Yes I Can! Award Recipients

CEC recognized 29 Yes I Can! Award winners April 13 at its 2012 Convention & Expo in Denver. Congratulations to these inspiring young people!

Read more about each recipient from the seven award categories:

 Read about other past Yes I Can! award recipients:


 Brandon Drucker

Brandon Jacob Drucker
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Brandon has become an active member of his community, including bi-lingual public speaking engagements, despite challenges posed by autism. For the past six years, Brandon has been a part of the Broward County Special Olympics. Once unable to communicate effectively, today Brandon proudly talks about his artwork, engages with new people, and does not shy away from public speaking. 

 Tyler Bloodgood

Tyler Mason Maldonado Bloodgood
El Paso, Texas

Tyler once behind academically, now soars above grade level despite challenges with autism. Though he had trouble focusing, communicating with others, and using his fine motor skills, today Tyler is reading above grade level, can work with his peers, and is working more independently in the classroom. 

Update: Tyler received two recognitions on May 30 from the Texas Legislature for his hard work and academic results. Both state Sen. José Rodríguez and state Rep. Dee Margo drafted proclamations celebrating Tyler and his great accomplishments. Rep. Margo attended the event recognizing Tyler and gave him a copy of the proclamation.

 Hunter McGowan

Patrick Hunter McGowan
North Huntington, Pa.

Hunter excels as a student, athlete, and advocate in spite of obstacles posed by deaf-blindness. Hunter, a student with Usher’s Syndrome Type II, is open to speaking about his disabilities to others. During his first year at a new high school, he not only made the honor roll consistently, but swam competitively on the school’s swim team. 


Leonardo Reyna Navarrete
Powerview, Manitoba, Canada

Leonardo’s drive to succeed academically has not been hindered by his disabilities or the cultural challenges of living in a new country. Leonardo arrived in Canada in 2007 from Mexico with no prior formal education and limited communication skills. Today, he not only takes part in the classroom with a new confidence, but volunteers throughout his community. 

 Alex Staarmann

Alexander D. Staarmann
Simpsonville, S.C.

Alex conquers the social and academic hurdles of his disabilities and flourishes as a model employee at his local grocery store job. His work ethic and determination have been a great driver of his success while taking honors and advanced placement courses, as well as working part time at the store. 

 Abbey Venable

Abagail "Abbey" Nicole Venable
Independence, La.

Abbey has overcome the challenges of autism and today shines as a star student at her school. With the help of her teachers, Abbey has learned techniques to help calm and refocus herself. Abbey is more outgoing, and in her science class, has taken on the role of peer tutor. 


Sarah Fitzgerald 

Sarah Fitzgerald
Ketchikan, Alaska

Sarah has overcome great obstacles with osteopetrosis to participate in extracurricular activities, inspiring her Alaskan community. Despite her challenges, Sarah recently became student council secretary and took on the role as the school’s morning announcement host. Sarah’s true passion is singing. She has taken part in statewide competitions and has sung the National Anthem at several sporting events. 

 Brandon Gruber

Brandon Gruber
Aptos, Calif.

Brandon, who has Down syndrome, is an artist, actor, and model. While he is successful academically, Brandon’s true accomplishments are in the arts. In elementary school, he discovered his love of painting and has been an artist ever since. Brandon has also acted in 10 plays; most recently playing one of the T-birds in “Grease.” 

 Amre Haskell

Amre Dawn Haskell
Caldwell, Idaho

Amre shines as an actress and artist in her school despite challenges posed by a traumatic brain injury. With determination and a smile she tackles everything life gives her. While her shaking from ataxia makes it difficult to hold writing utensils, she says drawing calms her and makes her “happy and free from everything, even from my shakes and my struggles of life.” 

 Anthony Vetere

Anthony Vetere
Sayville, N.Y.

Anthony is an accomplished musician who overcame challenges posed by autism. As a young child with autism, Anthony had severe language and social emotional deficits, which made it difficult for him to social with peers and work independently in school. In elementary school, he began to play the piano and became more interactive with others. 


Casey Armour 

Casey Armour
Wheat Ridge, Colo.

Casey thrives at his school athletically and academically despite challenges with multiple learning disabilities. When Casey began high school, he was determined to try every sport he could despite his small 5’, 110-pound frame. Throughout his athletic career, Casey has always maintained the school’s academic policy, even receiving three academic awards and a three-sport letter. 

 Evan Howarth

Evan Howarth
Nelson, British Columbia, Canada

Evan kicks down the barriers of autism through Tae Kwon Do. In 2004, Evan began taking Tae Kwon Do classes at a local club. Since then, Evan has received a black belt, an extremely high honor, and passed a teen instructor’s course. Today, Evan gives back to his community by teaching younger students at the Kootenay Christian Martial Arts Centre. 

Paige Norton

Paige Norton
Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Paige, an accomplished international athlete with Down syndrome, inspires her community. Despite the health problems associated with her disability, Paige persevered and found a love of sports—many sports! She has competed in the Special Olympics, winning gold medals in most of her events, which include bowling, swimming, speed skating, soccer, and track and field. 

School & Community Activities

Ryan Bent 

Ryan Matthew Bent
Minot, N.D.

