by — Mary Helen Darah
The Ability Center’s Tim Harrington is retiring after 22 years as executive director and 29 years as an employee of the agency. Harrington’s history with the organization dates to being a member of the inaugural class at Opportunity Kindergarten later called The Ability Center. He was a camper at Camp Cricket, an inclusive camp for kids with disabilities. Later, he was named the director of development and eventually became the executive director of the agency in 2000.
Harrington led the organization through many local and nationally recognized advocacy victories including transitioning 850 people living in institutions out of nursing homes. He also launched the nation’s first bachelor’s degree in disability studies at the University of Toledo and instituted a first-of-its-kind employment partnership with the Toledo Museum of Art. Most recently, The Ability Center has made a pledge to become the most disability-friendly community in the country by developing partnerships within the areas of housing, transportation, education, health care, accessible spaces, employment, and social opportunities.
Harrington is most proud of helping individuals with disabilities live with greater independence. “I am also thrilled we are providing a direction forward for high school students with disabilities,” he said. “I am also so pleased that local organizations like the Mud Hens, Imagination Station and Metroparks Toledo, seek out our guidance when planning for guests with disabilities at their events.”
After two decades of positively impacting the community in numerous ways, Harrington believes that one of the most significant changes that have occurred in his tenure is the removal of physical barriers for those living with disabilities. He stated, “Many of the physical barriers have been replaced with ramps and curb cuts. Older public places have greater challenges for those with disabilities. It has been so rewarding seeing the positive progression to making all guests feel welcome.”
The organization has been making independence possible for 100 years and Harrington believes the organization will continue to thrive under new leadership. “My hope is The Ability Center, and the community as a whole will continue to make strides in becoming the most disability-friendly community in the country.”
New executive director named
Stuart James will be the new executive director of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, beginning Oct. 4. Following an extensive nationwide search that began in November 2020, James was selected to lead the organization into its next century of service supporting individuals with disabilities. Tim Harrington is retiring after 22 years as executive director and 29 years as an employee of the agency
James was most recently the executive director at the historic Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, Calif. During his seven-year tenure, he reinforced the vision of a truly inclusive world and nearly tripled the organization’s endowment. James led the organization in developing and updating programs, including an expanded assistive technology program, new Lifestyles events, a life-changing Residential Access program, and the evolution of a comprehensive youth program.
The search committee stated, “We looked for candidates with a history of empowering individuals and challenging systemic barriers. Our goal was to conduct a nationwide search to find candidates with experience in leadership positions, who embraced the independent living philosophy, and have a passion for serving the disability community.”
Director James said, “It’s an incredible honor to be named the executive director at The Ability Center. This organization has successfully served the Greater Toledo area and northern Ohio for more than 100 years, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this wonderful group of people as we begin the next century of service. My family and I are looking forward to settling into the community, and my twin 3-year-olds are looking forward to introducing themselves to the puppies.”
Harrington explained, “I am confident in the incoming leadership’s ability to bring fresh and energetic programming to The Ability Center and continue the momentum we have achieved. Stuart understands the history, philosophy and mission of the organization and will build on our legacy of success. As a member of the disability community, I am ensured the organization will be in good hands.”