PYD is deeply saddened by the loss of two shining stars – our strong and vibrant Board of Directors member of many years, Neil Leonard (December 16, 1960 – June 26, 2021) and PYD long time beloved alum, Michele Scaramozza (June 4, 1976 – July 10, 2021).
Neil served on the Board of Directors (BOD) for over a decade and was BOD President for eight years. He was deeply devoted to PYD, providing generous amounts of time to the organization, given with energy, astute advice, savvy insights, humor, and ever-present support. Neil enjoyed PYD events, seeing the mentors and the youth engaging with them with great admiration, specifically enjoying the youth energy of PYD.
A PYD LEGENDS honoree at Party for PYD in May 2015, Neil was co-chair and chair for the Party for PYD planning committee many times over. He would step up to be the BOD representative at meetings with funders and others, served on committees, and often asked what he could do, time over time.
Neil was there for me and PYD when any challenges occurred and solutions were needed. He was not a critic, but a kind and thoughtful problem solver. He often told me of all the PYD events, he most loved “Mentor Appreciation Night” where he got to see the mentors, youth, and parents participate and recognize the impact of the organization through that event.
Often, Neil would ask for a lunch date and say, “I need to hear how things are going. Let’s create a time to meet,” wanting to know how I was and what the organization needed. He seemed to truly “get” the mission of PYD and how critical we are as an organization serving a giant population of the underserved. I was honored to visit with Neil on June 20, 2021. His comment during that visit was, “we need to create a time to meet next week to talk about PYD.” I will cherish and use his essence always.
Neil’s legendary support to me and the organization will remain. We were truly fortunate to have Neil amongst us. His contributions will carry us onward.
Michele was a pioneer youth in PYD, instrumental in forming the structure of programming based on youth needs. In concert, we created new and relevant programs for youth with disabilities who did not have as much access to supportive youth programming 36 years ago. We learned together.
Highly regarded by her many peers, Michele took a peer leadership role in all PYD programs. She mentored many youth, became one of the first Youth Leadership Forum delegates, participated in Access to Theater, and more. She was a frequent alum guest at the holiday party hosted by the Dunne’s.
Michele participated in and lead PYD’s adventurous escapades to Washington D.C., Disney World, adaptive skiing, adaptive rope/rock climbing, and more. We were a brave group taking risks that today would be of question. However, we are grateful we took risks and gave youth extraordinary opportunities. The joy and empowerment that were given to the youth are evident by Michele and her era of the first pioneer youth of PYD in the 1980s and 1990s.
For a time, Michele was a Mentor Match Specialist within PYD. She brought humor and dead pan observations. She was mentored by Jeanne and George Donahue throughout her adult years with devotion as well as Cathy and Richard Dunne and Margaret Covell, PYD BOD president, in Margaret’s early volunteer work for PYD as a graduate student in the 1990s. As Michele’s adult life developed, she confronted far too many health challenges adding to complication of her disability from birth, spina bifida.
We are forever blessed by the honor of having Michele in our lives.