Your Dream Is Bigger When You Think of Others

Melissa M. MacDonnell, Legends Honoree 2017

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.

Eli Wolff

Eli A. Wolff is a Mentoring Coordinator at Partners for Youth with Disabilities. Eli also serves as adviser for the Royce Fellowship for Sport and Society at Brown University and co-leads the Power of Sport Lab, a platform to fuel and magnify innovation, inclusion and social change through sport.

Eli’s past work has been at the intersection of research, education and advocacy in and through sport. In 2000, Eli helped to establish the ESPY Award for Best Male and Female Athlete with a Disability, and he organized the national disability sport organizations to support professional golfer Casey Martin in his successful case against the PGA before the U.S. Supreme Court. From 2003 to 2008, Eli led a global effort to include provisions addressing sport and recreation within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. More recently, Eli has helped to lead a national effort for the inclusion of student-athletes with disabilities in high school and college athletic opportunities.

Eli has also contributed to the international sport for development and social change community and has assisted with the global efforts for the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on April 6 of each year. In 2016, Eli co-developed Mentoring for Change and the International Mentoring Day as an annual part of January’s National Mentoring Month, on Muhammad Ali’s birthday, January 17, as a collaboration between the National Mentoring Partnership, the Muhammad Ali Center and Epicenter Community.

Eli was a member of the United States Paralympic Soccer Team in the 1996 and 2004 Paralympic Games. Eli is a graduate of Brown University and has an MA in Sport Studies from the German Sport University of Cologne.

Stacey Schneiderman

Stacey Schneiderman joined the PYD team in December 2016 as a part time Mentoring Specialist. She feels lucky to have been a mentor herself for the past 8 years. Stacey taught as a special educator for over 11 years ranging in settings from behavioral health hospitals, residential programs, and both urban and suburban public schools.

She is thrilled to bring her passion and experiences as both a teacher and mother of 3 to this role. She spends most of her with her family, per dog and turtle.

Mike Haydu

Mike Haydu joined the PYD team in January 2017 as a Mentoring Specialist. His work at PYD will focus on facilitating matches between mentors and youth ages 11-17. Prior to joining PYD, Mike worked at College Nannies and Tutors in a variety of roles, first as a nanny and a tutor and later in an administrative capacity, acting as a liaison between students and families and their tutors. Mike has spent the past seven years working and volunteering at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut.

As a former counselor and tutor, Mike brings a passion for empowering young people to tackle the obstacles they face. Mike’s dedication to service comes from his Jesuit education (Fairfield Prep and the College of the Holy Cross), where he was taught to “be a man for others” and to “go above and beyond the call of duty.” His interest in working with young people stems from his experiences growing up the oldest of over 20 younger cousins and the impact he realized an older role model could have. He is excited to help facilitate these kinds of relationships for the youth and volunteers that work with PYD!

Derek Billings

Derek Billings, Mentoring Specialist, started at PYD in early 2017. Derek has spent much of his time since 2010 working and volunteering for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (Ashford, Connecticut) as well as Camp Rising Sun (Colebrook, Connecticut) working with children with serious illnesses. He also worked as a paraprofessional at River Street School from 2013 to 2016, working very closely with children on the Autism spectrum. Before coming to PYD, he spent two years working odd jobs around Connecticut.

Derek is a certified high school basketball referee and has been doing middle school and high school games since 2005. He also spent some time as a youth baseball umpire in central Connecticut. Derek now spends much of his free time playing video games of all kind, watching sci-fi TV shows, as well as watching superhero movies and reading the comics they are based on.

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