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Yes I Can! Endowment Fund: What it Means for a Child, a Family, a Teacher and a Community

photo of Amy Braddock

Ms. Amy Braddock, a special educator at Harwood Elementary School, West Fargo Public Schools, North Dakota, has for twelve years served in various roles throughout the district, including Assistive Technology Specialist, high school comprehensive student support program teacher, and elementary special education teacher. Amy has served as Past-President of the North Dakota Council for Exceptional Children Unit and currently serves as co-chair of CEC’s Leadership Development Committee.   

Amy sees the best and the potential in each of the children she serves, and for that matter, in all children.  This became clear in 2023 when she nominated one of her students for the CEC Yes I Can! national student awards program. The Yes I Can Award celebrates the achievements of children and youth with exceptionalities, encouraging them to live to their highest potential while also increasing public awareness of the abilities, aspirations, and personal qualities of children and youth with disabilities. 

Amy’s student, Duane O’Neill, Harwood, ND, received the 2023 Yes I Can Award for Academics.  In his nomination, it states, “When Duane entered elementary school as a kindergartner, he was overwhelmed by the classroom environment and unable to participate for several months. However, Duane had goals and worked with his teachers and faculty to find routines and communication styles that suited him. Thanks to this steadfast dedication, as a fourth grader, he now spends most of his day in the classroom with his peers. Duane enjoys lunchtime in the cafeteria, willingly engaging with his fellow students. He not only participates in group work but can be found participating in spontaneous communication with his peers and staff members.”  

In Ms. Braddock’s words, “Duane thrives on the school routine. He loves coming to school and is a light in the building. He brings smiles to his peers and the building staff. Duane has had a positive impact on his peers by showing that having a disability does not deter a person from participating fully with their class.”  

So what is the impact of the CEC Yes I Can! student awards program on a student, a family, a teacher, and a community?  And how can you, as a member or friend of CEC, support this important awards program, one that celebrates the amazing accomplishments of children and youth with exceptionalities?  


all the winners for the yes i can awrds standing on stage


In an interview with Ms. Braddock, we explored these and other questions about the Yes I Can! awards program.  

Question: When were you first engaged with the CEC Yes I Can! Program?  How did you hear about the Yes I Can! Student awards program?  

Amy: I was first introduced to this program as an attendee at the North Dakota State Unit annual conference. I was new to CEC and attending my first conference. A Yes I Can! recipient was recognized at the awards ceremony via Skype. The teacher and parents shared the amazing work this student had done!  

Question: How has your state unit (ND) been engaged with the YIC program over the years?  What specific role have you played in your role as a state CEC leader? 

Amy: Our state unit utilizes funds to support YIC winners for travel and expenses to attend the national awards ceremony. Our unit does not have a state program but does support and encourage educators to nominate to the YIC program.  

Question: Is this the first time you have nominated one of your students for this national CEC award?  

Amy: Yes, it was! And I would gladly do it again.  

Question: Can you describe the process you followed? 

Amy: I nominated directly through the national process and worked with my team to respond to the application questions. We each reviewed and edited in order to provide an accurate picture of the student’s growth and success within the school. I also reached out to the student’s family as soon as I thought this child was a good person to nominate for the award. The family was on board and supportive of the process.  

Question: Was the process comfortable for you, your collegial nominators/school/district colleagues?  Family?  

Amy: The process was very comfortable to complete. It was fun to work on it as a team and to challenge our thinking in answering the question, “How do we describe this student we know so well to the public?”  

Question: Was the student recognized at the local and/or state level?  Was your student honored at the local school level?  

Amy: We had a big celebration at our school building. It was such a fun event! Parents, district administrators, the entire school building, and local media were present. We shared snippets of the nomination and presented him with the award and special gifts along with a specially selected gift from our Parent Teacher Organization.  

Question: What support was offered to the family (financial or otherwise) to attend a state-level, or national-level awards program?   

Amy: The family was offered the stipend from the national program as well as a stipend for travel from our school’s Parent Teacher Organization.  

Question: What impact did the YIC award have on the student recipient?  The family?  The school community?  

Amy: The student was so honored to receive the award. Since our school celebration, he has shown so much more confidence in his daily routines. The staff were brought to (happy) tears to honor and celebrate a student in our district. It is not often that we get to celebrate students with exceptionalities in this way.  

group of people standing in a school gym


Question: As you think about the YIC! national awards program, why and how do you feel the YIC! program supports the vision, mission, and strategic goals of CEC?  

Amy: The YIC awards are always a highlight of the CEC annual convention. With CEC’s mission being “High-quality education that is inclusive and equitable for individuals with disabilities,” the YIC awards showcase the individuals we advocate for in our daily work. By highlighting our young individuals who have demonstrated achievements in their schools and communities, we are demonstrating the value of high-quality education programming in helping our students achieve great things.  

Question: How does the YIC award program “live” within the vision of our founder, Elizabeth E. Farrell? 

Amy: The YIC program creates a legacy of celebrating exceptional children. Elizabeth “deemed no child too atypical to be neglected”, and the YIC awards certainly do not neglect. By honoring our children who are demonstrating success in their schools and communities, we are carrying out Elizabeth’s vision of supporting students in all environments.  

Question: What message would you like to share with your CEC colleagues in encouraging them to support, both in nominating a student candidate for the 2024 YIC! Awards program…and, in donating to the Yes I Can! Endowment Fund? 

Amy: By nominating a child for a YIC award, you are showing them, and their families, that they are capable of overcoming obstacles, are deserving of recognition for their efforts, and are important to their peers, schools, and communities. The smiles on their faces and the faces of anyone attending the awards ceremony say it all – YES THEY CAN! I highly encourage you to nominate a student who is doing wonderful things.  

You can also continue to support this program by donating to the Yes I Can! Endowment Fund. Your donation impacts the lives of children who are fulfilling their dreams and exceeding expectations. Your donation supports the legacy of Elizabeth E. Farrell and the work of the Council for Exceptional Children – supporting and advocating for youth with exceptionalities.  


Amy, well said!   

For more information about the Yes I Can! Endowment Fund and the other four CEC Endowment Funds (Advocacy Fund, Diversity Fund, Fund for the Future, Rising Star Fund), please visit the links below… 

Yes I Can! Nominations link: 

To Donate: 

Posted:  18 September, 2023

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