Easterseals CEO and Air Force veteran reflects on what service means to her
Many of you know I am a proud military veteran.
What might surprise you is that both my father and brother also served. Military life and service for our country runs deep in my family, and those values have carried me through my career at Easterseals. My father was one of the first Black chaplains for the U.S. Navy. It is an enormous responsibility to be at the helm of the religious ministry, the spiritual compass if you will, of the U.S. Navy. My dad is a proud but humble man. By his example, fierce dedication, and commitment to serve others, he has positively impacted the lives of countless of men and women who have risked their lives for our freedom.
When it came time for college, my parents encouraged me to enroll in one of the service academies, such as the U.S. Naval Academy. Instead, I was awarded a 4-year Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship and attended the University of Virginia.I went on to become a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) following my graduation from the University of Texas School of Law. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I was stationed in South Korea while my father was on active duty in the Mediterranean, and my brother was a U.S. Marine Corps officer in Kuwait.It goes without saying that military service comes with sacrifice. Not only to the individual, but to their family and loved ones. Looking back on this time, I say to myself, ‘God bless my mother.’ What a difficult time it must have been for her to consider that her husband and two children could be placed in harm’s way at any given moment.
My experience as a JAG officer reinforced what my parents taught: commit to service and believe in equity and inclusion for all Americans. It is what has led me to Easterseals, an organization making a profound and positive difference in people’s lives every day through its life-changing services and powerful advocacy.Our commitment to reaching out to the military community goes back to World War II. I am proud to say that Easterseals, with a nationwide network of 67 affiliates, is here to support veterans as they navigate the often-difficult journey of transitioning to civilian life. While most of us are strong and resilient, we can still draw strength and support from a caring community. That is why Easterseals' Veterans Services are so important. This Military Appreciation Month, and in response to the millions of young veterans who are now returning from recent wars, we renew our pledge to make supporting our veterans, military families, and caregivers an organization-wide priority. We are proud to serve.
Today and every day, Easterseals offers indispensable resources to more than a million people and families living with a disability annually. Our best in class, inclusive services are provided through a network of local Easterseals facilities in communities nationwide. Easterseals offers hundreds of home and community based services and supports—categorized into five distinct support areas: Live, Learn, Work, Play and Act.
LIVE: Hands on comprehensive, vital programs and support to help people reach their full potential:
• Adult and senior services
• Autism services
• Medical rehabilitation and health services
• Mental health services
• Residential and housing services
LEARN: Programs designed to help children and adults learn—and often relearn—basic functions, master skills need to develop and thrive, and be sharp and active across the lifespan.
• Online development screening tool
• Assistive technology services
• Early intervention services
• Child care services
• Children services
WORK: A range of training, placement and related services helping people prepare for the workforce.
• Veterans and Military family services
• Workforce Development services
PLAY: Fun, healthy programs for children, adults and caregivers to relax, connect with friends and engage in constructive activities.
• Camping and recreation
• Respite services
• Supportive services
ACT: Involvement opportunities for our vibrant community of friends and supporters.
• Community engagement and outreach
• Educational programming
The next 100 years
In 2019, Easterseals celebrated 100 years of impact in the lives of individuals with disabilities or other special needs, their families and communities throughout America as a powerful advocate and leading provider of innovative services. In marking this milestone, Easterseals reflected on its legacy of delivering equality, dignity and independence to people with disabilities while embracing a future where every one of us is 100% included and 100% empowered.
Since its founding in 1919, Easterseals has remained committed to ensuring that the needs of children and adults with disabilities, veterans and older adults are met with services and supports to help them live, learn, work and play in their communities. By combining on-the-ground presence, deep expertise and diverse programs, Easterseals affiliates nationwide are advancing change to assure that people with disabilities and other special needs can thrive in their communities.
Angela F. Williams is president and CEO of Easterseals, the nation’s leading nonprofit provider of life-changing services and powerful advocacy for people with disabilities of all ages, including veterans and seniors. She is the first Black woman to hold this post and was hired in 2018 as a change agent in anticipation of Easterseals’ 100th anniversary in 2019. She brings a long history of purpose-driven work to Easterseals and has personally witnessed the pain veterans go through daily.