State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) received the Humanitarian of the Year award from STAR, Inc. for “her commitment to Connecticut citizens with special needs and their families,” a press release from the organization said. The award was presented Oct. 26, during STAR, Inc.’s annual membership meeting at its headquarters in Norwalk.

STAR is a nonprofit organization that serves individuals of all ages with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides support services to their families. The organization provides services in Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. STAR creates opportunities for individuals to live full lives with independence, freedom of choice, and personal growth through support, services, and advocacy.

“It is my privilege to present the STAR Humanitarian Award to our friend, Rep. Gail Lavielle, for her tireless commitment to citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families,” said Katie Banzhaf, executive director of STAR, Inc. “If you know Gail, you know that she represents people with special needs throughout the whole state. As one of the earliest members of the legislature’s I/DD Caucus, she has fought and continues to fight for birth-to-three services, education, respite services, and housing. She spends hours in Hartford and here in our district listening to families’ stories and advising parents on how to proceed. These families are facing an uphill battle with repeated budget cuts, legislative restorations, and more budget cuts again. Gail is a tireless advocate for the people we serve, and we know she is always there for us.”

“I am honored and very moved to receive the Humanitarian Award from STAR, Inc., an organization that is beloved and respected in our communities, and a model for how an effective community nonprofit should operate,” Lavielle said. “There is no population that needs our help more than individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that they are treated with the respect they deserve and that they are not deprived of necessary attention, funding, and services.”

During the 2015 legislative session, Lavielle actively supported the bipartisan I/DD Caucus’ agenda, which charted a course toward improved and expanded community-based and residential services as well as maintaining the option of institutional care.

Lavielle also introduced and vigorously advocated for legislation modeled on the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. She was a co-sponsor of the bill ultimately signed into law, that now allows those with disabilities in Connecticut to create tax-free “ABLE” savings accounts to pay for disability-related expenses like education, healthcare, transportation, housing, employment training and support, and personal support services. Interest earned in the accounts accumulates tax-free, and the funds held in the accounts are not considered assets when determining a beneficiary’s eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and other need-based services.