Undeterred by the obstacles and challenges life has placed before them, six young people were honored with the Shaw Wilkerson Outstanding Achievement Awards on Friday night.
John Conner, Garrett Feichtner, Arianna Fournier, Tobiah Martin, Caleb Miller and Joseph McKenzie were honored by GAP Ministry at Guyton Christian Church, and each of them also received a $100 stipend toward their education.
“Our motto is ‘everyone is a winner,’” said David Lamb.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) also congratulated the 2016 winners of the Shaw Wilkerson Outstanding Achievement Award.
“This is really a great occasion,” he said. “This is the type of thing that makes America great and makes all of us so proud to be Americans.
The work of GAP Ministry, the effort they are putting forth is commendable. It is such a great example of what makes our community and our country so great. Many of the award winners have had obstacles to overcome and they have done it. I want all of the award winners to know just how proud we are of all of them.”
Miller “has never met a person he doesn’t like,” his bio read.
Miller is the lone recipient with a year of high school remaining. The rest are about to start their post-secondary careers, and some already have commenced those.
Martin, who has ADHD and obsessive compulsive disorder, plays trombone in the Effingham County High School marching band, pep band, jazz band and wind ensemble. He has applied to Savannah Technical College and East Georgia State College at Georgia Southern University and aims to major in information technology networking.
Feichtner has ADHD and Asperger’s and though he said in his bio he has been bullied and made of fun his entire life, “these disorders have made me the man that I am.”
“One thing I can say about Garrett is he’s an achiever and an overcomer,” Lamb said.
Feichtner has applied to STC to major in auto mechanics or HVAC.
Fournier, who attends ECHS, has osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic condition that leads to short stature and muscle laxity.
“I have never let it stop me from doing anything I want to do,” she said in her bio. “I think my condition has made me a more determined person.”
Fournier, who did not make her middle school chorus but did make the chorus at ECHS, will attend Georgia Southern University with plans to study genetics.
“I want to help make a difference in the quality of life for people with genetic conditions,” she wrote in her bio. “I think the fact I have a genetic condition gives me a unique voice. My condition has not and will not stop me from accomplishing my dreams and not let my disability get in the way.”
McKenzie has applied to Ogeechee Technical College to study hospitality and tourism with a specialty in event planning and has designs on owning his own firm. Conner has been dual-enrolled at STC in welding and plans to continue studying in agricultural mechanics.
Wilkerson, who has autism, was named the Rotary Club of Effingham County volunteer of the year in 2013. He has started My Father’s House, a ministry that meets the socialization needs of those regardless of diagnosis.
“In Shaw’s own words, ‘in My Father’s House, all are welcome,’” Lamb said. “He is one cool dude.”
Wilkerson recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for the Power of One autism awareness gathering and spoke at some of the events.
“Thank you Shaw for setting the example,” Carter said.
State Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) said the General Assembly finally passed an initiative that began during Carter’s time under the Gold Dome to make autism care eligible for insurance coverage.
“It took seven years for the autism bill,” Hitchens said.
Hitchens said it’s part of government’s role to look after and protect the people, and said people shouldn’t act or treat those with different diagnoses as second-class citizens.
“They want to be accepted, they want a place in the world and they want us to love them,” he said, “and we’re obligated to do that.”