Thursday morning was a very special day for a special organization serving people with special needs.

Jeff Ashcraft, president/CEO of the former Handicapped Development Center (HDC), led a boisterous mini-pep rally before board members, employees and about 200 participants of the 54-year-old nonprofit to unveil a new name and logo for what is now Empowering Abilities.

Many Empowering Abilities participants cheered the new announcement outside the main center, 3402 Hickory Grove Road, Davenport, on Nov. 16, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The board has worked over the past year to rebrand the organization, to more accurately reflect what it does and who it serves – namely about 365 people in Scott County with special needs, across multiple facilities with nearly 400 staff (full- and part-time).

They went out to the community, to its business partners, family members, employees and participants and asked their impressions of the former HDC.

“You told us, you thought we were awesome; we were vital to the community,” Ashcraft said. “Family members told us the were so blessed there as an organization like HDC in the community.”

When he asked the participants at Thursday’s event whether they liked the word “handicapped,” they shouted, “No!!”

Empowering Abilities was founded in 1969 as Area Development Center (in the early ’70s renamed Handicapped Development Center) to serve people with special needs.

Not only is it outdated, it emphasizes what you can’t do as opposed to what you can, Ashcraft said. The word “center” also doesn’t reflect exactly what they do – including how active the clients are in the community, such as all the jobs they hold, he said.

The board directed staff to come up with a new brand, and partnered with LeClaire-based MindFire Communications to realize the new vision.

“It’s about how we think about people with disabilities,” Ashcraft said. “It’s more about what you can do, and not what you can’t do. By the way, we all have disabilities. Everybody here has a disability – I have a screw in this knew; I wear glasses. I have disabilities just like everybody here does.”

Empowering Abilities president/CEO Jeff Ashcraft showing off the new logo and tag line at a special announcement Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

He introduced the new name and logo on a big Empowering Abilities truck – with the tag line, “Creating Opportunities. Changing Lives.”

Being strong, independent

“We like the name because empowering is about being strong,” Ashcraft said. “Empowering is about being someone who sets their own course and decides their own future, which is what all of us want, right?”

“Do we change your lives?” he asked, to shouts of approval. “Guys, that’s not true. We may impact your life, but you guys change our lives every single day. We want to thank you for that very much.”

About 200 participants (of 365 currently served by the nonprofit) attended Thursday’s announcement (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Empowering Abilities likes the contemporary logo with a star figure, because it points towards the future, Ashcraft said.

“We are respecting who we are today and are looking toward the future., and that’s why we love this logo,” he said, and showed a new promotional video explaining the organization. They empower people to achieve their absolute best.

A new promotional video from Empowering Abilities.

“We are really a special organization, in that we get to work with a very special population – that sometimes society forgets about, but is so necessary,” Ashcraft says in the video. “We’re very blessed that our community has supported us for as long as they have.”

Empowering Abilities has 24/7 residential facilities, including one in northwest Davenport, and supportive community living. They offer Daily Discovery, on the west side of Davenport and on Brady Street, to give people a variety of activities to stay active.

They also offer employment services, to help participants get jobs in the community, and an enterprise program to give jobs with Empowering Abilities.

Jeff Ashcraft has been president/CEO of Empowering Abilities for nine years and served on the board 13 years before that (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Our staff is so dedicated – many of them have been here 30 to 40 years,” Ashcraft (the CEO for nine years, after serving 13 on the former HDC board) said. “The staff who come in every day and make the mission happen are just as inspiring as the participants we serve on a daily basis.”

“It is a very exciting time for us at Empowering Abilities,” he says in the video, noting they recently totally revamped the multi-purpose room at their main center (at 3402 Hickory Grove Road), with new colorful vinyl walls from Edwards Creative.

“We are very proud of the longevity and steadiness of the organization, while at the same time trying to make sure we’re not stuck in the past,” Ashcraft says in the video. “Not only have we been here for 50-plus years, but we are here for the next 50-plus years, making sure we’re matching the needs of the participants we serve – helping them create the opportunities they need to succeed, to grow, and to be happy.”

The main multi-purpose room was redesigned in the past few weeks (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Participant Zach Weeks is interviewed in the video, mentioning how happy he is to have a part-time job at the Cinemark movie theater in Davenport.

The impetus for the name change has been discussed for about 20 years, he said later.

“It was just too big, but finally last year, I said it’s time to rip the Band-Aid off,” Ashcraft said. “It’s time to do it, because they’re telling us to do it. The market’s telling us to do it.”

It will help improve the public’s perception of people with special needs.

“I grew up coming out here; I had a brother who was a participant, who passed away in the mid-‘80s,” Ashcraft said. “The word ‘handicapped’ to them isn’t a pleasant word. It doesn’t describe who they are and what they can do. To have name now more reflective of the services we provide, for the participants we serve, is so important.”

Members of the Davenport Police Association served a free Thanksgiving meal after Thursday’s announcement (photo by Jonathan Turner).

He asked all the participants (who kept the secret since August) Thursday to tear off the HDC logo from their blue T-shirts, revealing their Empowering Abilities logo.

Thursday’s announcement was capped by a visit from Santa and members of the Davenport Police Association, serving a Thanksgiving meal. A current promotion the group is having is a raffle (tickets $50 each) to win four tickets to the Packers-Bears game Jan. 7 at Lambeau Field, including a private plane from the Davenport airport to the game and back.

To purchase raffle tickets, contact Lexi Keppy at 563-391-4834. For more information on this and Empowering Abilities overall, visit the new website HERE.