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Governor’s Council on Disability announces winners for 2023 annual recognition awards

March 4, 2024

Winners exemplify standards of excellence in enhancing life for individuals living with disabilities

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Governor's Council on Disability (GCD) has selected the award winner and honorable mention of the 32nd Annual Inclusion Award and the 11th Annual Youth Leadership Award.

The Inclusion Award, along with one Honorable Mention, is presented annually to private and public employers, individuals, businesses, or organizations in Missouri. Honorees are chosen for their exceptional, proactive, and innovative measures to integrate and mainstream people with disabilities into their programs, activities, and operations.

The Youth Leadership Award, also presented with one honorable mention, celebrates outstanding Missouri youths (aged 16-26) with a disability who have exhibited exemplary leadership by making a positive impact on their community.

2023 Inclusion Award winner: Alisha Favazza, Hollister R-V School District – Hollister, Mo.

Alisha Favazza, a dedicated educator at Hollister High School, champions inclusivity, promoting a school environment where every student feels valued and respected. Her passion for community engagement led to the development of transformative Community Based Learning Classes, fostering partnerships with over 13 local businesses and engaging students in five community events. These immersive experiences break down barriers and allow students to develop valuable life skills while building meaningful connections with the community.

Recognizing the importance of preparing students for their post-secondary lives, Favazza organized the inaugural Hollister Transition Fair. This landmark event brought together over 20 local agencies to connect students and their families with essential resources and support services. The fair's success, attracting participation from surrounding schools and exceeding expectations, is a testament to Favazza's vision and collaborative spirit.

Favazza's passion for inclusion has also brewed into a sweet success story with the student-run coffee shop. This initiative, envisioned and guided by her, provides students with disabilities with valuable hands-on learning opportunities, while simultaneously creating a sense of belonging and acceptance within the broader student body. The coffee shop welcomes all students with a smile, reminding everyone of the power of building a stronger, more inclusive community.

Favazza's dedication to inclusivity and student empowerment with disabilities has engendered a profound respect and admiration from students, colleagues, and community members alike. Her consistent work shines a light on the positive change we can all create by welcoming diversity and building bridges of understanding.

Honorable Mention: Kristi “KK” Kliewer, Abilities First - Springfield, Mo.

Kristi Kliewer has played a key role in enhancing lives at Abilities First since 2017, living out the organization's mission to empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As an Inclusion Educator, she's consistently translated abilities into opportunities. Kliewer has helped develop pre-vocational classes for high schoolers, fostering their future success. Kliewer's expertise has also shaped a disability awareness curriculum for her local school district, ensuring wider understanding and inclusion. Notably, she has played a pivotal role in the "Good Life Group," where she cultivates self-advocacy, public speaking, and pre-vocational skills, with the goal of nurturing confident individuals ready to pursue their ambitions.

Kliewer actively advocates for inclusion through her participation in various boards and organizations, including the Ozarks Inclusion Partnership, Disability Rights Legislative Day, the Springfield Leadership's Civic Awareness Committee and the Spinal Cord Injury Support Group with Empower Abilities. Her commitment is further demonstrated by her role in planning and hosting a Community Mixer. This event highlighted local businesses with inclusive practices and provided valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs. By showcasing the benefits of inclusivity and offering tangible resources, Kliewer empowered individuals to achieve economic success while promoting disability inclusion.

Kliewer's collaborative spirit and impactful advocacy have made a lasting difference in Southwest Missouri. By working alongside and empowering individuals with disabilities, she has demonstrably improved their lives and inspired others to take action.

2023 Youth Leadership Award winner: Lydia Olmsted - Columbia, Mo.

Lydia Olmsted has emerged as a vital advocate in Columbia, Missouri and is making remarkable strides in championing the rights of individuals with disabilities, particularly those who are DeafBlind. Undeterred by challenges, she has fearlessly confronted discrimination, educated communities, and ignited crucial conversations about inclusivity.

As a student, Lydia became a powerful voice for equal access. From high school to college, she advocated for reasonable accommodations, demonstrating a strong commitment to inclusion. This dedication cultivated a remarkable network of local, state, and national partners, including the Missouri School for the Blind, Services for Independent Living, Boone County Family Resources, Deaf LEAD, Helen Keller National Center, and many others all working together to advance accessibility and equity.

Building on her advocacy work, Lydia empowers individuals directly. As a peer mentor at the Midwest Transition Institute, she guides fellow individuals with disabilities, helping them navigate life after high school. Through advocacy classes at Services for Independent Living and EnCircle Technologies, she equips others with the tools to become self-advocates, leading to significant changes in their lives.

Lydia's work has garnered well-deserved recognition. She recently received the inaugural Senator Chuck Graham Memorial Disability and Advocacy Ambassador Award from the City of Columbia Disabilities Commission, acknowledging her exceptional contributions to the community. This recognition was followed by an invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Missouri Centers for Independent Living annual conference, where her inspiring message resonated deeply with the audience. Following her impactful speech, the Great Plains ADA Center recognized her talent and offered her a part-time contracting position, where she now contributes to improving digital accessibility. Lydia is a 2019 graduate of the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum.

Honorable Mention: Margot Epstein – St. Louis, Mo.

Clayton High School senior, Margot Epstein, embodies academic excellence, athletic prowess, and dedication to community service. While navigating the world with visual impairments, she consistently achieves academic success, earning recognition for her work in subjects like Biomedical Ethics and French. Outside of the classroom, Margot thrives as a champion rider, her lifelong passion for horses evident in her achievements. She finds freedom and self-understanding through riding, excelling in local and national events and earning recognition for her skill and determination.

This same passion translates into community service. Throughout her high school years, Margot has devoted countless hours to supporting other children with disabilities through her involvement with the Delta Gamma Center and various other organizations. Margot has also contributed to the St. Louis Art Festival, highlighting her artistic talents while supporting the community.

Teachers and mentors praise Margot's character, resilience, and kindness, recognizing her as a champion for inclusion and advocacy. Her determination to shatter limitations shines through in her willingness to speak up for herself and others, inspiring her peers with her strength. An honor student and role model, Margot actively works to create a more inclusive and equitable world, a mission she intends to carry into her future medical career. Her spirit and dedication to improving lives will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on her community.

The awards will be presented to the winners at the Power Up Assistive Technology Conference & Expo in Columbia on April 9, 2024.

For additional information, please contact the GCD at 573-751-2600 or via e-mail at