Christine Zak-Edmonds Award Winners

By Anna Yee

June 9, 2011 Updated Jun 9, 2011 at 6:34 PM CDT

The winners of the Christine Zak-Edmonds Award were Prasad and Jyothi Parupalli, advocates for Easter Seals.

"It all started off by a dinner conversation with our friends," said Prasad Parupalli, "and trying to figure out what is the best way to include the Indian community into supporting the local community."

That dinner party turned into an annual event called Passage to India.

Over the last 5 years, Peoria residents Prasad and Jyothi Parupalli have helped raise more than $360,000 for Easter Seals- a local organization that provides services to children with disabilities.

But this couple's efforts go past courtesy... and into culture... by sharing traditional Indian customs at the event.

"Just colors, just variety of the dresses, the make up, jewelry, and the songs, dances, you know the beats, and of course the food," said Jyothi Parupalli. "It's different."

Jyothi and about 30 of her friends prepare homemade Indian cuisine, while the Easter Seals kids dress up in colorful Indian clothes and put on a fashion show.

"At the end of the day it's all about them," said Prasad. "You see the excitement on their faces."

"That's the best part about the whole thing," continued Jyothi.

Passage to India has grown from about 150 attendees to 850, raising awareness for both the Easter Seals and Indian communities right here in Central Illinois.

"So, that I see as a positive thing," said Prasad, "and I see that's going to continue to grow and it's going to multiply as more people get involved."