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Lowcountry Down syndrome society celebrates 14th annual Night of Champions
Night of Champions 2023 winners
The Night of Champions event recognizes area businesses that employ differently abled adults, including those with Down syndrome, and celebrates the contributions made by these employees. Pictured from left: Carson Fortner, (emcee) owner of Pooler Karate and founder of Special Kicks; Charlotte Quaile, Devente Sams, Erik Virgil, Wallace Ganser, and Javon Kelly. (Submitted photo.)

Savannah -- The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society celebrated its 14th annual Night of Champions May 12 presenting awards honoring five outstanding employees and their companies, as well as saluting an Effingham County elementary school principal for his advocacy for differently abled students.

 The event was held at the Savannah Convention Center on Hutchinson Island.

 The Night of Champions event recognizes area businesses that employ differently abled adults, including those with Down syndrome, and celebrates the contributions made by these employees.

 “The Night of Champions is the recognition for employers but it is also a chance for differently abled candidates to show other potential employers the difference people with special needs can make in the workplace,” said Joe Marchese, president of LDSS. “This night is a chance to first get to know people with different abilities, and then come to love them.”

 The five honorees and their employers are:

 Wallace Ganser is an employee at the McGraley Co. Ganser is credited with improving the morale and enthusiasm of the team at McGraley. Like many differently abled people, his struggles aren’t immediately apparent. He copes with severe anxiety and depression, and was diagnosed with autism as a 21-year-old. Holding down a steady job used to be a challenge for him, but working with an employment specialist and finding the right employer made the difference.

 Javon Kelly has worked at Leopold’s Ice Cream for about six years. In his role as sanitor, Kelly is responsible for keeping the facility sanitary, and he also chips in and assists his coworkers with other tasks and even helps out in the role of ambassador for the popular Broughton Street ice cream shop. His supervisors credit his constant positive attitude and enthusiastic work ethic for earning him this honor.

 Charlotte Quaile is celebrating her 39th year at Goodwill of Southeast Georgia. Quaile is legally blind and is described as one of the most efficient and friendly associates the organization has. Currently she is based at the Goodwill store on Eisenhower Drive in Savannah. She came to Goodwill in search of meaningful work and a place where she could use her skills and professional independence. In her job as a production tech, she helps sort, tag, and display clothing that is donated to Goodwill.

 Devente Sams works for the Effingham County School District. Sams was hired as a substitute nutritional service worker while attending Project SEARCH. After excelling in his internship and as a sub, he was hired for a full-time position at Springfield Elementary School. According to school nutrition program administrator Jessica O’Leary, Sams has excellent attendance, is willing to learn, and participates in all aspects of the job including cooking, cleaning, serving on the line, and cashiering.

 Erik Virgil works with Goodwill of Southeast Georgia’s E-books Team. After Virgil suffered a spinal cord infection that left him in a wheelchair, he grew tired of being at home. He knew that he had to get back to work. He came to Goodwill for work evaluation. His performance in the logistics program proved he was not only capable but excelled at logistic work. Erik was hired on the e-books team in 2016 as a media clerk, where he processes donated books and media that come to Goodwill. Over the years, Erik has moved his way up within his role and plays a critical role for Goodwill.

 In addition to the five employee/employer teams that were recognized at the Night of Champions, LDSS presented its 2023 President’s Award to Mark Weese, a veteran educator and principal at South Effingham Elementary School.