The Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh has a lot to celebrate lately. The South Side organization has been providing permanent homes, respite care, and advocacy for individuals with intellectual disabilities for more than 20 years, with a mission that calls for "people with and without disabilities sharing who they are and what they have with one another."
This spring, Emmaus staff and residents have been recognized for doing just that.
Michael Surh, a grandson of Kuem Rye Park, started the Kuem Rye Park Memorial Fund after his grandmother passed away in October of 2010. In March, the first Kuem Rye Park Memorial Award was given to Emmaus staff members Shawna Casey and Sean Donoghue, who provide support for individuals with disabilities in Emmaus homes.
Direct support professionals were asked to write an essay explaining how they have improved the quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities. Mr. Donoghue wrote in his essay, ""In filling the entirety of my being with so much love, joy, and compassion, [the residents of Emmaus] have taught me so much about what it means to be human."
In April, two Emmaus residents—Michele Benasutti and Frank Crosby—were recipients of the Celebration of Success "Life Achievement Award," which recognizes individuals with intellectual disabilities in Greater Pittsburgh for their achievements at home, at work, and in the community.
Another Emmaus resident, Diane Wojdowski, was recognized by Ohio Valley General Hospital for completing 6,000 hours of volunteer work at the hospital over the course of more than 20 years as a volunteer. Ms. Wojdowski spends one day every week at the hospital making cards for patients.
Finally, in May, Executive Director Karen Jacobsen was awarded with the first Ken Wagner Award for Outstanding Service for her more than 15 years of service to the Emmaus Community. Before taking on her current position as executive director, Ms. Jocobsen served many roles at Emmaus, including, along with her husband Kerry Jacobsen, living in one of the Emmaus homes alongside three individuals with intellectual disabilities for more than seven years.
The award was named after Emmaus co-founder Ken Wagner, who passed away in July of 2010. Mr. Wagner's daughter, Cece Wagner, helped Mr. Noca present a sculpture of "serving hands" to Ms. Jacobsen as a symbol of the honor.
"Ken was a man that showed through his actions that we all are one, with different abilities, but all with gifts to be given one to another, no matter what those abilities are," according to Tim Noca, president of the Emmaus Board of Directors. "Karen has certainly exemplified these important characteristics as she has taken the helm of Emmaus, and she has kept the values that are so important to the character of Emmaus present as she has guided the organization to increased growth and advocacy. She is conscious of how important it is to keep these values of the past ever present as she molds the Emmaus of the future."