Butler Awards Honor Disability Services’ Unsung Heroes

It’s easy to take our intellectual and physical abilities for granted, and yet “almost everyone we know knows or has a family member or friend with some form of disability,” says Bruce Doniger, president and CEO of the J.E. & Z.B. Butler Foundation. “The people who provide disability services to these individuals are largely overworked, underpaid, and not always acknowledged by society. We believe that they are unsung heroes and should be acknowledged.”

It is in that spirit that the Butler Foundation and UJA-Federation of New York’s Task Force on People With Disabilities presented the Zella Bronfman Butler Awards on December 13th. The award was given for excellence in the field of disability services to three professionals — Glen Parrish, Susan Schwaber-Tregerman, and Dr. Steven M. Wolf — working in UJA-Federation’s network of beneficiary agencies. The winners received $10,000 along with the award.

The Butler Foundation and the Task Force on People with Disabilities “value those who are committed to helping support and enhance the quality of life of individuals with disabilities and their families,” says Anita Altman, UJA-Federation’s deputy managing director of government and external relations. Though the winners come from widely varying backgrounds within the disability-services field, Altman notes that to be successful in the field requires they have certain characteristics in common: being caring and empathetic, and having the ability for passionate engagement.

When he found out he’d been nominated for the award, Glen Parrish, residence manager of the Vernondale Intermediate Care Facility, a program of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS), says he was shocked and thrilled. “I might have got a little teary, but if someone asks me, I’ll say I had something in my eye,” he jokes.

From Hip-Hop to Health Care

About 12 years ago, Parrish, a former member of the 1990s hip-hop group Heavy D & the Boyz, was between jobs, coaching his nephew’s baseball and football teams. His sister, who noticed how well he worked with children, suggested he make it his career. He went on to work with adolescents with disabilities, but when he transitioned to working with adults, some of his friends and colleagues questioned the move. “I was told that they would be in a point in their life where growth did not happen. But I brought with me my strong belief that all people can grow and learn and have hope,” he says.

Susan Schwaber-Tregerman, another of the awardees and assistant executive director of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center, came to the disability services field through the lens of education. She began as a part-time kindergarten teacher at the Mid-Island Y 35 years ago. “As an educator, I always had an interest in special education and inclusion,” she says. “I believe that all children are capable of learning and, as a community, it is our responsibility to support that learning.” Recently, the Mid-Island Y JCC’s

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