The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, or DADS, recognized the O’Connor family of Denton and the University of North Texas for their efforts to help members of the community who are aging or have disabilities in Austin on Thursday.
The O’Connor family was presented with the Vision Award for their volunteer efforts at the Denton State Supported Living Center, and UNT received the Partner Award for its contributions to the Age Well Live Well community program.
The O’Connor family has volunteered at the center since 1988, with parents Dick and Mary, and continuing with their children Dan, Rick, Mary and Pat. The family became involved when one of their children, Tim, began living at the facility, Rick O’Connor said.
“We were just extremely pleased and grateful,” he said. “I think the real recognition should go to the people who work there who have made it their life’s work to help our family members.”
The family was instrumental in the creation of Impressions, a retail store that sells the artwork of residents, and several other initiatives at the facility, said Susan Dean, director of community relations and volunteer services in Denton for DADS.
“In the two years that I have been out there, the O’Connors are the most unbelievable family I have every known,” Dean said. “They give so much of their time to our facility, and they have been instrumental in bringing new ideas and seeing that those new ideas are implemented at our facility.”
The O’Connors and UNT were honored in an award ceremony in Austin, which Dean said was an emotional experience.
“It’s so hard to talk about them — we cried through the whole ceremony when they were up there receiving that award,” Dean said. “It was very emotional for us because no one deserved it more.”
Pamela Sybert, director of partnerships for strong communities at UNT, also said the ceremony was emotional, and it was gratifying to see UNT recognized alongside volunteers like the O’Connors.
“It was quite a dazzling and humbling experience, just to recognize the volunteer efforts and how passionate some people are,” she said.
Age Well Live Well is a Denton community program that is a joint effort between UNT, Texas Woman’s University, the city and various local nonprofits. DADS initially came to UNT with the idea, and it has developed into a coalition of various groups who want to promote wellness and healthy aging, Sybert said.
“I really love the term wellness because you can think fitness, but that makes you think physical fitness. ... This is more holistic,” she explained, saying the organization also promotes emotional and spiritual health.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.