Ascension Via Christi, Labarca receive Community Connections Award

Ascension Via Christi and Laurie Labarca recently were recognized by The AbilityPoint (formerly the ARC of Sedgwick County) with its Community Connections Award, given annually to those that have made a positive, lasting impact over years on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"Your continued partnership with local school districts for Project SEARCH has presented options that have increased access, opportunity and provided for employment for so many young adults," wrote Bryan Wilson, director of the Maize Special Education Coop, who nominated Labarca, president of its Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa, and Ascension Via Christi for the award. "Our thanks and token of appreciation is a small gesture to highlight this positive and ever-growing partnership."

Wilson and other Maize USD 266 school district officials worked with Labarca to establish St. Teresa as a host site for Project SEARCH, an international program that helps young high school graduates with developmental and intellectual disabilities learn marketable skills that can lead to competitive, meaningful jobs.

Ascension Via Christi launched its first Project SEARCH site nearly eight years ago in partnership with Wichita Public Schools on its St. Francis campus, for which Labarca would later serve as program liaison. Robyn Chadwick, Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospital's president, assumed that role when Labarca became president of St. Teresa and Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital. Labarca then began working with Maize school district officials to bring the program to St. Teresa, which recently celebrated its first two program graduates.

Labarca, who received the award at AbilityPoint's annual meeting, says it was an honor to receive the award on behalf of Ascension Via Christi.

"Hosting Project SEARCH interns helps empower young adults with disabilities and helps us create a more diverse and inclusive environment of care," she says.