Mike Connor, a good and generous friend of Abilities United for 40 years.

In 1974, Stanford football player Mike Connor was looking for a new residence, and he landed a room in a Palo Alto home. The owner was Betty Wright, who was one of the core group that helped establish what is now Abilities United.

“Within a few hours she had me signed up as a volunteer,” Mike laughs, and that afternoon began a relationship with Abilities United that has now endured for nearly 40 years.

Mike’s story shows a passion for the cause that runs so deep with many who have become involved with Abilities United. “I had been a lifeguard, so Betty got me in the pool with the children with developmental disabilities. Working with those kids was one of the great joys of my life,” he says. “I even worked as a janitor; I’d come over here at 11 at night to clean up.”

Mike savors the good memories of his early days at Abilities United. “There was one child who was severely challenged with cerebral palsy, and I used to carry him in and out of the pool. We became very close. And I remember one of the kids who was training for Special Olympics; he was up on the deck like a coach encouraging the others. That was such a wonderful thing to see; I’ll never forget that.” Mike pauses. “In the pool many of these kids could get a level of mobility and independence that they couldn’t get on land. It was always a thrill to witness that.”

Later Mike would serve for some seven years as President of the Board of Directors at Abilities United. “I don’t know who was serving who,” Mike says. “Yes, I was helping out, but it was awfully good for me too.”

Mike looks back at how things have changed in the past decades for those with disabilities. “When I was young you didn’t see people with disabilities in the workforce. Now Abilities United helps place clients in jobs at places like Safeway, or the movie theater, or somewhere else. Abilities United learned years ago to focus on the abilities, not the disabilities.”

For the 50th anniversary of Abilities United, Mike says “There’s a huge congratulations owed to everyone who’s worked here and who has supported the cause: staff, volunteers, donors, and others. It’s a very special group.”

Yes, and Mike himself is one of those very special people.

Based on an interview with Mike Connor in 2012. Written by Bob Thomas. Edited by Mike Connor and Wendy Kuehnl.