Partners for Youth with Disabilities is joyful to introduce our third and last (but certainly not least) Legends Honoree, Melissa M. MacDonnell, President of Liberty Mutual Foundation and Vice President of Liberty Mutual Insurance. Melissa sat down with us to discuss her career path and who inspired her journey along the way. She is an example of kindness. She defines herself through the impact she has on friends, family and mentees, not external accolades.
Even though she holds a prominent position at Liberty Mutual Foundation, Melissa describes herself as an introverted person. Her goal is to “keep her eyes on the prize” to help the most vulnerable in our communities. She thinks about the impact she can have by doing her job well; she holds great respect for Liberty’s CEO David Long who himself is deeply committed to the community, and in particular, accessibility and inclusion. Melissa’s courage and motivation come from her passion in giving back to the community. In addition to working at Liberty Mutual, she also serves on the boards of Horizons for Homeless Children and the Don and Marilyn Rodman Foundation. She is a member of the Leadership Advisory Board for Rosie’s Place, and is a volunteer at the Sudanese Community Center. For fifteen years, she acted as a big sister for a young woman from Germaine Lawrence, a residential treatment program for girls. She’s also served as a Vice Chair for both the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and Mass Mentoring Partnership, the Chair of Faith and Action at United Way, and as a board member of Bruce Wall Ministries. Think that’s all? Not even – Melissa has helped chair record-breaking fundraisers for the Big Sister Association, Whittier Street Health Center, Salvation Army, and Community Servings, and was also a participant in LeadBoston and Boston Women Build in the Bayou.
In recognition for her great contributions to the community, she’s been awarded the Women for Whittier Award, named to the YWCA’s Academy of Women Achievers, and listed as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by Boston Magazine. While humbled by all of these honorable awards and incredible achievements, in her opinion, helping a woman from Sudan get her driver’s license is one of her greatest personal successes. Melissa has mentored the woman, who spoke very little English at the time. It took her four times to pass the permit test and seven tries to pass the road test–all to be able to drive a car– a task that for many of us, comes with the kind of freedom and liberation we often take for granted. Melissa understands the impact of aiding others in achieving even the smallest things, and because of that, she’ll continue to keep mentoring and supporting as many groups as possible. “[Your] dream always has to be bigger than a job,” Melissa advises young adults. “Follow [your] gut, and embrace who you really are.” Her dream, which included philanthropy, stems from her deeply compassionate family and her role model of a mom. Her own parents and family served as a host family welcoming in youth in addition to having ten kids of their own. Motivated by her parents’ caring words and deeds, she is dedicated to giving back to the community.
According to Melissa, PYD is succeeding in meeting the important needs of young people with disabilities and providing them with comprehensive programs to help them thrive. As a center for inclusion, PYD puts great efforts into reaching deeper into the community and encouraging more and more young people with disabilities to find their own identities.
Melissa appreciates that “PYD opens up an entire world for young people with disabilities.” PYD is humbled to have Melissa as our respectable honoree and to have this chance to recognize the greatness she has contributed to the community. We hope to see everyone on May 18th to join in the expression of gratitude to such an influential person.
This post was written by Juan Zhou, Jackie (Xiao) Yan, Olicia Mannion, and Mary Grace Alcaro of the BU PRLab. Edited by Nicole Malo.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities is honored to introduce our second PYD Legends Award recipient, Bill Schawbel. Bill is a man of many trades – aside from his new acclaimed title of PYD honoree, he also self identifies as an Intrepreneur, Entrepreneur, and General Manager.
Bill’s titles did not come effortlessly, making all of his achievements that much more impressive. He held senior management positions with The Gillette Company, including President of Gillette-Japan and President of Braun North America. He also was instrumental in areas of acquisitions and business development both in the United States and internationally. In 1981, he founded his own business, The Schawbel Corporation, and in the 35 years since, he has formed over 50 companies, many of which he has managed worldwide. In July of 2014, The Schawbel Corporation was sold and Schawbel Technologies LLC was established, which now includes consumer product development and research.
It all started with Bill’s mother, Esther Schawbel, who didn’t finish school. She was his mentor. She grew up on a farm, and drove tractors when she was twelve. She was an entrepreneur all of her life in the knitting business. She had a yarn store and taught knitting for over 70 years. In fact, Bill worked for her starting when he was six years old and got paid 10 cents an hour. One of his first jobs in the knitting store was as a hooker. He finished the hooking of the rugs! In her quiet way, she managed the house and also taught at the Jeremiah Burke School. The “Jerry” recently won a $100,000 prize from EdVestors for being the most improved school in Boston.
His involvement with nonprofit organizations is extensive and often times requires collaboration with global companies. Currently, Bill is involved with 23 non-profits, and he is quoted saying: “My philanthropy is geared towards three areas: education for all, diversity, and entrepreneurship.” Although he is a distinguished business man, he is constantly involved with and dedicated to philanthropy efforts, community outreach, and inclusion. He entered into the world of nonprofit work with knowledge from the corporate world, and since then, has been interested in implementing that knowledge in philanthropic endeavors and the consulting business. One of his goals is to “develop sustainable income for nonprofits using business people and strategy for generating revenue.”
