Father-daughter team, Edward Ennis and Leslie DeDora, founded A Touch of Understanding in the early 1990s. Leslie began ATOU based on experiences with a family member and many friends who had disabilities. Leslie has many years of experience as a tutor and teacher in the public schools, working with children with learning and physical disabilities. This experience was the impetus for the vision of A Touch of Understanding.
Ed joined following his retirement from a long and successful career in marketing management in both the public and private sectors. Ed and Leslie initially piloted the program under the name “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” After sixty successful presentations, they incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1996. Since the beginning, the message of A Touch of Understanding has been one of acceptance and respect for ALL individuals, with an emphasis on those with disabilities. Their dedication and leadership have attracted many accomplished volunteers, many of whom have disabilities themselves. ATOU volunteers range in age and experience from school students to retired individuals.
As of 2018, ATOU had served more than 100,000 students in the Greater Sacramento Area. With an average of over 10,000 students each year experiencing the workshop, ATOU will continue to grow and impact this area with its positive message.
Edward Ennis – ATOU Co-Founder
ATOU gave me a chance to join my wonderful daughter Leslie DeDora in improving the lives of schoolchildren, their teachers, and their families.
I like to think that I may have helped contribute to the success of the organization. We blended Leslie’s background in education and my background in business into something more than a mere structure for the organization. Although it is not connected to any established religion, there’s something spiritual about it. It has a mission.
The mission of ATOU is respect for oneself and for the rights and feelings of others. It favors respect over tolerance, believing respect to be a more positive and outreaching attitude. ATOU promotes fellowship and a feeling of welcome to all individuals, thereby reducing the chance of children feeling isolated and becoming loners.
Through generations, many children have been instructed by parents and guardians to look away when encountering a person with disabilities. How unfortunate for all parties. Eventually, “Don’t stare” may lead to “Don’t care.” It is ATOU’s vision to bring up a new generation of children who break the mold, an inclusive generation whose curiosity about disabilities is satisfied, in which:
• fear of the unknown is erased;
• respect and friendship are offered;
• social circles are expanded;
• educational and career opportunities are extended; and
• corporate and economic levels are more accessible.
So much of ATOU’s growth and success can be attributed to the people Leslie has attracted to it. It’s rewarding for ATOU’s volunteers, both with and without disabilities, who make the workshops possible, to see the transformation they inspire in children and adults. The disability-awareness workshop helps to break the barriers of discomfort and the unknown. The disability evaporates because it is overcome by the volunteer’s personality.
It is heartwarming to see former students return as adults and tell about how they were transformed years before, when they went through the ATOU workshop. Leslie has encountered them in her travels. We also have those who went through the program as children coming back to volunteer as adults.
I was born in 1926. I grew up at a time that was far removed from understanding disabilities. ATOU is especially effective with somebody from my generation, to see children educated to welcome not only other children, but also adults with disabilities.
ATOU provided a purpose in my life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Its development was very timely, since I was just retiring. It gave me something to look forward to everyday, a new purpose to educate and help direct the attitudes of children. It was rewarding to see the “Ah Ha” moments and children’s eyes light up with new understanding. It was the ideal job. To hear from principals, teachers and parents of children’s new understanding and behavior, made the early morning reveille worthwhile. Best of all, it is the opportunity to work with my wonderful daughter in launching and nurturing such a humane service as ATOU.