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Gov. Pillen urges awareness, advocacy for those with developmental disabilities

By Zach Wendling (Nebraska Examiner),


Gov. Jim Pillen joined the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and people with developmental disabilities on Tuesday to proclaim March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

Pillen said it’s “really, really important” to keep alive the designation that President Ronald Reagan began in 1987, in order to help with advocacy and support for people with disabilities.

“Every person matters, and we need to put in a special month where we recognize and support the families that have developmental disabilities,” Pillen said. “We’re encouraging, and we are supporting and we are helping all others have normal, meaningful, purposeful lives every single day.”

Raising awareness

Tony Green, director of the division of developmental disabilities, said the state supports more than 5,100 Nebraskans with developmental disabilities who are living, working and leading productive lives in their local communities.

Tony Green, director of the division of developmental disabilities for Nebraska, speaks at a news conference announcing March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

“The purpose of this proclamation was and continues to be today to urge Americans to provide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the encouragement and support and opportunities they need to lead productive lives and achieve their full potential goals and dreams,” Green said.

In addition, Green said, the designation brings awareness. He said this includes the barriers that people with disabilities continue to face, such as in employment.

‘Everyone should be included’

Sarah Fuenning, a 27-year-old employee who wraps bakery items at a Hy-Vee in Lincoln, was among those attending the event at the State Capitol.

Jeanne Thomas and Sarah Fuenning, both of Hy-Vee, after speaking at a news conference regarding developmental disabilities on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

“Hy-Vee is great for hiring people with special needs,” Fuenning told those attending.

Jeanne Thomas, human resources manager at the Hy-Vee where Fuenning works, said she met Fuenning in November 2021.

Fuenning was excited during her interview to get started, Thomas said. Thomas added that Fuenning has done an excellent job while bringing fun to work.

“We have a lot of bad days. She’s certainly there to brighten them up for us,” Thomas said.

Thomas said Fuenning is one of many Hy-Vee employees with disabilities and said the company continues  to increase diversity and inclusion for all involved.

“We feel like everyone should be included,” Thomas said. “Everyone should be welcomed.”

‘Together we can’

Pillen encouraged Nebraskans to contact their state senators regarding his education funding proposals in the Legislature, including increases to special education funding.

Nebraskans in support of a proclamation for March to be Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month join with Gov. Jim Pillen on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

For example, Legislative Bill 583 , introduced by State Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue — would cost $157 million each year for special education funding.

“Nebraskans are willing to lend a helping hand “no matter what the set of specific circumstances are,” Pillen said.

“Hopefully raising awareness can help all Nebraskans make sure that we just keep doing better and better. It’s really important to everybody that we just keep raising the awareness so that we all can find a purpose,” Pillen said. “As I like to say: Together we can.”

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: . Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter .

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