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Leslie DeDora, founder, Executive Director, and Program Director for A Touch of Understanding (ATOU) has been named a recipient of a USA Network 2013 Characters Unite Awards.

USA Network today (June 10) will unveil the 10 recipients of its 2013 Characters Unite Awards. The winners, selected for their efforts in combating hate, intolerance and discrimination worldwide and in their respective communities, receive a $5,000 grant from USA Network and participating local distributors to support their projects or related nonprofit organizations.

They also will feature in a public-service announcement on air, online at charactersunite.com and via a social media promotion campaign.

“We applaud these ten incredible role models for the tremendous contributions they have made in their communities,” Toby Graff, senior vice president, public affairs at USA Network, said. “They truly embody the Characters Unite mission with their dedication to combating discrimination and promoting greater acceptance. With these grants and recognition, we are proud to help each honoree expand their important efforts.” 

The 2013 Characters Unite Award Recipients and their sponsors (in parentheses) are:

George Garcia, Clearwater, Fla., executive director, Suncoast-High Point YMCA (Bright House Networks); Linda Michalski, Chatham, N.J., teacher, Benedictine Academy (Cablevision Systems); Linda Hooper, Whitwell, Tenn., public speaker and former principal, Whitwell Middle School (Charter); Steve Bandura, Philadelphia, Pa. (pictured), coach and recreation leader, Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation, and director, Philadelphia Youth Organization (Comcast); Carrie Severson, Scottsdale, Ariz., CEO, founder and leader, Severson Sisters (Cox); Jamie Boersma, Des Moines, Iowa, CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa (Mediacom); Eric I. Lu, Los Angeles, Calif., founder, The Jubilee Project (Time Warner Cable); Leslie DeDora, Granite Bay, Calif., founder, executive director and program director, A Touch of Understanding; Patrick Burke, Boston, Mass., co-founder, You Can Play Project; and Petty Hunter, Abilene, Texas, president, Abilene Chapter, NAACP, and executive director, Neighborhoods in Progress (Suddenlink).

Leslie DeDora

Granite Bay, CA
Founder, Executive Director and Program Directo, A Touch of Understanding

Leslie DeDora is the founder, Executive Director, and Program Director for A Touch of Understanding (ATOU). In the early 1990s, while working as an elementary school instructional aide, Leslie saw an unmet educational need in the area of disability awareness. Leslie’s goal was to give students the opportunity to “walk a mile in the shoes” of someone with a disability. She believed that by fostering increased empathy and understanding for students with disabilities, all students would benefit. As a result, Leslie, along with her father, Edward Ennis, created and piloted A Touch of Understanding.

Leslie has extensive experience with children and with individuals with disabilities. She is a mother and grandmother, and has been a tutor, instructional aide, and special education aide. As a niece of a woman with developmental disabilities, Leslie had an understanding of disabilities at an early age and actively befriended her peers with disabilities. The time she spent with these friends gave Leslie new insight into their challenges, fears, and aspirations. Leslie created A Touch of Understanding because she values a person’s integrity and worth based on who they are, not on their appearance or physical ability.

Since incorporation as a nonprofit agency in 1996, with the support of a small dedicated staff and a team of volunteers, Leslie has presented ATOU’s disability-awareness school workshop to more than 57,000 students in Northern California. In addition, ATOU now has a Youth F.O.R.C.E. (“Friends Offering Respect ~ Creating Empowerment”), a group of children and young people, with and without disabilities, who gather monthly for leadership, social and community service opportunities.

Leslie has received numerous awards for her service to children and her dedication to individuals with disabilities including 1998 Heroes in Healthcare Community Service Award from Health Communications Research Institute, Inc., 2001 Proclamation from the California Governor’s Office for efforts in disability awareness, 2006 Bank of America Neighborhood Initiative Local Hero Award, the 2009 Make a Difference Award, Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, Roseville City School District and the 2013 Putting Children First Award, Kids First (formerly Child Abuse Prevention Council), Roseville, CA.

Under her leadership, A Touch of Understanding received the 2011 Business Excellence Nonprofit Achievement Award, Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce.