STRIDE Gala honors Mary Thompson for disability empowerment work 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

On the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, residents of the Greenbrier Valley gathered at the world’s first fully accessible hotel, The Schoolhouse, to launch a new non-profit dedicated to disability empowerment. 

The new non-profit is called STRIDE (Supporting, Transforming Rights, Inclusion, and Disability Empowerment). A vision of the Disability Opportunity Fund (DOF), the organization will raise funds and provide programs for people with disabilities.

Charlie Hammermann is the founder of the DOF, who financed The Schoolhouse Hotel. Their vision is to combine economic development with advancing the cause of disabled citizens. 

“Partnerships are the key,” he said to a room of several hundred in the ballroom. “First Citizens Bank was crucial to our success, and it’s our honor to celebrate Mary Thompson.” 

Mary is the Financial Sales Manager at First Citizens Bank, with 35 years of experience in the field. Her customers, colleagues, and family spoke eloquently about Mary’s dedication to the people she serves. 

“She’s always striving to do better for others,” Kevin Tuckwiller said. “That’s just Mary.”

Sonja Cole is Mary’s co-worker, and both have recently battled cancer. “She’s been a lifesaver for me. She’s a fabulous person.” 

Mary’s husband Bob put it succinctly, saying, “The most important person to Mary is the one in front of her right then.” 

With those testimonies, STRIDE recognized Mary as their inaugural disability empowerment honoree. She received a standing ovation from the packed ballroom, and took the podium to speak. 

“The only true disability is the inability to accept differences,” she counseled the crowd. “Just because someone is different does not mean they are less. We are fortunate to have so much here to help people where we live. Now we have STRIDE to help people with disabilities.”

The gala raised funds via donations and raffles supported by local businesses such as Adam Whanger Contracting, ACE Hardware, Crabtree Rohrbaugh, & Associates, Tootsie’s Place, Barnwood Living, Caring Acres Farms, The Schoolhouse Hotel, Sweet Cedar & Co, Mountain Steer, and more. Hammermann said all funds raised would go to STRIDE for programming to empower disabled citizens of the Greenbrier Valley. 

“Everyone has potential,” Thompson concluded. “Different does not mean less.”

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