Yesterday, Edwin T. “Ned” Drew of Warwick was awarded the second annual Fogarty-Olean Advocacy Award from the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), for his nearly 50 years of volunteer efforts for the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center.
Trudeau Center president and CEO Don Armstrong said Drew has been significantly instrumental as a volunteer at, and an advocate for, the Center. When asked by BHDDH for potential nominees for the award, Drew was Armstrong’s first choice.
“Seldom in anyone’s life do you meet a person who significantly and continuously puts the needs of others before his own,” said Armstrong in a phone interview last week.
Drew admits that he is overwhelmed, humbled and a bit embarrassed by the honor.
“So many others have done so much more,” said Drew in a phone interview. “This is an emotional thing for me. There’ve been a lot of hard-fought battles over the years.”
This award is given out in March in recognition of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Armstrong, along with leaders of other agencies related to behavioral health, was asked by BHDDH to nominate individuals they “considered to be instrumental in being an advocate.” Drew immediately came to mind, and Armstrong wrote a letter detailing Drew’s professional leadership, work reducing stigma, and efforts for empowerment and recovery.
In his letter, Armstrong writes, “On a personal note, it was important to Ned that children with disabilities had the same opportunities as his own family members. Whether it was through the purchase of a bicycle or lending “fatherly” advice, Ned paved the way for inclusion and acceptance through his own actions.”
“He’s been working with this organization for a very long time,” said Armstrong of Drew, who has been a volunteer at Trudeau since inception and a board member since 1981.
A lifelong resident of Warwick, Drew remembers when the organization was in the early stages of formation.
“Everyone in Warwick knew about it,” he said.
The founders were using space within the Warwick Central Baptist Church, where Drew was a member, as a meeting place. “The church had several families that had children with disabilities,” said Drew.
Drew joined the group in the mid-70s.
“It was so simple, it’s almost humorous,” said Drew.
At that time Drew delivered a sermon to the congregation in celebration of Men’s Sunday; a parent involved with Trudeau thought Drew would make a good board member.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try,’” said Drew.
He attended his first meeting and remembers feeling like he was completely in over his head; Drew does not have children with disabilities, and many of the topics and acronyms were foreign to him. But after one conversation with Evelyn Trudeau, he stuck with it. Evelyn was the wife of Arthur J. Trudeau for whom the center is named.
“We became very close friends,” said Drew.
Over the years Drew has helped the center grow and talking with him for even just a few minutes, it is obvious the impact it has had on his own life.
“It’s been a great run and a great experience for me,” said Drew.
Drew said he and others involved in the center are very proud that they can now provide services from birth to death, and that the center has grown to a $2.5 million business providing for 1,800 individuals.
Drew remembers working to close the Ladd School early in his time with Trudeau, but he has also seen the start of Early Intervention to help newborns, the start of successful group homes, Trudeau athletes compete in Special Olympics, and even the start of a geriatric program for elderly individuals with disabilities.
“We have to be in the geriatric business. We didn’t plan to be, but we have to be,” said Drew.
Drew served as vice president of Trudeau in 1984 and president in 1988; according to Armstrong’s nomination letter, Drew was the first president to serve beyond his term due to a board-voted amendment to the by-laws.
Armstrong recalls Drew being dedicated to not only closing the Ladd School, but also in continuing to provide quality living for those with the center. When hearing about poor quality group homes, Drew does not just say it needs to be fixed; he visits every home and makes sure the problem is addressed.
“When he sees something, he will call you. He’s a very special person," said Armstrong. “He’s a very quite person; he’s never looking to be in the limelight.”
But Drew was in the spotlight briefly for yesterday’s award ceremony. Drew was honored to receive the Fogarty-Olean Advocacy Award, named for two individuals he knew.
“It’s very exciting for the division to be giving out this award,” said Drew.