Characters Unite

characters welcome

Characters Unite Award Winners



Leslie DeDora is the founder, Executive Director, and Program Director for A Touch of Understanding (ATOU). In the early 1990s, while working as an elementary school instructional aide, Leslie saw an unmet educational need in the area of disability awareness. Leslie's goal was to give students the opportunity to "walk a mile in the shoes" of someone with a disability. She believed that by fostering increased empathy and understanding for students with disabilities, all students would benefit. As a result, Leslie, along with her father, Edward Ennis, created and piloted A Touch of Understanding.

Leslie has extensive experience with children and with individuals with disabilities. She is a mother and grandmother, and has been a tutor, instructional aide, and special education aide. As a niece of a woman with developmental disabilities, Leslie had an understanding of disabilities at an early age and actively befriended her peers with disabilities. The time she spent with these friends gave Leslie new insight into their challenges, fears, and aspirations. Leslie created A Touch of Understanding because she values a person's integrity and worth based on who they are, not on their appearance or physical ability.

Since incorporation as a nonprofit agency in 1996, with the support of a small dedicated staff and a team of volunteers, Leslie has presented ATOU's disability-awareness school workshop to more than 57,000 students in Northern California. In addition, ATOU now has a Youth F.O.R.C.E. ("Friends Offering Respect ~ Creating Empowerment"), a group of children and young people, with and without disabilities, who gather monthly for leadership, social and community service opportunities.

Leslie has received numerous awards for her service to children and her dedication to individuals with disabilities including 1998 Heroes in Healthcare Community Service Award from Health Communications Research Institute, Inc., 2001 Proclamation from the California Governor's Office for efforts in disability awareness, 2006 Bank of America Neighborhood Initiative Local Hero Award, the 2009 Make a Difference Award, Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, Roseville City School District and the 2013 Putting Children First Award, Kids First (formerly Child Abuse Prevention Council), Roseville, CA.

Under her leadership, A Touch of Understanding received the 2011 Business Excellence Nonprofit Achievement Award, Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce.