Emma Greenfield says one of the biggest blessings in her young life has been her disability.
She was born 27 weeks premature and has used a wheelchair since the age of 5 after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“I’m not going to lie, it was challenging at times,” said Greenfield, 17, who undergoes occupational and physical therapy on a weekly basis. “But now that I’m older, it has really become my biggest blessing, because it’s helped open my eyes to others and be aware of other people’s issues.”
The gregarious Greenfield, who said the main challenge of living with a disability is dealing with public perceptions, has strived to be the change she seeks in society by taking on an advocacy role at her alma mater in Albertson, a state-funded special-education school for severely disabled students. One of those efforts involved being a Viscardi Ambassador.
About 20 ambassadors visit schools in rotating groups to show students “we’re just like everybody else,” said Greenfield, of Hicksville. Since becoming an ambassador last year, she said she has answered all types of questions, ranging from “How do you take a shower?” to “What is your favorite food?”
But ambassadorship aside, Greenfield said the most important connection she has made is the one with her twin brother, Dylan, who also has cerebral palsy and some developmental delays.
“We’re like a team,” Greenfield said of her brother, who attends the Nassau BOCES Carmen Road School in Massapequa Park. “I think a lot of my motivation to pursue social work is because of him.”
Greenfield’s other achievements include being on her school’s wheelchair basketball team, which has placed first several times at the Nassau County Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged. She also received her school’s Scott “Bubba” Pollack Award for her sportsmanship and character on and off the court.
“Emma is an exceptional student with brains, beauty and drive,” said her guidance counselor, Monica Snyder. “I have had the pleasure of getting to know her very well over the past several years, and have watched her blossom into a well-spoken, caring, bright and energetic young woman.”
Greenfield plans to major in social work at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where she is most looking forward to “new beginnings, making my mark and doing the best I can.” She said she is also looking forward to reconnecting with many of her friends who already attend Edinboro.
Still, she said, she will always have a soft spot in her heart for her first school.
“Viscardi is like my home,” Greenfield said. “Everybody became your family and nobody ever treated you like you were different. I’ve been here a long time, and the memories I have will last forever.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD: “I would like people to just be kind. Kindness can go a long way, and you never know what other people are going through.”