A man on a lifetime mission, Wayne Connell, the founder and president of the Invisible Disabilities Association, established in 1996 because of his wife Sherri's painful and debilitating illnesses, has become a hero and lifesaver to many.
As his wife's main caregiver, people from all over the world with similar invisible disabilities began e-mailing them on their website and sharing similar stories of living and suffering with constant pain and the lack of understanding from others of the hardships that come from dealing with an invisible, chronic illness. "But you LOOK good..." You just want attention..." But you don't LOOK sick..." is often heard. The loneliness, feelings of isolation and abandonement of bearing with this type of illness is very real. Unfortunately, this invisible pain is misunderstood by many in society that don't understand the challenges or experience what the sufferer does almost daily.
Wayne is proud the IDA mission has an online following of over 200,000 members which encourages, educates and connects people in need of help with their agonizing but invisible disease around the globe.
Connell is an innovator, the force behind the movement to recognize those who suffer, at times a "one man show", and a man of unwavering faith. Wayne Connell has grown through his own adversity and his own personal life challenges. He's always clear about his purpose and passion, and modestly says: "It's all about being able to impact others in need, even in some small way, to help them live better lives."
(For more information on Wayne & Sherri Connell, their journey & their organization: Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA), go to: www.InvisibleDisabilities.org)
Wayne, your Invisible Disabilities Association gala just took place this October. Were you happy with how it turned out? Yes! It was our 10th annual event, and our best gala yet…. We had over 240 people in attendance and a third of the room was taken up by our wonderful auction.
You hold the event at the Marriott Denver South each year, why? Because it’s affordable, and actually has great access to all the nearby highways. We’ve held 8 out of 10 galas there.
Are there any changes you want to make for next year? We are bringing back music, with a performance by Biff Gore, who was on The Voice. Next year’s theme is: “Be the Voice.”
We hope to keep attracting more young people and a larger young professionals group.
Wayne, I see you out at many nonprofit events. How do you decide which ones you will attend? I support the ones that I’m invited to that also support people with invisible disabilities . My favorite nonprofit events have been for the Rocky Mountain MS Center, Bessie’s Hope, Autism Society of Colorado, Arc Thrift, Institute for Life & Caring, Friends of Nursing, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorders, American Cancer Society, Colorado Neurological Institute, The Kempe Foundation, among others.
What is the most important contribution you made to helping people with Invisible Disabilities since you started IDA? Recognition of the term “Invisible Disabilities.” The majority are unseen. We need to believe people who are suffering with an illness you can’t see. An awareness that this is a real thing people are going through.
When did you know for sure you would dedicate your life to people with Invisible Disabilities? I married my wife Sherri after she was diagnosed…. I became dedicated to helping and supporting her from then on. She actually was the one who coined the term “Invisible Disabilities.” When over 20,000 people started coming to our site saying what a difference we made, we knew this was an important cause.
How hands on are you with the planning of IDA events? I have been very hands on…. Everything from what goes on the website to the program guide design, script… literally everything. I used to do the auction, now we have an auction chair and a great gala committee, and I am trying to let them do most of the planning and be creative with the themes, etc.
Wayne, you are known for being a "technical whiz," when did you first know you knew your way around computers? My father was an engineer for Gates in the early years of technology, and he always taught me there's no problem you can't solve. He had a knack for technology and taught me a love for computers and how to utiilize them. Getting a jump on technology has allowed us to build this international organization.
What qualities do you look for in a friend? Someone who has integrity with a passion for others, those who are givers and really love to help people in need. Also people who enjoy having fun.
Tell us about a family heirloom you cherish? I have an antique Zenith console radio I inherited with “magic eye tuning” and a “shutter dial.” Very innovative for that time period.
With all the responsibility you have, how do you handle the stress that might come with it? What keeps you grounded and focused? My Christian faith means a lot to me. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” is a motto I live by. Lives can be full of difficulties, but out of that, character is born. I believe the most fulfilled life is when we focus on others outside of ourselves.
With your busy schedule and many commitments, do you have time to do any traveling or participate in sports or leisure activities? It’s really difficult for us to travel due to Sherri’s health conditions. We can’t stay in hotels or ride in planes. I occasionally travel to visit friends. Invisible Disabilities Association is my hobby and passion.
Wayne, you lost quite a bit of weight; how did you do it? Ate less, and walked more!
What are some of your favorites: Book: “The Call” by Os Guiness, and The Bible. Movie: Chariots of Fire. TV Show: Love home improvement shows; Favorite Restaurants: The basics such as Red Robin, Chili’s & Hacienda.
Is there someone you really look up to here in Colorado for their Philanthropy? Phil Anschutz.
What historical figures do you admire the most? William Willberforce who was a leading figure in the political campaign to abolish the slave trade in Britain in the late 18th Century. The 2006 “Amazing Grace” movie was a biographical drama about his life. He ended slavery, started the humane societies, and believed that faith and society could work together.
What’s on the horizon for you? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Future goals? We are going to be breaking ground in about 60 day on our first “healthy home” in Parker. It is just the start of our plan to build more heathy homes and communities all over the country. I try not to think too far in advance for a reason. Each day can make an impact, each person I meet, I try to give them a smile, or bring a cup of water to someone who needs it…. and a listening ear.
How do you want people to remember Wayne Connell? As someone who loved his wife and family, and tried to create a better world for people with disabilities. Someone who didn’t want to leave anybody out. Everyone should be part of humanity and not feel alone… or left alone. I hope I did something to ease the pain in this world.
Congratulations, Wayne! Thank you, Nancy Koontz for featuring Wayne this month and sharing his heart and passion with the world! What an honor in which we are so very grateful!