Posted on 10/02/20 in LEAP Spotlight!
It’s not often that one’s affiliation with an organization predates its founding, but as current and past LEAP staff members were reminded during a celebration of Gary Edler’s retirement this week, that interesting fact is just a footnote in a 40-year career dedicated to supporting people with disabilities.
LEAP was founded in 1981 as an independent agency affiliated with Cleveland’s Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, but Gary – whose involvement with LMM began in 1977 – was hired in 1980 with federal funding for a role slated to last a year and a half. The funding was cut after a year but LMM covered the remainder of that initial contract, LEAP was incorporated as a consumer-directed and controlled 501(c)3 corporation, and as the cliché goes, the rest was history.
Early on, Gary became critical to the agency’s success, assisting the agency’s leadership. He coordinated driver schedules and tracked routes for the agency’s lift van service, was involved in its employment programming and helped lead advocacy efforts.
“I wore many hats,” Gary said in his customary unassuming tone. “I tried to help LEAP when and wherever I could.”
Melanie Hogan, who has served as LEAP’s executive director since 2000, described Gary as a tireless champion of people with disabilities and their right to live independently in accessible, inclusive communities.
“Gary demonstrates every day that disability does not define,” Melanie said. “His engaging, compassionate nature has motivated consumers and staff to join him in leveling the playing field for people with disabilities.”
Gary’s longevity and steadfast support of the agency has positioned him as LEAP’s de-facto historian. Asked recently to share some of LEAP’s top successes, Gary rattled off key organizational milestones such as the creation of the career focus program established in 1988 to prepare persons with disabilities to enter the workforce and the attendant training program created the following year to train persons with disabilities interested in working in the home health care field. Additional points of pride include the opening of the agency’s Lorain office in 1990 and the launch of LEAP’s ASPIRE life skills training in 1995 that supported community integration for those staying at the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
As many of LEAP’s longtime supporters know, Gary worked directly with Doris Brennan, LEAP’s first executive director, during her leadership tenure from 1986 to 2000.
“I was Doris’ right hand.” Gary said fondly, reflecting on the dynamic duo’s advocacy efforts and friendship.
As the agency’s services evolved, Gary channeled his energy and passion for helping people with disabilities by assisting with Quantum LEAP, the agency’s adapted recreation program started in 2007, citing its socialization benefits.
“Everybody needs that,” Gary said. “Participants develop friendships with one another.”
Gary hopes to continue to stay involved with Quantum LEAP in retirement. While he’s looking forward to family fishing trips when relatives return to town, he reminds all LEAP supporters he’s only a phone call away and wants to continue to stay involved.
“Gary’s contributions over the past 40 years have helped LEAP shape and hold steadfast to our mission to create opportunities for full inclusion for people with disabilities,” Melanie said. “A central figure in LEAP’s founding as a social justice and service-oriented agency, Gary will forever remain a cherished member of our organization.”