One of Bill’s current efforts, which began in 2015 at Tufts University with Dr. Susan Roberts, focuses on developing approaches to preventing malnutrition and improving cognition and literacy in at-risk children. From their partnership, a patent has developed for a new food formulation for nutrition and cognitive enhancement, and the research team has been testing the food in villages in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa and in Boston. The preliminary results are extremely positive. Larger studies are underway, and Bill hopes to scale the project worldwide. Although this project will be a for-profit business, Schawbel says proceeds will go to those who are malnourished and sold to others who want to improve their nourishment and cognitive thinking.
He “feels flattered to be honored by PYD” because it is an organization that fits with all of his philanthropic interests. We can assure you though, Bill, that the honor is all ours.
We hope to see everyone on May 18th to join us in celebration with and honoring such a benevolent man. Tickets are still available – don’t miss out!
This post was written by Jackie (Xiao) Yan, Juan Zhou, Olivia Mannion, and Mary Grace Alcaro of the BU PRLab. Edited by Nicole Malo.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities will be holding its annual Party for PYD on May 18th – but beyond the talented performances, delicious food, and fun activities, the party will be a night to remember because of the event’s incredibly special honorees. PYD’s first honoree, the great Muhammad Ali, is someone who fought hard for inclusion (sometimes literally), and someone whose legacy continues to live on even though he is no longer with us.
Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center are a few of our unbelievable honorees that will be presented with the PYD Legends Award during this year’s party. As pioneers in societal leadership and mentoring, they’ve embarked on an extraordinary mission to empower people of all ages. They are pillars of leadership in advancing diversity, mentoring, inclusion and strategic advocacy for a better world.
Muhammad Ali, known for his great achievements in his boxing career, didn’t let the fame and money overpower his sense of compassion. Instead, he used his popularity as a platform to influence and educate others on the importance of kindness. Overseas, Ali was dedicated to raising awareness about the struggles of developing nations by fighting in Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Kinshasa. He not only delivered medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba, but he also provided more than 22 million meals to the world’s hungry. His philanthropic efforts went around the world to Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and many other countries.
At home, he engaged in many renowned charitable organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, and countless hospitals and soup kitchens. Additionally, he made his mark in sports by mobilizing many famous figures such as Mario Lemieux, Andre Agassi, and Lance Armstrong to create the humanitarian network Athletes for Hope. Apart from these groups, Ali put a tremendous amount of effort into generating awareness and research for Parkinson’s disease. In 1997, he established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorders Clinic in Phoenix, which brought hope, comfort, and treatment to thousands of patients and families.
Muhammad Ali’s motivation to give back to society was propelled by the saying, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.” Inspired by such spirit, Ali’s legacy lives on through the Muhammad Ali Center, which features an interactive museum, educational programming, and special events encouraging the public to pursue greatness in their own lives, communities, and countries. This international cultural center promotes the six core principles of Muhammad Ali: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality. These principles promote both personal and global greatness, and aid the center in providing programming around the focus areas of education, gender equality, and global citizenship.
After being wed in 1986, Muhammad’s wife Lonnie coordinated and managed all of Muhammad’s business affairs. Most notable was her creation of Greatest of All Time, Inc. (GOAT Inc.), where she centralized and licensed her husband’s intellectual properties for commercial purposes. Lonnie continuously accompanied her husband in his humanitarian efforts all over the world and always supported his charitable organizations at home, including assisting Muhammad in launching the Ali Parkinson Center and the Muhammad Ali Center. Her passion for enhancing educational opportunities for youth lead her to develop the Muhammad Ali: GO THE DISTANCE reading program, which provides teachers with research-based curriculum and practices to motivate learning and improve comprehension. Lonnie is currently on the management board of Muhammad Ali Enterprises and is a Lifetime Director of the Ali Center, where she continues to honor her husband’s legacy.
In his lifetime, Ali was named a Messenger of Peace by United Nations, and awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Amnesty International’s Lifetime Achievement Award. PYD is honored to join the world in recognizing the important work Ali did – in addition to the PYD Legends Award, PYD has been a key leader in establishing a day dedicated to Ali. Regina Snowden, PYD’s Founder & Executive Director, explains, “PYD along with Mentor, Inc. has created a special day of honoring Muhammad Ali (on his birthday) — International Day of Mentoring— January 17th, during National Mentoring Month.”
Although Ali is no longer with us, PYD is proud to carry on Ali’s philosophy that “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” PYD is humbled to honor Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali, and the Muhammad Ali Center, and believes that everyone can learn something from their contributions. We hope to see everyone May 18th to pay a small token of tribute to such an influential person.
Also, we’re enthusiastic to share that EverybodyFights FiDi boxing gym and George Foreman III are joining in the celebration of the Ali’s. They are hosting a special Warm Up to Party for PYD boxing circuit workout on April 29th and plan to attend the May 18th party! We hope you join us both dates!
This post was written by Olivia Mannion, Jackie (Xiao) Yan, Juan Zhou, and Mary Grace Alcaro of the BU PRLab. Edited by Nicole Malo.
