Students with special needs sometimes feel left out of events others enjoy, but an awards ceremony last weekend put the spotlight on them.
The sixth annual Shaw Wilkerson Outstanding Achievement Award ceremony recognized four local high school students with disabilities — Chelsea Dasher, Lilly Spruill, Joshua Williams and Daniel Wothe.
The award is named for a Guyton man with autism. Wilkerson founded the local ministry My Father’s House, which hosts the ceremony at Guyton Christian Church along with the GAP (God’s Apostles Providing) and GLOW (God Loves Orphans and Widows) ministries.
“This event recognizes and honors lifetimes of blessings — blessings that each (award) candidate and each family bring to our community,” said David Lamb of GAP.
“The world may refer to our special ones as being different, disabled or disadvantaged,” Lamb continued. “But every special candidate tonight exemplifies courage, charity and compassion.”
Spruill, a 16-year-old with autism, won this year’s Shaw Wilkerson Outstanding Achievement Award. Each nominee took home a trophy and a cash prize.
Spruill is actively involved in the Effingham County Navigator Team, a support group for special-needs children and their parents and siblings. She participates in activities such as bowling, baseball, basketball, soccer and cheerleading each year with the group, and serves as an ambassador at local events, most recently the autism awareness 5K run/walk at Effingham County High School.
Her father Jarvis Spruill appreciated the organizers’ efforts “to recognize these beautiful young people. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”
In addition to Spruill’s award, Wothe received a scholarship. Wothe, who has autism, plans to use the money for online Bible studies to continue his spiritual education.
“It blessed us,” his mother Debra Wothe said of the scholarship presentation. “For Daniel and Shaw and other people with special abilities, it may be the only opportunity that they have to receive an award. It just really means so much to them.”
The guest speaker was Shaw Wilkerson’s mother Vicki Wilkerson, who coordinates the My Father’s House ministry with him. She spoke passionately about seeing people with special needs overcome the obstacles they face as part of everyday life.
“How much sweeter is the victory when that road is not flat?” she said.
This year’s award nominees maintain a positive outlook despite the challenges they have encountered, Wilkerson said. Dasher, Spruill, Williams and Wothe all demonstrate “faith that God will equip them to make that uphill race,” she explained.
“This night is about celebrating the wonderful young adults they have become,” Wilkerson said. “This is one of the best nights of the year. My family and I look forward to this all year.”
After Wilkerson spoke, Lamb thanked her and all the parents and caregivers in attendance.
“I think the Lord chooses very special people to entrust his special people to,” he said.