(12-23-21) It can be hard for children with developmental disabilities to compete in rec-league sports among children with more typical abilities, but that’s okay. In Celina, Darl Strable is looking out for them.

Darl Strable Family

Strable, a former Cheryl Ann Programs staff member who is now the director of Celina’s recreation department, encourages parents of children with disabilities to sign them up for sports leagues. Darl then makes a quiet phone call to particular volunteer coaches, the ones who have demonstrated extra compassion and patience with children and asks them to take a certain child under their wing. Darl loves to watch a kid, any kid, strive and succeed.

For that and many other reasons, for his big heart and the way he watches out for and befriends children and adults with developmental disabilities, Darl Strable received the 2021 Albert Heckler Award from the Mercer County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The annual award recognizes individuals who provide exemplary service to people with disabilities in Mercer County.

Darl has a long history with Mercer DD. He worked two stints with the former Cheryl Ann Program, helping individuals with disabilities find jobs that suited them, then excel at those jobs. He was part of the community employment department from 1992–2000 then returned to CA Group in 2007, later becoming an enclave manager. He accepted the position with the city of Celina in 2016 and will retire from there in February.

Mercer DD Superintendent Shawn Thieman in announcing the Heckler Award –

“The great thing about Darl is everything he’s done outside of the walls. “He’s a friend to so many people. He’s been doing good things his whole life, being good and kind to people with disabilities. He’s given so much of his time to helping people.”

That help comes in many ways. Darl, a father of six, has also served as a foster parent. He stays in constant contact with many of his friends with disabilities, texting them daily or weekly. When he goes to a Friday night football game, he can’t walk five feet without a friend hailing him and wanting to talk. Darl’s open to that.

Strable said –

“God gave me a heart to help people who need me. It’s always been that way. In school, if a kid was getting picked on, I was right there protecting him. Call it a gift, call it whatever you want to call it.”

Darl has hired and trained people with disabilities to work for the rec department and in the landscaping business he runs on the side. He sees the potential in people, and it thrills him when they reach for a goal that may at first seem beyond their grasp. 

“When I was a job coach (with CA Group), I wanted every employer to hire the people we were trying to put in their workforce. I wanted them to be successful.”

He has a great appreciation for people who may have to struggle to be accepted, who see the world in a unique way.

“They’re all about love. They get it. They don’t get caught up in all this other stuff.”

He saw that when he was working at Cheryl Ann, and it stayed with him.

“I loved working at Cheryl Ann. I loved the people and their families. I always have a lot of compassion for the parents—it’s a 24/7 responsibility for them.”

Darl, a youth pastor and former football coach, accepts young people for who they are, encouraging them and holding them up. In that way, he’s carrying on a family tradition, he said.

“I had the best parents in the world. They loved me, showed me how to love others and to treat others the way you want to be treated. You live that kind of life, and people watch you, whether you’re a coach or any other kind of a leader. They see how you respond to different situations. You let that light shine out of you, and I believe it’s God. Through that, people can see that there’s something different about you. And you come to know that you’re here to make a difference in the world. That’s always been my goal.

“I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but God has put me in positions where I could make a difference. It’s always been there.”