Ben Censoni Award for Excellence in Public Service

About Ben Censoni

The Ben Censoni Award for Excellence in Public Service is the only award that recognizes public officials who strive to improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The award is named after the late Ben Censoni, former developmental disabilities director for Michigan and chair of the association’s Governmental Affairs Committee.

Ben Censoni was not only successful because of his intelligence and charm, but because of his persistence — his “press on regardless” attitude — and this kind of pressing stimulates ingenuity. He was energetic. He was honorable. He had conviction. He was resilient. He was not just an advocate — he was a champion. Given a little time, he always came up with a good tactic to use, even with the most thorny problems. But more than anything, he was admired most because he was optimistic.


The NASDDDS Board of Directors uses the following criteria to select recipients of the Ben Censoni Excellence in Public Service Award: 

  1. (a) An employee of federal, state, county, or municipal government in a position directly related to persons with intellectual/developmental disabilities; or (b) a federal, state, or local elected official.
  2. An optimistic, forward-thinking person whose energy is focused on propelling service systems toward positive changes, and who recognizes a system that is evolving and is able to help it move in a positive, planful direction. Furthermore, the person should have a proven capability to establish and achieve ambitious goals. 
  3. A person whose work evidences (as Ben’s did) a strong personal and professional commitment to human dignity and community integration for persons with intellectual/developmental disabilities, especially individuals with severe disabilities.
  4. An individual who has made one or more noteworthy contributions to the organization and delivery of disabilities services in the United States.
  5. Someone who equips his or her colleagues to make a difference and offers them the tools and resources they need to succeed. He or she should personify Ben’s belief that “people are what really matter.”

Censoni Award Recipients

Mark A. Thomas (2022)

NASDDDS is pleased to award Mark A. Thomas, former NASDDDS Board President and Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health, the Ben Censoni Award for Excellence in Public Service. This award recognizes not only Mark’s resilient and optimistic approach to public service, but also the numerous advancements in the field achieved under his watch. Mark was first elected to the NASDDDS board in 2017 and assumed the presidency in January of 2020. Before pursuing a position in the private sector, Mr. Thomas served as Deputy Secretary at the Louisiana Department of Health. Prior to that role, he supported I/DD services in his home state as Assistant Secretary for the Louisiana Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. He has more than 25 years of experience in the field of developmental disabilities. During his tenure at the Department of Health, Mr. Thomas led the State through the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous significant regional emergencies all while maintaining an eye toward constant innovation and improvement of the State’s ability to effectively support people with I/DD and their families. Mr. Thomas’ significant accomplishments also include ending the state waiting list for I/DD services; implementing a tiered waiver; and, rebalancing the service delivery system. Under his leadership, NASDDDS began the association’s investment in a coordinated diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative aimed at advancing the efforts of the association and its member states in this area. His impact on Louisiana and the association is long lasting and his efforts will be felt for many generations to come.

Evelyn Perez (2021)

Evelyn Perez, Assistant Secretary for the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Administration, retired in 2021 after 35-years of state service. Many know Evelyn as a civil rights champion for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Evelyn’s career began with the Department of Social and Health Services as an attendant counselor at Lakeland Village in Medical Lake, and rising through the ranks to serve as the DDA Region 1 Administrator. In 2013, Evelyn led the division to become its own administration and served as the first assistant secretary for the newly created administration. Her distinguished career also includes founding membership for the Latino Leadership Network –supporting and empowering Latino state employees. As Evelyn took leadership of the administration, she not only built a formidable team, she established relationships with clients, their guardians and legislative stakeholders, who all gained a renewed respect for her advocacy and a presence that was felt across the entire state. Her work in informing person-centered supports and services was felt across the entire department and served as an example across the nation.