Posted On: September 30, 2020
“Fighter,” “achiever,” “hero.” Those are the words SDI Founder Colleen Starkloff used to describe Judy Heumann, the 2020 recipient of the Max J. Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award.
Party to the Max, the annual gala showcasing the impact of our programs and thanking our generous partners, was held virtually Saturday evening, September 26. The celebratory mood reached a crescendo when Colleen presented Judy with the award, a breathtaking token of appreciation adorned with one of Max’s original paintings.
Colleen says Judy was the obvious choice, calling her the most influential disability rights leader in the world today.
“Judy has literally traveled the world, sharing information about how people with even the most significant disabilities should have the right to choose how they live, where they live and how they receive services to support their ability to live free of institutionalization, within their own communities,” Colleen explains. “She has met with presidents, ambassadors, ministers of national governments all over the world, sharing her message of rights for people with disabilities.”
An emotional Judy thanked the audience, promising to display the award prominently in her home.
Legendary broadcaster and St. Louis icon Bob Costas served as master of ceremonies for the event. He skillfully interviewed Judy, expressing amazement at the remarkable nature of her journey.
Judy, who contracted polio as a child and uses a wheelchair, described how she was deemed a fire hazard and thus not allowed to enroll in elementary school. She talked about how as an adult pursuing her own teaching career, she was denied her teaching license on the grounds that she couldn’t walk.
Judy ultimately became a teacher in New York after suing the board of education. She shared memories of constantly having to dispel the notion that being in a wheelchair was somehow synonymous with being sick.
“A lot of what we take for granted today didn’t exist in our lives back then,” Judy acknowledges. “It takes fierce advocacy and insistent advocacy to get it done.”
This year’s Party to the Max opened with the musical stylings of violinist and vocal artist Gaelynn Lea. Current and former SDI program participants Jordan Moore, Michaela Okosi, Ben Crowner and Patricia O’Brien shared how their experiences with DREAM BIG, Access U and the Starkloff Career Academy have set them on paths of confidence, ambition and fulfillment.
SDI Board Chair Steve Degnan also addressed the gathering, describing how SDI’s innovative programming has created a pipeline of career success that transforms the lives of people with disabilities in our community.
A number of disabled actors and performers dropped in throughout the evening to offer thanks for the freedom afforded by the ADA and to express appreciation for the tireless efforts of organizations like SDI. Famous comedian Paul Reiser even made an appearance to congratulate Judy and join in the SDI celebration.
Events like Party to the Max unite individuals and encourage them to fight on as one, a thought not lost on Lori Becker, SDI’s Chief Operating Officer.
“SDI is extremely fortunate to be connected with Disability Rights leaders like Judy Heumann. As a member of the Disability Community myself, I am in awe of and grateful to her for the relentless activism on behalf of all people with disabilities,” Lori remarks.
“Anytime international Disability Rights leaders like Judy come to St. Louis, Colleen hosts a lunch for them with the SDI staff so we can get to know them personally and share our stories. The Disability Community is very close in this way and it is a wonderful thing.”
Party to the Max raised over $111,000 and captured the attention of 158 households across the country. 7 more households were watching internationally.
Starkloff Disability Institute would like to thank the following Party to the Max Sponsors
Landmark Sponsor — The Centene Charitable Foundation
Justice Sponsors — Mrs. Harriet Felman, Mrs. Trent Phelps and Express Scripts
Opportunity Sponsors — Boeing, Enterprise Holdings, Nestle Purina, Permobil and Regions Bank