A mother’s intuition leads to Chandler’s volunteer of the year - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

A mother’s intuition leads to Chandler’s volunteer of the year

April 4th, 2019 development
A mother’s intuition leads to Chandler’s volunteer of the year


An innate maternal need to help her child find happiness years ago ultimately won Cathy Yamashiro two volunteer-of-the-year awards during Disability Awareness Month.
But her passion to see people thrive has driven her to donate countless hours on behalf of the disabled community for over 13 years.
For her uncompromising view on the importance of inclusivity and her determination to make disabled people feel loved, Yamashiro was honored by the Chandler Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and Wells Fargo Arizona. She also received $1,000 that she said she plans on donating to the nonprofit Recreation and Athletics for Individuals with Disabilities (RAD).
“It’s nice to help the community grow, and help the city grow in the right way as far as being diverse,” said Yamashiro.
Disability Awareness Month, proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, is aimed at recognizing nationally those with cognitive differences, their families, caretakers and teachers. It also is intended to promote the importance of inclusivity for those with special needs in daily work, school and recreational activities.
According to a report last year by the state Department of Economic Security, 606,166 individuals of all ages were living with a disability in Maricopa County. That includes 159,765 people with a cognitive disability that involves mild to severe intellectual and behavioral struggles. Cognitive disabilities can be genetic or the result of traumatic brain injury.
Because her son, Matthew, 28, has a cognitive impairment and is learning disabled, Yamashiro years ago looked for communities that would accept her son and provide him with a network of friends.
Matthew eventually was enrolled in the City of Chandler’s Therapeutic Recreation program, which offers various opportunities for individuals with disabilities to socialize while learning and partaking in sports such as basketball, cheerleading, bowling, golf, track and field, and many more.
The program also helps residents get ready to compete in the Special Olympics – which commanded Matthew’s attention almost immediately.
Yamashiro said she noticed Matthew’s attraction to the many sports the Special Olympics offered and the endless opportunities her son would have to create and foster friendships with peers.
But in the midst of the excitement she had for her son’s newfound hobbies and companions, she made what she called a “heartbreaking discovery.”
While the program and Special Olympics Arizona help facilitate the venues for competitions, things such as uniforms and equipment come at an additional cost that many individuals cannot afford.
“There are quite a few individuals with disabilities who just don’t have the means to pay for these social events,” Yamashiro said. “Those with disabilities live off of fixed incomes where sometimes the most an individual will receive is $700 a month. They live in care homes so they don’t really have any money left over for recreation and athletics.”
As soon as Yamashiro encountered others without the means to pay for the necessary supplies to partake in sports, she made it her mission to seek out an organization that funded recreation for the disabled community and spread her knowledge of the resource to other families.
“I was always one of those moms who wanted to see these special individuals be involved, get active and get social,” Yamashiro said. “So that’s how I found out about RAD.”
RAD covers the cost of any and all equipment necessary for various sports for disabled individuals, contributes to the city’s stash of recreational equipment and acts as a medium to connect volunteer coaches to players.
Although her involvement in RAD began as a concerned parent, today Yamashiro spreads RAD’s message as a board member while overseeing some of the nonprofit’s largest fundraisers.
As a board member, she helps raise roughly 40 percent of all RAD funds annually through donations, which allow the organization to support about 400 individuals with disabilities.
As a result of Yamashiro’s involvement with the organization, more athletes have been able to participate in several of the city’s athletic and leisure events than ever before.
“If you go to a Special Olympics event, you will see Chandler has the largest participation and I think it’s because we have a group like RAD helping to pay for these services,” she said.
She added that an increasing number of people are seeking RAD’s services from outside of Chandler including areas like Gilbert, Ahwatukee and Florence.
“We don’t turn anyone away. We try to do what we can to ensure [everyone] can still be active and social and have a place to go no matter the reason why they are seeking our help.”
Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke said Yamashiro’s “work of educating others about people with disabilities helps to break down barriers to show what is possible when we accept and support people for who they are.”
Yamashiro also works as a business initiatives consultant with Wells Fargo in Chandler. The company allows employees to take two days off a year to give back to the community.
Yamashiro hopes to expand her outreach.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers and donations, so I encourage community members to go to [RAD’s] website to learn more about how they can help,” said Yamashiro.