By Sarah Kuper
United Ability will host its first Journey of Hope event Aug. 5.
Formerly United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham, United Ability is replacing the outdated telethon fundraiser with a snazzier evening at Birmingham’s recently polished jewel, the Lyric Theatre.
In addition to wine, hors d’oeuvres and desserts, attendees will hear stories of UA families and watch the innovative shadow dance troupe Catapult, which has appeared on “America’s Got Talent.”
But at its core, organizers said, the night is about breaking down barriers and helping people get familiar
with and comfortable around people who have physical and intellectual disabilities.
“We want others to be more accepting and inclusive. We want to recognize these people for their abilities and not impose boundaries upon them that they don’t impose on themselves,” said Alison Berman, chief development officer of UA.
United Ability is a nonprofit that provides disabled people of all ages with access to technology, education, community and even employment.
The organization has been around 70 years, and current CEO Gary Edwards has been at the helm for 35 years.
“It is the greatest job in the world to go around on a daily basis seeing kids with special needs walk for the first time, seeing adults working for the first time,” Edwards said. “We have incredible technology and incredible staff. We are very lucky to see all that happens here.”
Birmingham philanthropist and activist Ronne Hess is the event’s honoree.
She said she has always had a special place in her heart for those with special needs, even since she was a child.
“Sometimes they can’t speak up for themselves; they don’t have a voice. It becomes incumbent upon us to use ours,” she said.
For many years, Hess has been instrumental in all aspects of UA’s growth.
She admits she is a little embarrassed by the honoree title because she just sees herself as a part of the whole.
“For me it is all about the UA staff. They are so selfless, skilled, determined and devoted to everyone. It just happens to be my name out front,” Hess said.
The event is also an effort to celebrate the organization’s rebranding earlier this year.
“The name shift was very important for us. We have morphed so much in the last 70 years that UCP of Greater Birmingham did not reflect who we were anymore,” Hess said.
Edwards said he is proud of United Ability’s goal to help those with disabilities through every phase of their life.
The organization offers early learning services through to adult life skills classes and employment opportunities. It even runs its own document shredding business, called Gone for Good. Edwards said it competes with national companies such as Shred-it.
“We have great customer service and prices. Plus, it creates jobs for 90 people. We do anything possible to create jobs that give them the dignity of employment,” Edwards said, “What is the first question someone asks when they meet you? ‘Where do you work?’”
In its first year, organizers hope Journey of Hope will raise money and kick off more than a fun yearly event.
“We want to start a movement where kids are included, employment is attainable and healthcare options are expanded,” Edwards said.
Journey of Hope is presented by Medical Properties Trust, Inc.
Tickets are $150 and are available through United Ability’s website, unitedability.org. ❖