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St. Louis native Jerry Zafft honored by Midwest Special Needs Trust

Midwest Special Needs Trust recently honored St. Louis native Jerry Zafft for his dedication to serving those with special needs and their families for more than 31 years.From left to right, MSNT Executive Director Kathy Birkes, Zafft’s wife Judy, and MSNT Board of Trustees members Sarah Giboney and Tish Thomas stand behind Zafft (seated) at MSNT’s 30th anniversary event held on August 1, 2019.

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI — Midwest Special Needs Trust, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals with disabilities and their families plan for their financial futures, recently presented St. Louis native Jerry Zafft with the first ever Jerry Zafft Award at the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration event, held for friends and supporters at the MSNT offices in Columbia, Missouri, on Aug. 1.


Born from Zafft’s efforts to provide financial security for his son and others with disabilities, MSNT was established in 1989 by action of the Missouri legislature and later incorporated as a nonprofit pooled trust. Today, the organization provides unique support for families, particularly moderate and low-income, by administering special needs trusts for people with disabilities and protecting important public benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.


The 30th anniversary event included a social hour followed by a presentation and special thank you to Zafft and other board members for their work assisting those with special needs by MSNT Executive Director Kathy Birkes. In addition, Keith Schafer, former director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, spoke about the history of MSNT and Zafft’s important role.


“Clearly, Jerry Zafft was the driving inspiration behind the creation of the trust,” Schafer said. “He proposed it and led the creation of the substance of the legislation. He provided eloquent testimony at legislative hearings in both the House and Senate. This was one of those unusual pieces of legislation that passed in the first year of its introduction as a bill.”


Named for the organization’s visionary founder, the MSNT Jerry Zafft Award honors individuals who — through activism, volunteerism and other forms of public service — exhibit exceptional dedication to helping persons with disabilities and their families.


Throughout his career, Zafft’s dedication and service to the mental health community has extended beyond the reach of MSNT as well. A former counsel to Stinson Leonard Street LLP, now Stinson LLP, in St. Louis, where he specialized in estate planning, business law and taxation, Zafft served not only as president of the MSNT Board of Trustees but also director emeritus of the Rainbow Village Board of Directors; as a member and one-term chairperson of the Missouri Mental Health commission; and as a board member of Woodhaven Learning Center, Project Inc., the National Benevolent Association and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. He received the Tice Humanitarian Award for his years serving Rainbow Village, a nonprofit that enhances the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities by providing safe, affordable and well-maintained neighborhood homes, and the Lifetime Legacy Award given by the Missouri Mental Health Foundation, an organization whose efforts combat stigma and discrimination against individuals and families living with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders. 


At MSNT’s anniversary celebration, Sarah Giboney, MSNT Board of Trustees president, presented Zafft with the award, and Tish Thomas, MSNT Board of Trustees treasurer, spoke about her experience on the board. In addition to the award presentation, Zafft received proclamations from the Missouri House and Senate for his “exceptional advocacy for the rights and needs of people with disabilities and his inspiration and tireless efforts toward the creation of the Missouri Family Trust now known as Midwest Special Needs Trust.” 


MSNT opens trusts for individuals with disabilities who live in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa (third-party trusts only) and will continue to administer the trust wherever the life beneficiary may reside.


To learn more about MSNT and the services offered, visit

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