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Home > About Us > News & Events > Congratulations to Connie Hawkins, Founder of ECAC and former Executive Director, for receiving The Deborah Greenblatt Distinguished Service Award at The Arc of North Carolina’s 2018 Awards Dinner.
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Congratulations to Connie Hawkins, Founder of ECAC and former Executive Director, for receiving The Deborah Greenblatt Distinguished Service Award at The Arc of North Carolina’s 2018 Awards Dinner.

Connie Hawkins (center) receiving The Deborah Greenblatt Distinguished Service Award with Ryan Platt, (left) Board President of the Arc of North Carolina and John Nash (right), Executive Director of the Arc of North Carolina.

Connie was nominated for The Deborah Greenblatt Distinguished Service Award by one of ECAC’s board members, Stephanie Antkowiak, who stated in her nomination, “I can think of no other person so deserving of the Deborah Greenblatt award and all that it represents. It has been my pleasure to serve on the board of ECAC for the past 14 years. Learning from Connie and all of the amazing families and professionals she has assembled as the board of ECAC has been an honor and an education in advocacy. Thank you for all that you have achieved for being a warrior for education in North Carolina.”

The Deborah Greenblatt Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual or organization who has contributed, in a distinguished manner, to the promotion of rights of and/or services to North Carolina citizens with developmental disabilities. This prestigious award honors the life of Deborah Greenblatt, a North Carolina attorney, who was a passionate advocate for children and adults with mental disabilities and a warrior for justice. The winner of this award is one who has had a tremendous impact in their community or in the state.

Connie Hawkins is first and foremost a parent. Her mission and that of the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center is empowering families. To encourage families to have a voice and choices in their child’s education, in their healthcare and in their future.

In 1980, the NC Protection and Advocacy agency, then called the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities, received a federal grant to train 60 families about the new federal and state special education laws. During that training, two parents of students with disabilities, Connie Hawkins and Frank Graziadei, recognized the power of and need for parent training and became active volunteer trainers in the community. This volunteer work also included the Exceptional Children’s Advisory Council which served as the parent advisory board for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

By 1983, the volunteers were answering telephone calls and conducting workshops for families and, to support their efforts, Dr. Richard White from the Special Education Department of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte wrote their first grant to the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

ECAC became a private nonprofit parent organization with Frank Graziadei as chairman of the Board and Connie Hawkins as Director. The new parent center started out by serving 9 counties. In 1985, ECAC became one of the first U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education funded Parent  Training and Information Centers in the country.

During the past 32 years, Connie has led ECAC’s growth into a statewide, full-service parent center with a variety of programs for families of children and youth with disabilities and special health care needs ages birth-26. During her tenure, Connie developed a national and statewide reputation as an advocate for the educational rights for youth and children with and without disabilities. She is a well-known speaker and workshop presenter on topics related to special education, education reform, children with disabilities and their families, and parent/professional collaboration. During the past 25 years, Connie has also supported the work of parent centers nationally as the Director of a federally funded Regional Parent Technical Assistance Center housed at ECAC.

Connie has infused her vision for equity, parent empowerment, fairness and high expectations for all children into every aspect of ECAC including the talented staff of more than 20 individuals who provide one-on- one support, training and resources to parents throughout N.C. The lives of children and families in North Carolina are forever changed by her tireless efforts to raise the bar for education and health services, and most of all, ensuring that children and families have opportunities to live the fullest lives possible.


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