It’s April, so if you’re like me, your social media feeds have been dominated with Autism Awareness Month profile pics and messages. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but anecdotally, I feel like Autism Awareness Month has become one of the most mainstream, widely known awareness months out there (ranking just behind Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in my eyes). It’s impressive, and a testament to the hard work of the autistic community and advocates!
That said, before you change your own profile pic or “Light it up blue,” I’d encourage you to consider supporting a different cause this month: Autism Acceptance Month.
Autism Acceptance Month is a concept that has been around for a while within the autistic rights movement. As an allistic–non-autistic–person myself, I don’t want to man-and-able-splain, when autistic people are more than capable of speaking for themselves. So here’s what Autism Acceptance Month is, in their own words:
“Autism acceptance means embracing autism as a natural part of the spectrum of human diversity and accepting autism as one of many different legitimate, meaningful, and valuable ways of experiencing the world. Autism acceptance means believing that autism doesn’t need to be fixed or cured for autistics to be happy and live good lives.
Autism acceptance means treating autistic people as members of a minority group who are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. It means changing the goal for autistics from “indistinguishability” or “recovery” to living with needed supports and gaining equal opportunity with neurotypicals — supporting autistics as they are. It means helping autistic children grow into autistic adults, rather than mourning the nonexistent neurotypical child they never were.” [Source: Autism Acceptance Day, Autistic Self Advocacy Network]
For such a small change in words, reframing April as a month of acceptance is a powerful concept. I think people are pretty well aware of autism these days! The current research suggests that 1 in 68 children have autism, and after years of media saturation and national discourse, I’d challenge you to find someone that has never heard about autism before. But in the words of Autistic Hoya, “Not all awareness is good awareness, and awareness itself can be the farthest thing from acceptance.”
For years, any discussion or news around autism has always focused on one thing: finding a cure. Vaccines are to blame! Maybe we can find the gene that causes autism and fix it! If you have an autistic child, these are the therapies you have to do so they can be as normal as possible! We’ve focused all our collective energy on seeing autism as a problem that has to be fixed and cured.
But–and here’s the radical idea–maybe autistic people don’t want to be cured. Maybe they like themselves just as they are, and they’d like others to be more accepting and understanding of them. Instead of investing our money in research for a cure, why don’t we spend more money providing services to autistic people that allow them to have more happy, empowering, and successful lives?
“[…]the concept of a “cure” for autism is profoundly unethical and leads to dangerous and even deadly consequences for autistic people. It is also out of line with the consensus of the scientific community, which has recognized the idea of cure as scientifically implausible. Research towards “cure” does not help autistic people or our families, and after decades of protest from autistic people, the public has begun to realize that a world without autistic people is not an ethical or desirable goal.” [Autistic Self Advocacy Network]
Maybe allistic people should instead value the many strengths and abilities that autistic people have, and view autism not as a problem, but simply as a difference. Not abnormal or invaluable, but instead, as a normal and valuable part of the range of human expression and experience.
So this April, I encourage everyone: let’s try to be more accepting.
If you liked this post, you’d love our upcoming webinar Understanding autism: Essential tips & tools for youth workers. It’s happening on Thursday, April 27th, so be sure to register today!
On March 12th, PYD began its #IAMPYD campaign by bringing our traveling canvass to Access To Theatre, PYD’s theater arts program for teens and young adults. Participants added their art to the canvas, expressing why they are involved and what they like most about PYD. The canvas is currently filled with a rocket ship, flowers, and other colorful drawings, including proud declarations of personal identities and why PYD is important to them.
Thanks to Mary Grace, Jackie, Juan, and Olivia of the Boston University PRLab, three peer leaders shared their experiences and how PYD has impacted their lives. The following are excerpts and photos from the interviews and the young artists’ process.
“I like being a peer leader for Access To Theatre and Making Healthy Connections because I enjoy expressing my individuality through theater and having fun! I love it because it is a space where I don’t get judged.” – Lizzie Gray
“My favorite thing about being a peer leader is being with my PYD family and those that I love the most. I also like helping others” – Josh Jones
“Partners for Youth with Disabilities has helped me be a better human being. It helps me be more independent as a man and it teaches me about social skills, and how to be ready for the world. In my personal life, it helps me be prepared for anything, because it unlocks that [treasure box] of opportunities and it helps me express who I am as an individual. It helps me learn more about myself and learn new things about different people. Everyone has a story and you never what they are going through unless you sit with them and learn their story. PYD has helped me with that. I’ve been involved for nine years now. I love PYD and thank them for doing that. If PYD didn’t exist I wouldn’t have learned to be as sharp, strong, independent, and intelligent, and I woudn’t have learned all these acting and theater skills. It is so cool to express being silly, but also being artistic and consistent at the same time. Some words that describe me are fearless, risk taker, ambitious, strive for greatest, loving, loyal, dedicated to family, dedicated to my peers, dedicated to being myself, honest, caring. Anything you need I’m always there for you. That’s what describes me.” – DJ Robinson
Join us at the Party for PYD on May 18th to hear DJ perform an original rap!
We’d like to thank Blick art for the kind donation of the canvas.