Sheila Dunn has been involved with Easter Seals since she was a teenager watching people in her life deal with various disabilities, which led to her introduction to the organization through Camp Easter Seals. The inspiration she takes from each of those experiences has only grown over time.
“I really love what I’ve learned from people with special needs,” says Dunn, president and CEO at Easter Seals Northern Ohio. “I love the ability I have to be able to share with them new experiences and maybe some ways to adapt activities that they are involved in to have a better and more skillful time doing them.”
Dunn has served Easter Seals for more than 40 years. From camp counselor to CEO, she wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to advocating for children and adults with disabilities.
She has testified with the Ohio Legislature and visited the Ohio delegation on Capitol Hill on issues impacting services for seniors and those with disabilities. She engages the board and staff of Easter Seals to do the same and make their voices heard.
Miles and miles
Initially, Dunn worked in Northeast Ohio’s 12-county area. However, a merger 11 years ago between the northeast and northwestern affiliates created a new territory that covers 27 counties. It means a lot of driving — more than 650,000 miles on four cars in 25 years. But the time on the road hasn’t reduced Dunn’s passion for witnessing those special moments of victory in the lives of people who refuse to give up.
“There is a tremendous amount of joy when someone achieves something that they have worked on very hard for a long time,” Dunn says.
“In our world, success isn’t measured by seconds. Sometimes it’s days. The work that someone does to accomplish a new sound in our speech therapy services or just say thank you for the first time — that “th” is a very difficult sound to make — watching their parents light up, or them, it’s monumental.”
Lending a helping hand
Seniors are another group that depends on Easter Seals for support.
“When they’re able to adapt kitchen utensils so they can eat or cook easier or grab a can off a shelf and stay as independent as possible, that’s what is exciting,” Dunn says. “It’s very heartwarming that we have services that do that and they don’t have to lose their dignity or residence as a result of their aging needs. We’re just there to give them a little help.” ●