The Henry Viscardi School hosted its annual Celebrity Sports Night fundraiser May 18, hosting notable sports legends including New York Islanders hockey players Bobby Nystrom, current defenseman Ryan Pulock and former players John Tonelli, Butch Goring and Steve Webb.
The Henry Viscardi School in Albertson is a New York State 4201 school that provides tailored education for students with physical disabilities or medical challenges from Pre-K through High School.
CEO Chris Rosa said it is one of the most prominent schools serving medically fragile students and provides them with a rigorous and inclusive education.
The school also provides programs such as school-to-work transition services, vocational training and job placement, digital accessibility services and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents and adults with disabilities and businesses.
Celebrity Sports Night is a key fundraising event that raises the profile of the school’s “life-changing mission on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families that we serve” to the community, Rosa said.
The fundraising from the event is to support the operation of the school’s essential programs, including innovative projects that “are designed to change the paradigm for access and opportunities for people with disability,” Rosa said.
“Key fundraisers like Celebrity Sports Night provide us with the capacity to create opportunities for individuals with disabilities and their families to empower themselves,” Rosa said.
He said the school conducts a series of fundraising events, with Celebrity Sports Night among the most meaningful.
The event included a cocktail reception where guests mingled with various sports legends which also included Olympic figure skater, Emily Hughes and former New York Jets Wesley Walker and John Nitti.
The event also included a silent and live auction, dinner and an award ceremony.
Seniors on the Viscardi wheelchair basketball team were awarded with medals from the New York Islanders players.
Viscardi has been partners with the New York Islanders for 47 years, fostering a relationship with the school and students through wheelchair hockey games over the decades.
“They know our mission from the inside out,” Rosa said. “It was really a thrill to be able to honor them for their decades-long commitment to Viscardi’s mission.”
The Viscardi Center awarded in return Nystrom with a Lifetime Achievement Award and CEO of Oak View Group Tim Leiweke with the Corporate Leadership Award. Steph Roach, the world’s first CrossFit Level 2 Trainer with Cerebral Palsy and former student at the Henry Viscardi School, was awarded the Roy Campanella Award.
Kim Brussell, senior vice president for public affairs and marketing, said the event was also an opportunity for the school and its students to display their diverse programming, including students from their culinary training program preparing and serving a variety of appetizers to guests.
Rosa said it was a wonderful gathering of the school’s key partners and Henry Viscardi students and their families, with palpable enthusiasm in the room.
“It’s a really meaningful opportunity to gather our communities and our families together in celebration of our core values of education, employment and empowerment of people with disabilities and their families,” Rosa said.
Rosa said that while the school resumed in-person events last year, this year more people felt comfortable and emboldened to gather and interact with one another.
“That feeling of liberation and the yearning to get back with our Viscardi community was really palpable in the joyful spirit that everybody experienced during the event,” Rosa said.
Students Josie and Adryana, two students from the Henry Viscardi School, both said their favorite parts of the evening were meeting all of the athletes. The school did not share the students’ last names for privacy because they are students with disabilities, Brussell said.
Josie, a senior at the school, shared her personal story at the event and the impact the Henry Viscardi School has had on her life since attending from Kindergarten.
“I was nervous speaking in front of everyone, but so glad I did it,” Josie said. “I was excited to meet new people and hear some of their stories they shared with me and my friends.”
Adryana was one of the students who presented personal artwork to the honorees, sharing hers with Roach.
“I was excited and nervous at the same time, but overall very excited to present my artwork,” Adryana said.
Three moments stuck out to Rosa from the night: honoree Roach talking about her mentoring relationship with a young girl with a disability and how it changed her life, sharing the stage with Nystrom and when students sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from their play “The Wizard of Oz.”
Rosa said they are still finalizing the amount raised during the fundraiser, but that the event was affirming to know that the community is still involved and enthusiastic in supporting the Henry Viscardi school.
He said the fundraiser was an “unequivocal success” as it gathered the community together who were thrilled to be there once again and support the school.
“I think the event is important because it is nice to see athletes give back and it is important they are recognized for it,” Adryana said.