Being Heard”

GregJulia McCarthy - My name is Julia McCarthy and I am the mother of a 32 year old gentleman, Greg, who is developmentally disabled. We live in Quincy, MA and together with my husband Jack we have parented Greg and have been proud and humbled by health challenges he has overcome and skills he has maximized.

Greg is non-verbal, moderately nearsighted and has two rods in his back, placed during a 10 hour surgery for severe scoliosis. He endured weekly migraines for approximately ten years and throughout all this he simply carries on and smiles with an endearing grin.

Once Greg was prescribed eyeglasses he surprised us with his ability to read, choosing newspapers and phone directories over Golden Books. The way he connects car ads to family members who own these brands amazes us. His ability to sight read in view of his disabilities is uncanny. It is hilarious to see him sitting alone reading a daily newspaper.

Greg has utilized a communication book with pictures, rebus symbols and words since age 7. He has tried quite a few augmentative speech devices over the years finding many to be too difficult to access and/or non-portable. However, last year, through Easter Seals, we were able to borrow an iPad with a speech app called Proloq2go. What a gift this Apple product is to the non-verbal population. Once we saw how well Greg did with this, we were able to purchase the iPad and this app through Greg's Waiver and the assistance of DDS and SSSS Inc.

Greg has achieved success with this device primarily due to the efforts of Samantha Harrell, Terri Cant, and Kim Futa of SSARC. He got the iPad for Christmas 2010 and immediately after customizing the app for him, we met with these 3 people and the rest is history! They have him filling in his calendar and "talking" about the upcoming events, as well ordering food at restaurants by pressing his selections on his iPad. The iPad is with Greg every day at the ARC and comes home with him on weekends. He is able to express his feelings, his wants and his needs. Greg is being heard!

Jack and I wish to express our deepest gratitude to the SSARC and to Sam, Terri and Kim for making Greg's communication a priority. His use of this device has not been a segregated portion of his therapy schedule but a fully incorporated daily routine. New apps have been discovered and downloaded weekly so Greg remains motivated, interested and proud to show off his new found "voice". Other clients are sharing this iPad and one client's mom has generously purchased two iPads and Proloq2go apps for the SSARC Day Hab.

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“Markita Grows”

Markita HarrisMarkita Harris - I’ve been thinking. I have been dreaming about my future and what I want to do. My name is Markita and I have some big dreams. My ambitions are bigger now than they were a few short years ago. My abilities are growing wider and stronger than they were before. I am developing new abilities because I have been working in a regular part-time job. I have been working four days a week for four and a half hours a day for the past year at the new garden center, Seguin Gardens & Gifts. We sell gift items and have a greenhouse too.

Most of my work is in the greenhouse where I grow plants and vegetables. I propagate seedlings, transplant seedlings and mature plants, compost and mix soil as well as wash pots, water plants and organize plant displays. I’m proud I have learned to grow and care for these plants. Outside the greenhouse, I have also planted vegetable gardens on our property and in the yards of the homes where people with disabilities live. In our garden, I have planted basil, onions, tomatoes, beets, mustard greens and squash. I am also able to eat some of our produce harvested from our own garden. I like that!

I enjoy working in the greenhouse a great deal. I like taking care of the plants, but I also like working with my co-workers because we are a team. I think I will want to do this for a long time. I might want to start my own greenhouse business. It is good to have a steady job because I would like to get married, have children and get a bigger house.

Working in the greenhouse has helped me to develop many skills. I have developed socially because part of my job is greeting our customers in the greenhouse and showing them the different plants that they might want to buy. I have developed vocational skills and general life skills too. It’s been wonderful to see my plants grow from seeds to full grown plants and I am proud that I am growing right along with them.

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