TALLADEGA -- The E.H. Gentry Technical Facility, part of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, hosted the 2018 Talladega Area Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities for an awards banquet Wednesday afternoon.

The committee honored the collaborator, educator, small business employee and employer, partnership and student of the year, as well as the Youth Leadership Award winner.

The theme of this year’s events was “America’s Work Force: Empowering All.”

The Collaboration of the Year award went to Transition University at Jacksonville State University, a program for special education students between the ages of 18 and 21 that allows them to work with their peers in the same age group.

The program launched in 2012 with eight students but now includes 80 at schools all over the area, including Talladega County Central, Alabama School for the Deaf and the Helen Keller School.

Jessie Kyle Gable won the Educator of the Year award, particularly for the “Click It, Don’t Risk It” program to promote traffic safety. Gable suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident in 2006 and has been sharing his own experiences with students all over the state since then.

Ashland library assistant Madison Morris took home the award for Small Business Employee of the Year. The library job is her first job, which involves greeting and registering visitors, checking in returned books and, her favorite, reading to visitors. Her positive attitude is cited as a major asset to herself and her employer.

Ace Hardware, which was a sponsor of the event but did not have a representative present, won the Small Business Employer of the Year for always being willing to find work for people who are normally difficult to employ and giving them valuable skills and experience.

Callie’s Kids won Partnership of the Year for its efforts in holding a prom for clients of the ARC of North Talladega County. Volunteers stepped up to provide clothing, hair, makeup, decorations and even a DJ for what has now become an annual event.

The Student of the Year was Christopher Williams, a Gentry graduate who went on to study at Central Alabama Community College and plans to pursue creative writing at JSU. He has also worked at The Daily Home and is a librarian at Talladega College.

Lastly, the Youth Leadership Award went to Kaleigh Gable, a student already involved in a host of programs who has been a strong advocate and raiser of awareness of those with disabilities, particularly low vision.

Gov. Jim Folsom created the Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in the late 1940s to help veterans who were unable to find work due to being injured in combat.

“The committee coordinates a network of local volunteer groups throughout the state and works closely with (Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services) staff to develop employment opportunities and raise awareness of the needs and rights of Alabamians with disabilities,” according to a press release.

“In fiscal 2017, the department’s vocational rehabilitation service division provided services to 38,065 teens and adults with disabilities, assisting 4,633 of those in becoming successfully employed.”