From The Tribune Staff Reports
MONTGOMERY – Two Trussville residents, Corrie A. Merchant and Erin Piper, were recognized at the 2023 Alabama disABILITY Conference held in Montgomery on Sept. 19.
Corrie Merchant was recognized as the 2023 Distinguished Advocate of the Year, an award given to an individual whose advocacy has had a direct and profoundly significant impact on the quality of life for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Merchant serves in multiple ways including Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (PADD) Advisory Council, Stanford University’s Down Syndrome Research Center Advisory Board and secretary on the board for Down Syndrome Alabama. Merchant serves as a supportive decision-making team member for Colby Spangler in the advocacy and engagement role. In March 2023, she chaired a statewide legislative advocacy committee to help plan a cross-disability advocacy day at the State House in Montgomery. Over 150 advocates and self-advocates from across Alabama attended the event and met with their state representatives. The goal was to bring attention to the needs and experiences of Alabamians with disabilities to the state’s policymakers.
Erin Piper was recognized as the 2023 Educator Advocate of the Year. Piper works for Trussville City Schools as the Collaborative Specialist. She has been an educator for over 15 years, and her dedication to students is evident in everything she does. Piper has a deep understanding of the challenges that students face and is always looking for new ways to help them succeed. She constantly seeks out new resources and strategies to help students reach their full potential, and was recognized for “generously sharing her knowledge, experience, and time to mentor and support fellow special educators and parents (and displaying) a passion for improving programming for students with disabilities.” Piper is an outstanding advocate for students receiving special education services and their teachers by creating a culture of valuing special education within her school community.
Other award winners:
Legislative Advocates of the Year: Cynthia Almond (Representative –Tuscaloosa) and Arthur Orr (Senator – Decatur)
Agency of Distinction: Lorenzo Brown, IS-Able Center
Inclusive Employer: Jerry Wade, Publix
Exemplary Educator: Kevin White, of Shelby County Schools
Self-Advocate of Distinction: Mr. Colby Spangler
Distinguished Direct Support Professional (DSP): Eleanita George, ARC of Central Alabama
National Award for Distinguished Service: Chris Stewart, President/CEO The ARC of Central Alabama
Employee of the Year: Mary Morton, Student Worker
Promising Young Leader: Audrey Bayne
Family of the Year: Lane & Kathryn Hagan, of Libby’s Friends – Founders and Executive Directors