Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities has been part of the Fort Wayne community for 76 years now, opening its doors to Hoosiers of all abilities to come together and celebrate the things that unite us as opposed to the things that can divide us.
This largely community-funded nonprofit has committed itself over the past several decades to providing a space and resources for Hoosiers with disabilities in the Fort Wayne area.
“Its mission is to empower people with disabilities to achieve their highest potential and what that looks like,” Stasha Carrasquillo, chief marketing officer at Turnstone, said.
Empowerment at Turnstone can come in many forms. For some, it may come from the organization’s day program or memory care where participants can socialize or the various therapy options available to help them work toward an active lifestyle.
For others, they find their joy and confidence on a field or a court. In recent years, Turnstone has established itself as one of the go-to spots in the country for competitive athletic events by becoming an annual host of the Turnstone Endeavor Games.
Each year athletes from all over the United States take their talents to the Plassman Athletic Center on the Turnstone campus to face off and compete for a spot at the top in sports like archery, wheelchair basketball and swimming. While some may be attending just to have some fun in a sport they love, others have loftier goals in mind as the Endeavor Games serve as a national qualifier for upper-level competitions.
Athletic prowess appears to be a year-round thing at Turnstone, though, as three of its teams, competing in sled hockey and wheelchair basketball are currently in the midst of competing for national championship titles, which the teams have taken back to Fort Wayne many times before.
“I think sports really encompass the epitome of the human spirit,” Carrasquillo said. “I think everyone should be able to experience what that feels like. It requires so much determination and dedication just like mainstream sports, so it’s really no different, just adapted a bit.”
Turnstone is about to up the ante even more this summer, Carrasquillo pointed out, as Fort Wayne will host the International Blind Sports Association’s goalball and judo qualifiers. An estimated 400 athletes from 40 different countries, all eyeing a potential spot at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, will make it the largest international event to take place in Fort Wayne, according to Carrasquillo.
“These athletes represent the potential that most people with disabilities have that are sometimes dismissed,” Carrasquillo said. “This gives Turnstone and Fort Wayne the opportunity to show that regardless of your skill level or what your individual skills might be, there’s so much appreciation to be had.”
Pairing its growing popularity as a headquarters for the Endeavor Games, with its reputation as a long-standing pillar in the Fort Wayne community, Turnstone has found other ways to level the playing field. Serving as the voice for an often under-represented population of Fort Wayne residents, Turnstone has been given a “prime seat,” at the table for many of the discussions the city is having about new growth and developments. They are able to bring to light concerns or suggestions to tweak certain plans in a way that make sure new features, such as the riverfront, are accessible for all to enjoy.
“Turnstone has been at the forefront, if not ahead, of those conversations from the get-go,” Carrasquillo said. “The growth of our organization has very closely followed the progression of disability rights and accessibility in our country and that national conversation.”
While there is still room for improvement, Carrasquillo said, namely in regards to making public transportation more accessible to residents with disabilities. Carrasquillo realizes that many of the ideas and plans brought to the table in the name of accessibility take time and often a decent amount of capital, but the progress made, however incremental, is still an encouraging fact.
“Our vision is to help create a world that values people based on their abilities and not their disabilities,” Carrasquillo said. “A lot of the programs focus on looking past their disabilities and looking at their strengths and helping them really flourish within those.”