Congratulations to Alicia Hopkins, Dr. Courtney Reece and Melinda Gabelman, the inaugural winners of our John Romer Advocacy Award!
The award recognizes people whose exceptional advocacy work on behalf of themselves and others has made a significant impact on their community.
HCDDS will present the awards at our Sept. 12 Board meeting and celebrate the winners at the Neighbors in Action Advocacy Summit on Sept. 30.
Advocate: Alicia Hopkins
Alicia Hopkins uses her paintings and drawings to advocate for people with disabilities and the direct support crisis. She brings her art to meetings with Ohio legislators and talks about the critical need for higher wages for workers who support people with disabilities.
In March 2023, Hopkins testified in favor of higher wages for direct support professionals during public hearings on the Ohio budget. “I’ve been encouraging people to testify through the weekly budget debriefs and helping people learn how to participate in public testimony. This issue is super important,” she said.
Hopkins also works with Disability Rights Ohio and actively supports her peers with their own advocacy. Recently, she was appointed to the national steering committee for The Link Center, which aims to improve the quality of life for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) and mental health conditions.
Professional: Dr. Courtney Reece
Dr. Courtney Reece is the Associate Principal at the Heidt Center of Excellence, a specialized school that serves students with autism and other disabilities. With a career spanning over 10 years in the field of special education, Dr. Reece has been relentless in fulfilling her mission of providing equal and equitable educational opportunities to students with different abilities
At the Heidt Center, Dr. Reece plays a key role in creating a safe and conducive learning environment for students on the autism spectrum. She worked tirelessly to ensure that the school’s curriculum is tailored to the needs of students with different abilities, enabling them to achieve academic success. She is also instrumental in establishing programs that foster social and emotional learning for students.
Dr. Reece is an active participant in the Hamilton County Special Olympics, where she helps to organize and coordinate events. She encourages students to take a role in various clubs, sports, and other leadership activities. She also emphasizes the importance of developing character strengths in students with disabilities.
Honorable Mention: Melinda Gabelman
Melinda Gabelman has been a strong advocate throughout her adult life and was a founding member of the Consumer Advisory Council at Ohio Valley Goodwill. She enjoys educating people about Prader-Willi Syndrome. “People don’t know about it and how serious it is. I think it’s important for them to understand how it can affect people’s lives,” she said.
Gabelman has been recognized for her self-advocacy efforts and has consistently been an active public speaker in support of voting, accessible transportation, as well as the rights of all people with disabilities to speak up and be listened to with respect. “I am most proud of helping people with disabilities who are learning to speak up for themselves,” she said.
She also participates in PigAbilities, an annual, inclusive one-mile event that is part of Flying Pig weekend.
Alicia Hopkins, pictured above, is the winner of the inaugural John Romer Advocacy Award. She received eight nominations.
Dr. Courtney Reece is the winner of the professionals category for the inaugural John Romer Advocacy Award.
Melinda Gabelman received an honorable mention for the inaugural John Romer Advocacy Award.
John Romer, right, pictured with colleagues in 2019. He was the HCDDS Advocacy Director for many years. During his life and career, he lifted the voices of people with disabilities, always encouraging everyone to speak up for themselves and advocate for change. HCDDS created this award in his honor.
Thank you to everyone who submitted nominations for the inaugural award! We received 24 nominations for 15 people. HCDDS created this award to honor the legacy of John Romer, our long-time advocacy director, and the immeasurable impact he had on so many lives. We’re also thankful to our judges: HCDDS Advocacy Support Adviser Diana Mairose, HCDDS Advocacy Coordinator Amber Cowart and Jinny Romer, John’s wife.