Supporters of Evelyn Kennedy’s innovative vision gathered at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn earlier this month to celebrate The Kennedy Center’s 65th anniversary at its annual meeting and awards dinner.

Founded in 1951, The Kennedy Center is the standard for excellence in advocacy for those with disabilities. They offer a wide variety of programs such as behavioral services, community integration services, job placement, and family support services, amongst others.

For 65 years, The Kennedy Center has provided exceptional community service to those with intellectual disabilities, all while staying ahead of yearly cuts in state funds to nonprofit organizations.

As a nonprofit, The Kennedy Center relies heavily on state funding to provide a high quality of services to its clients. Unfortunately, without this funding, the center can’t ensure necessities such as program quality and competitive salaries.

“The difficulty is that usually if that state has budget short falls the first place they turn are non for profits supporting people with disabilities and this has happened six times in the last eight years,” said Schwartz told The Times after the event had ended.

Aside from state funding, the center strives to be self-sufficient through many business endeavors such as their auxiliary thrift shop — The New and Nearly New Thrift Shop — which has raised over 300,000 to date.

Although their efforts are monumental, they still come up short and depend on the selflessness and philanthropy of donations from supporters.

“We are very grateful to the community because the organization that started by collecting money door to door in a cigar box has now developed into an organization serving 2,000 people a year from birth through seniors,” said Schwartz.

The power of independence

A part of The Kennedy Center since 1988, Scott R. Davis has benefited from the centers empowerment of independence and has seen first hand the type of of amazing influence it has had on the surrounding community.

“It’s given me lifelong friends with the clients and it's just a good experience to deal with staff and clients and seeing the positive energy with them becoming more active downtown with the MDAC center and the earth day celebration,” said Scott, who now functions as a liaison to get the church more involved in the center.

‘A beacon of hope’

Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport served the evening’s keynote speaker.

Preaching the values and vision of The Kennedy Center, he told the room that “We are at our best when we accept each other for who we are.”

“It seems to me that the vision that has animated this great center is needed now more than ever, to be a beacon of hope, and a beacon of challenge,” he said.

Evelyn’s award

The event’s 160 guests saw 11 awards handed out to various community members, and an extraordinary picture of St. Patrick’s Cathedral that was painted by a member of the center.

The painting was presented to the Bishop following his speech.

Perhaps the most intriguing award of the night was The Kennedy Center’s Vision Award, which is not given out annually.

This prestigious award is only endowed when the center feels an individual has met the criteria of “A leader whose vision elevates the human consciousness to believe in all people.”

The award was presented to Evelyn Kennedy and posthumously honored the late founder of the Kennedy Center.

Three of her family members — Brian, Sarah, and Debbie — accepted the award on her behalf.