Despite his hearing impairment, Ryan maintains a leadership role in his school, frequently volunteering to help others. Of his motivation to help, Ryan says, “What makes me the happiest is to know at the end of every day I have done my best and worked hard to make the day successful for myself and others.” 

 Kristina Halstead

Kristina Halstead
Evergreen, Colo.

Kristina doesn’t let cerebral palsy stop her from serving her community. Her involvement in community activities has left a lasting impression on Colorado. She has fundraised for numerous events, including the Polar Plunge to raise money for DriveSmart and the Evergreen Parks and Recreation district special needs program. 

 India Scott

India Renea Scott
Ebensburg, Pa.

India has succeeded in the classroom, as well as in extracurricular activities despite losing her eyesight. India has always faced her challenges with determination and fearlessness. Her accomplishments include marching band, where she plays clarinet, piano, snare drum, and cymbals; forensics team; drama club; and being captain of the reading competition team. 


Braden Stankewich
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Braden has overcome great adversity to become a successful student and valued member of his school. In his two years at Acadia School, Braden has taken on a new sense of motivation to succeed and become involved in school. He has transformed from a withdrawn student, who avoided social interactions, to a self-confident mentor within his peer group. 

 Jennifer Utendale

Jennifer Utendale
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

Jennifer, who has Down syndrome, loves to participate in extracurricular activities at school and in her community. Throughout high school, Jennifer began taking part in various clubs, but was often shy in groups or too nervous to compete. By grade 12, she was regularly competing in the Special Olympics. Today, Jennifer feels comfortable interacting with peers and taking on leadership roles. 

 Joshua Villanueva

Joshua Villanueva
Montgomery Village, Md.

Joshua has overcome a speech impairment to achieve remarkable leadership in his school and in his community. Once shy because of his speech impairment, Joshua now teaches younger children how to play piano, tutors peers in geometry, and started a Rubik’s Cube club at his school. 


Cade Gardner 

Cade Gardner
Lebanon, Pa.

Cade is a strong advocate for himself and others with cleft lip and palate. Despite these challenges, Cade has maintained a can-do attitude about life and has become an advocate for students with disabilities. Cade has given numerous speaking engagements to peers, future teachers, and his local Kiwanis club. 

 Joshua Jones

Joshua Jones
Geneva, Ill.

Joshua is a strong advocate for himself and others with epilepsy. Today, Josh advocates not only for himself, but for others with epilepsy. He is involved in the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, taking part in commercials, organizing teams  for walk-a-thons, and creating artwork for display at their banquets. 

 Nathaniel Ray

Nathaniel Ray
Orlando, Fla.

Nathaniel is a strong advocate for himself and others with Tourette syndrome. He is trained as a Tourette Syndrome Association Youth Ambassador, where he visits schools, community functions, and support groups to educate others about Tourette syndrome. Nathaniel continues to advocate for individuals with Tourette syndrome by participating in interviews with the media and even visited his local congressmen’s office. 

 Emei Thompson

Emei Jia Thompson
Minnetonka, Minn.

Emeihas used her struggles with multiple learning disabilities to help change teaching laws and advocate for other students. Emei has learned to advocate for what she needs in the classroom, as well as advocate for others with disabilities. In 2007, she testified before the Minnesota Senate Education Committee about her struggles with learning to read. 

 Chanel Torres

Chanel Torres
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Chanel, 22, not only advocates for others affected by fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), she strives to eliminate FAS by bringing awareness to her community. Overcoming her speech difficulties, Chanel makes presentations about FAS throughout her community at child development classes, teen parent programs, and advocacy groups. 


Averey Blanchard

Averey Blanchard
Alexandria, La.

Averey has overcome challenges with multiple disabilities to become a mentor -- to peers and teachers --in technology. He has shown great proficiency in school technology, from computers to scanners to a Promethean Board and Cricut software and machinery. He has won numerous state and local prizes for his use of technology. 

 James (Mac) Starnes

James McNeil “Mac” Livingston Starnes
Longwood, Fla.

Mac is an expert with assistive technology and uses it to overcome the challenges of his learning disabilities. Technology has allowed Mac to participate in the classroom, socialize with peers, and march in his high school marching band. Mac has spoken at a community forum, as well as two university classes, on the positive impact of technology in his life. 


Vander Cherry 

Vander Cherry
Washington, D.C.

Vander has overcome the challenges of cerebral palsy and is a model employee at the U.S. Department of Education. During high school, he participated in a vocational training program for student with disabilities. He had to learn how to be a professional in the workplace—managing his time, dressing for the work environment, and speaking with coworkers—as well as becoming more independent. 

 Tom Drum

Thomas Drum
Williamsville, N.Y.

Thomas has become an independent, contributing member of his community despite multiple disabilities. Tom began participating in a special education class to receive his General Education Diploma. The program also provides support for work readiness, which has provided Tom with multiple internships to help him learn work skills and choose a career path. 

 James Parker

James Parker
Houston, Texas

James, 20, shredded the boundaries of Allen Herndon syndrome and created his own business. With graduation approaching, James and his family called a “Person Centered Plan” meeting to help determine a plan for James’ future after school. Their plan:  James has started his own shredding business, something it was discovered that he enjoys.