This story was submitted to Patch by the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Suffolk, Inc.
The disability services community lost one of its most passionate and dedicated leaders on March 30 with the passing of Nina Eaton, 96, of Woodmere, New York.
Eaton was a founder of the United Cerebral Palsy Association. Her passion for life and people and her fierce belief that everyone is equally deserving of respect and opportunity paved the path for her to be a strong voice and advocate.
In 1941, with the birth of her son Leonard, Eaton found herself propelled into a lifetime of challenge, triumph, uncertainties and opportunities, heartbreak and hope, but mostly of achievement. Shortly after his birth, Leonard was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. At that time, there were no services, few options for people with disabilities and no United Cerebral Palsy Association (UCP).
Eaton joined with other parents striving to make a better life for their children who also had been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Knowing a united voice amongst the parents would carry more clout, they collaborated, and in 1946 they founded the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State. Their strength and fortitude led the Association forward. By 1949 the organization had evolved into the United Cerebral Palsy Association.
Thanks to the strength of these parents, the foundation was laid for a far-reaching organization that has enhanced the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities for more than 70 years. Eaton’s strength and fortitude led that vision forward.
As the organization grew, Eaton became the voice of UCP. She continued to educate the public about cerebral palsy, which like most developmental disabilities has carried a significant social stigma. She was well known for her persistent lobbying efforts, which led to the regional and nation expansion of community-based services for people with disabilities.
Into her 90’s Eaton remained an active leader in the disability community and served on the board of directors of United Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Suffolk, Inc. for more than 30 years, while concurrently serving on the national board of trustees of United Cerebral Palsy Association, Inc.
“Nina Eaton was a remarkable individual who really made a world of difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities,” said Stephen H. Friedman, UCP Suffolk president and CEO. “More than half a century later, UCP is an international network of nearly 100 affiliates serving more than 176,000 people with disabilities and their families on an annual basis. Truly a testament to Nina’s legacy, proving one person can make a difference.”
In her honor, a fully accessible apartment complex located in Islip designed specifically for people with disabilities who live independently bears the name Eaton Knolls.
As a tribute to the enormous role she played in bringing equality and Life Without Limits to people with disabilities, Eaton was inducted into the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame in 2009. Honorees are chosen for their demonstrated vision, dedication and drive to address community needs, whereby creating a legacy of service, improving the quality of life for others.
Annually, United Cerebral Palsy Association, Inc. honors affiliates with the Nina Eaton Program of the Year Award, as part of the Awards for Excellence. The winners are honored for making an extraordinary contribution to the quality of life for people with disabilities. Eaton loved the Awards for Excellence presentations and served as the emcee at the national conference for many years. She added her charm and wit to every celebration.
Eaton once said, “As I look back over a lifetime, I could not have envisioned, I thank every UCP parent, friend and donor who helped make this extraordinary journey possible.”
She added, “Oh, and my son Leonard; well he eventually went to law school, becoming an attorney and a judge. He is married and has two beautiful children and I am a great grandma. Who would have thought?”
Eaton is survived by her son Leonard, daughter in law, two grandchildren and one great grandchild. Cards and notes of condolence can be sent to the Eaton family at 543 Derby Avenue, Woodmere, New York 11598.