MARCH 2-5, 2021

(Virtually the same conference, without elevators, airplane tickets, or hotel room keys)


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Ann Marie Cruz

Ann Marie Cruz began her journey in the area of parent and family supports the day her daughter Jescilla was identified shortly after her birth with a severe hearing loss and developmental disabilities 25 years ago. Because of her personal experience with the challenges as a mother, Ann Marie, along with four other mothers of children with various disabilities, founded Guam's Positive Parents Together, Inc. (GPPT) in 2006, the island's first parent-driven nonprofit organization whose mission is to support families with children with disabilities. Over the next ten years under her leadership, GPPT grew through grants for the Parent Information Resource Center and Parent and Training Information grant supporting parents of children with disabilities. When these revenue streams ended, she facilitated support through the generosity of the local business community. Although the center subsequently closed in 2011, Ann Marie voluntarily kept the organization alive, representing families with children with disabilities on various councils and committees. She participated in numerous outreach events and fielded calls from families of children newly identified with a hearing loss seeking information and supports. Indeed, she single handedly kept the fires of GPPT going for about four years, always believing other opportunities would emerge. This was fortunate because in 2016 another opportunity did emerge. GPPT stepped up and provided advocacy and leadership training for parents with DHH children, recruited parents to become Parent Mentors for families with newly identified children with hearing loss, developed a DHH Parent Support Group, rekindled relationships with deaf adults, and worked tirelessly to increase awareness of the parent support group. She spearheaded the first Deaf Awareness Month campaign in 2019 and organized outreach events and played a key role in bringing the CARE Project Family Retreat event to Guam in November 2019. Five families with DHH children experienced this unique three-day retreat, something that had never before been available to island families. In January 2020, GPPT partnered with Guam EHDI in having 11 DHH adults complete the SKI-HI Deaf Mentor Training, further strengthening supports for this community. Even through the pandemic, Ann Marie continues to be a leader in support of families with DHH children, connecting families with resources, such as short ASL lessons online, Language Learning Kits, and engagement to improve supports. While all these activities occurred through a collaboration of individuals and groups, it is indisputably clear that all this was made possible through the leadership, commitment and dedication of Ann Marie. Maintaining an organization run through volunteer leadership is always a challenge, but through Ann Marie's dynamic personality and ‘can do spirit' this unique non-profit has managed to continue to help families. She is a trailblazer with vision for what can be, instead of complaining about the scarcity of resources. She does all this work with a beautiful smile, in addition to "her real jobs" of mother of two children, a wife, and a partner/administrative manager of an engineering firm. These are the reasons why we nominate Ann Marie Cruz for this prestigious award. Without question, it is well-deserved.