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Aspire Awards inspire, uplift

At the podium, Andy Hensley, director of special education at Shelbyville Central Schools, welcomed a crowd of about 200 people to the first-ever Aspire Awards program Wednesday evening at Shelbyville High School to celebrate those with special needs. More than 40 students, faculty and staff members, and two community members, all seated on stage, received awards.

By JOHN WALKER - jwalker@shelbynews.com

Special needs received special honors at Shelbyville Central Schools first-ever Aspire Awards program.

Held to recognize students with disabilities, as well as faculty and staff of the school district, about 200 people gathered Wednesday evening in Breck Auditorium at Shelbyville High School for the event.

On a crowded stage, Andy Hensley, director of special education for SCS, welcomed the audience.

“Tonight, we’ll be celebrating these individuals from all across the Shelbyville school district,” he said.

Students, teachers and staff were honored with Aspire Awards, created to mark the accomplishments of the students, and the teachers and school workers who go above and beyond for them.

Twenty-seven students received awards in three categories:

n Bear Strong for those who demonstrate the courage to take on new challenges

n Dream Chaser for those who are go-getters, working toward long term goals

n Unified Leadership for pairs of students, one with and the other without a disability, who form a special bond

Nine support staff members and nine teachers also received Aspire Awards for their efforts to support and encourage special needs students to do their best.

In addition, Shelbyville Central Schools gave out two Community Awards to individuals who have contributed exceptionally to making life better for those with special needs.

Recipient Hal Gambrel went to court so his son, Sam, could play high school sports with other kids, and for many years Hal has been involved with Special Olympics.

Don Collins also won a Community Award for his many years of work with special needs young people.

“Fifty-six years. Let me repeat that – 56 years,” Hensley said, of Collins’ long-time commitment, adding that when he took the job as special ed director at SCS, “The first call I made was to Don.” 

In a surprise announcement, Hensley told Collins and Gambrel that, starting next year, two Aspire Awards would be named for them.

Collins’ daughter, Holly Forville, said after the awards ceremony she couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. She and her father started SENSES Gym two years ago, a playroom for kids ages 1-6, open to all but especially helpful for those with special needs.

SENSES is due to become part of Shelbyville Central Schools’ new pre-school facility that’s to open in the vacant Marsh Supermarket building, 1015 E. State Road 44, in 2019.

Asked about having an award named for him, Collins said after the ceremony it was a total surprise.

“I had no idea,” he said.

Wednesday’s event is the only awards program Collins knew of by a school district to honor special needs. He hoped other school systems would take notice.

And, despite getting a standing ovation from the audience, he was particularly happy for the parents of the children in the ceremony.

“The pride they must feel to see their kids rewarded,” Collins said.