John D. Kemp, president and chief executive of the Viscardi Center for the disabled in Albertson, has received the 2014 Dole Leadership Prize, a national award given annually to an individual or group whose public service and leadership inspires others.
Kemp is the first disability leader to receive the distinction and was personally selected by former Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, for whom the honor is named. Past honorees include Nelson Mandela, President George H.W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani.
Viscardi is a network of nonprofit organizations that provide services to educate and employ people with disabilities. It also operates the Henry Viscardi School for children with severe disabilities. Kemp is president of the school.
"I'm actually blown away by this," Kemp said of the award in a telephone interview. "I'm humbled beyond belief."
Kemp said he received the award and $25,000 in prize money in a Dec. 14 ceremony at the University of Kansas' Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics. On Monday, he was honored in Albany by the State Senate when Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola) and Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) presented resolutions to him acknowledging the honor.
"It was a very humbling and tremendous experience to be part of New York State history," Kemp said.
Kemp, who was born without full arms and legs and uses four prostheses, has more than 50 years of experience in the disability movement and has been president and chief executive of Viscardi Center since 2011.
He is a past recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award, widely recognized as America's highest honor for disability leadership and service, and has served on numerous boards and commissions advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities.
"By earning this award, John attains a place among world leaders and people who have influenced events around the globe," Martins said of the Dole honor. "He belongs right among them because of his advocacy, his example, and his ability to change children's lives every day.
"John is an inspiration because he never let his disabilities slow him down, and helps others do the same," Martins added. "This is an incredible honor for an incredible man, and I'm pleased that the Senate recognized his accomplishment."
The Dole honor was first awarded in 2003. Dole lost the use of his right hand after an injury he suffered during World War II.