John Gajda To Be Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award


TARC’s Executive Director, John Gajda, will be receiving the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s 28th Annual Advocacy Awards and Volunteer Recognition event on December 11. The award will be renamed the John Gajda Legacy Award in honor of John’s passionate support and fervent advocacy for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.


Since joining TARC (Tulsa Advocates for the Rights of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities) in January of 1990, John has focused on building the organization’s advocacy activities and has developed and secured funding for programs which support self-advocacy (People First), monitor residential services (OK AIM), train future disability leaders (Oklahoma Partners in Policy Making), and provide volunteer guardianship services (ARCCorps). Highlighting specific program accomplishments:

  • The OK AIM Program (Oklahoma Advocates Involved in Monitoring) is the oldest, continuously operated statewide volunteer consumer service monitoring program in the nation. Since 1991, OK AIM has recruited, trained, and coordinated volunteers who visit state supported residential homes throughout Oklahoma to check on the quality of life of individuals with I/DD provided by private provider agencies.
  • For 20 years (1996-2016) the ARCCORPS Program recruited, trained and supported independent volunteers who served as advocates or guardians for individuals with disabilities who do not have involved family members.
  • During John’s tenure, TARC administered the first VISTA project in Oklahoma that employed people with I/DD. From 1995-97, this project supported teams which went on to become People First chapters throughout Oklahoma; and in doing so, it established the foundation for the self-advocacy movement in OK while helping to address the stigma against people with I/DD.

Under John’s leadership, TARC has grown from three employees and an operating budget of less than $100,000 to a major force in advocacy for people with I/DD in Oklahoma. At its high point, TARC employed 21 staff with offices in three cities managing an operating budget of more than $1.1 million. Through the end of the 2017 fiscal year, TARC has administered more than $15m worth of contracts from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Developmental Disabilities Services.

John has served on numerous councils and committees. He currently serves on the statutorily mandated Advisory Committee on Developmental Disability Services that advices the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services on programs for people with I/DD in Oklahoma. John is also serving on the Consumer Advisory Committee of the UCEDD/OK-Lend program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. This is the federally funded University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities in Oklahoma. For the past 8 years, John has served on the Tulsa Mosaic Taskforce on diversity coordinated by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce where he continually helps guide the inclusion of disability as an aspect of diversity, a key component of the taskforce.

Now in its 28th year, John established the TARC Advocacy Awards and Volunteer Recognition event in 1991 as an opportunity to recognize the good work that is being done in Oklahoma by individuals addressing issues that impact the lives of people with developmental disabilities. This awards ceremony gives credit to disability advocacy champions and encourages others to follow in these role models footsteps.

During his 44 year career, John has been an inspiration to many in the community and has made a substantial impact on the lives of those with disabilities and we hope you can join us at the Advocacy awards to extend best wishes to John as he prepares for retirement. For information on how to reserve seats, Click here.



Introducing the 28th Annual Advocacy Awards Keynote Speaker

We are honored to introduce our 28th Annual Advocacy Awards keynote speaker, Peter Berns!


Mr. Berns will be speaking about issues affecting people with disabilities from the national perspective at our awards ceremony on Dec. 11th.

Peter Berns is a nationally recognized nonprofit sector leader and public interest lawyer who was named Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the United States in July 2008. Prior to his appointment at The Arc, Mr. Berns served as the Executive Director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Berns has extensive advocacy experience, including federal and state trial and appellate litigation, federal and state legislative and regulatory advocacy, community organizing and grassroots advocacy, and media, public and community relations.  Mr. Berns also has extensive expertise in the governance and management of nonprofit organizations and associations.

In 2011 he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities where he continues to serve.  He has been named six times to the Nonprofit Times’ Power and Influence Top 50 list, most recently in 2015. A frequent lecturer, facilitator, consultant and trainer, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University.  Mr. Berns has a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an LL.M from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.

We are lucky to have him as our speaker this year and look forward to the information he has to share with us.

Click here to RSVP/purchase tickets to the 28th Annual Advocacy Awards and Volunteer Recognition Ceremony.

Nominations for 2018 Advocacy Awards Now Accepted


Every year, TARC has the honor of recognizing those who have provided outstanding service and advocacy for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities.

Please take the time to nominate one or more individuals/organizations that you believe deserve to be recognized for their efforts in helping others. Winners for the 28th Annual TARC Advocacy Awards will be honored at the awards ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at the Marriot Hotel Southern Hills in Tulsa.



There are 13 categories in which nominees can be considered for an award.

Every recipient of the award categories listed below has done something remarkable in helping TARC achieve its mission of ensuring a high quality of life for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities and their families.

Anyone can nominate advocates for an award by scrolling down and following the link to the nomination form. Nominations are due by Oct.19.


Award Categories:

  • Advocate – Board Member
    Recognizes a member of the board of directors of any non-profit, community based service provider who has gone beyond the interest of his or her agency to become an advocate for all people with disabilities.
  • Advocate – Case Manager
    Recognizes the OKDHS/DDS case manager who has surpassed job requirements to advocate for his or her clients.
  • Advocate – Direct Care Provider
    Recognizes the direct contact staff person working for a community provider, who has gone beyond job requirements to advocate for people with disabilities.
  • Advocate – Educator
    Recognizes a public school educator who has promoted the inclusion of children with disabilities in regular school settings.
  • Advocate – Professional Provider
    Recognizes any professional such as a therapist or physician who advocates for people with disabilities beyond their professional responsibilities.
  • Advocate – Volunteer
    Recognizes the volunteer or group of volunteers who, in a program serving people with developmental disabilities, has gone beyond the call of duty to advocate.
  • Elected Official
    Recognizes an elected official who has effectively promoted better understanding and integration of people with disabilities in employment, education, and the community.
  • Self-Advocate
    Recognizes the self-advocate who has spoken out for all people with disabilities.
  • Media Advocate
    Recognizes the media professional who has effectively promoted better understanding and integration of people with disabilities living in the community.
  • Parent Advocate
    Recognizes the parent(s) of a person with developmental disabilities who has been a voice for all people with disabilities.
  • Special Achievement in Advocacy
    Recognizes the individual, business, or organization not included in other categories, which through a significant advocacy effort has improved the lives of people with disabilities.
  • Catalyst of Change
    Recognizes individuals, groups or  organizations that have been catalysts for significant positive change in improving the lives of Oklahomans with developmental disabilities over a long period of time.
  • Shelby Hard Courage in Advocacy
    Recognizes individuals who have faced extreme challenges while still advocating for others.


TARC reserves the right to withhold an award in any category in which an insufficient number of qualified nominations are submitted. A selection committee composed of prominent Oklahoma advocates in the field of developmental disabilities will make the final decision on Advocacy Award winners.

2018 Advocacy Awards Nomination Form