This Life: Bobby Dodd, AADD merge to better serve developmentally disabled

Nancy Rizor (left) and Sarah Kennedy were honored for their work on behalf of people with developmental disabilities during last month’s Breakfast With Champions. CONTRIBUTED

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Nancy Rizor (left) and Sarah Kennedy were honored for their work on behalf of people with developmental disabilities during last month’s Breakfast With Champions. CONTRIBUTED

Late in March one morning, Jeff Piazza bounded upon the stage in the Cobb Galleria ballroom and offered a hearty thanks for having been selected Employee of the Year.

That was it. Thank you, he said with a big smile. And then, nattily dressed in a gray suit, Piazza turned and walked away.

If anyone was sitting after that, it was hard to tell. It seemed everyone, about 550, was standing. Applauding.

It was a moment Piazza won't soon forget, but there was plenty more to celebrate that morning at the Bobby Dodd Institute's Breakfast With Champions.

Sodexo, for instance, was named Employer of the Year. Sarah Kennedy and Nancy Rizor were presented with the Circle of Excellence Award.

They felt grateful, too.

But when she looked out into the room, Kennedy, former member of All About Developmental Disabilities' advisory board andwife of Jim Kennedy, chairman of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said, "I thought to myself that everyone in here is a champion."

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She pointed to Piazza the janitor; a little girl named Darden Glass, whose parents turned a school bake sale into a pie company that gives back to nonprofit organizations for people with developmental disabilities; and Rizor, a close friend familiar with Kennedy’s developmentally disabled siblings, who joined the cause with a passion.

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Jeff Piazza was named Employee of the Year at the Bobby Dodd Institute’s Breakfast With Champions recently at the Cobb Galleria. Piazza works as a janitor at Fort Gillem Enclave, where BDI manages the cleaning and maintenance of 22 buildings. CONTRIBUTED BY KAT GODUCO PHOTOGRAPHY

Jeff Piazza was named Employee of the Year at the Bobby Dodd Institute’s Breakfast With Champions recently at the Cobb Galleria. Piazza works as a janitor at Fort Gillem Enclave, where BDI manages the cleaning and maintenance of 22 buildings. CONTRIBUTED BY KAT GODUCO PHOTOGRAPHY

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Jeff Piazza was named Employee of the Year at the Bobby Dodd Institute’s Breakfast With Champions recently at the Cobb Galleria. Piazza works as a janitor at Fort Gillem Enclave, where BDI manages the cleaning and maintenance of 22 buildings. CONTRIBUTED BY KAT GODUCO PHOTOGRAPHY

More than anything, Kennedy and Rizor, and I dare say the rest of those in the room, were thrilled to celebrate the reunion of the Bobby Dodd Institute and AADD — the nonprofit they have spent years championing. Founded in 1951 and incorporated in 1956, AADD began as a school created by parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but by the late 1960s, it was providing outreach services to those same families living in need of guidance and support.

While outreach remained one of AADD’s core program areas, its mission expanded to include family support, self-advocacy, benefits consulting and long-term planning.

In 1989, BDI spun off to become a separate organization. For the next 28 years, the two organizations operated as separate entities, sometimes combining their efforts to advocate for and help service their clients.

While BDI benefited from Dodd’s name recognition and strong leadership, Kennedy said AADD seemed to get lost in an ever-expanding crowd of organizations serving the developmentally disabled community.

“We did important work, but nobody knew or understood the impact of AADD’s programs,” she said. “That always frustrated Nancy and me. It was challenging to get the community’s support.”

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In March 2017, Kennedy, Rizor, chair of AADD's board, and AADD's interim executive director Wayne McMillan met to discuss a recently approved strategic plan and the organization's future. Kennedy, familiar with the workings of both AADD and BDI, suggested a possible merger. She left it to Rizor and McMillan to present the idea to AADD's board.

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Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

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Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

In October, after a thorough evaluation, both organizations’ boards of directors gave their approval, and the merger went into effect Jan. 1.

AADD and BDI had come full circle — back together again. Larry Gluth, president and CEO of BDI, was thrilled.

“Together, we will build a stronger organization with more impactful programming and better ways to serve our clients,” he said in a press release.

For Rizor and Kennedy, the merger, the centerpiece of the recent Breakfast With Champions, is “all about what’s best for our clients.”

They believe it will cause a ripple effect, energizing staff and enhancing the services they provide.

“We will be able to serve more clients and in a universal way — from advocacy to training and holding a job to ultimately leading more independent lives,” Kennedy said. “It’s like a dream come true. I think more and more organizations have to come together. There is not room for competition when we all want to do the same thing — to help people with special needs. With this critical merger, we’re helping folks through every stage of their lives, and that’s pretty incredible.”

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