Vinfen honored the dedicated family members, guardians, advocates, self-advocates, and staff who support the people we serve at the 11th Annual Celebration of Family Partnerships. The event was held on October 3 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood, MA.
Susan Wornick, former WCVB-TV anchorwoman, entertained the audience as Master of Ceremonies. Developmental Services Commissioner Jane Ryder and Department of Mental Health Northeast Area Director Sue Wing greeted attendees. Commissioner Ryder remarked, “I have personally witnessed the strength of partnerships…the evolution of services of individuals with Intellectual and developmental disabilities are a result of partnerships that all of you in the room have always been a part of. So thank you for allowing me to join in your celebration tonight. You are the greatest champions and inspiration. Thank you for all that you have done and I look forward to what you’re going to accomplish in the future.”
Honored guests at this year’s celebration included Massachusetts State Representative Denise Garlick, recipient of the Public Official of the Year award; Deb Thompson and Todd Reis, recipients of the Craig Smith Self-Advocate award; and Doreen Hiltz, recipient of the Helen Fantasia-Arraj Staff Recognition award.
Emily Perl Kingsley was the keynote speaker. Kingsley is an American writer who joined the Sesame Street team in 1970 and retired in 2015 after 45 years with the show. Her son Jason Kingsley was born with Down syndrome and her experiences with Jason inspired her to include people with disabilities into the Sesame Street cast, including Jason himself. In 1987, Kingsley wrote Welcome to Holland, a widely published and translated piece, which compares the experience of someone finding out their child has a disability to having a trip to Italy rerouted to Holland. Guests were delighted to receive a copy of this piece in their event bag.
During her speech Emily talked about the lack of children with disabilities being portrayed in the media. “There were no kids with Down syndrome, there were no kids with Cerebral Palsy, there were no kids with helmets on, there was no kids in wheel chairs…magazines were the same way…our families weren’t represented at all,” she said. Because she was a writer for Sesame Street, she approached the producers about featuring children with disabilities, including her son on the show. Emily shared with the audience the resulting clip called Jason D Dog that included her son.
The response from the community was phenomenal and viewers were tremendously grateful to see a child with a disability on television. Emily shared, “We got just oceans of letters saying thank you for showing a kid with down syndrome, with a disability, we never see ourselves on television.” Another letter wrote, “I never knew a kid with down syndrome could do this sort of thing, I am going to work harder with my kid.” Emily became the designated disability writer at Sesame Street and encouraged the producers to include people with a variety of disabilities; among them was actor Christopher Reeve who had experienced paralysis from a spinal cord injury, and his son Will. Because of Emily’s work on education and advocacy of people with disabilities, viewers around the world were positively impacted. Concluding her presentation, Emily shared family photos of her son, and a song called Count me In, that she co-wrote with Jason. After the song concluded there was a standing ovation and Emily received Vinfen’s Educator of the Year award.
Following Emily’s speech, guests enjoyed a delicious dinner and dessert leading into the awards portion of the evening. Over 20 Vinfen staff members also received merit certificates for their commitment to family partnerships, advocacy, education, and leadership. They were chosen based on the nominations from families they work closely with each and every day.
Family Recognition Awards went to eight families and individuals who have truly dedicated their lives to helping people Vinfen serves. Two awardees shared films that depicted the special bond between family members and individuals: Jackie Desharnais, a mother who has with a remarkable bond with her son Andrew, and Rosemarie Marshall and Jane Gelin whose relationship within a Vinfen shared living residence has been meaningful and life changing for both women.
Family Recognition Awards also celebrated Lorraine Caffrey, who takes great care of her daughters with complex medical needs, the Bynoe-Richards Family who thoroughly supports their son Darryl and his artistic talents, Rosemary and Chip Root who continue to be a positive influence on their son Chucky, the Tatro family who are a source of caring support for their daughter, Loretta O’Wril who helps her cousin Michael with life transitions and daily challenges, and Nicola Tesorero who is a nurse practitioner and provides exceptional primary care services to several people who live in a home supported by Vinfen staff. Each award was well deserved and inspiring for the audience and the extended Vinfen community.
The evening would not have been possible without the Vinfen Family Advisory Council and our incredible sponsors. Thank you to the Rae and Aaron Alberts Foundation, HUB International, Conlin’s Resident Care Pharmacy, and the Tiffany Ballroom at the Four Points by Sheraton Norwood.
You can view photos of this year’s event below: