More than 1,200 people clad in blue, some in wheelchairs, others with walkers, trekked a three-mile loop Sunday in support of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The annual walk at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow has been held by AHRC Nassau for more than three decades. The event brought out family, friends and advocates for the disabled. More than $80,000 was raised by Sunday morning, with the hopes of reaching a $100,000 milestone, event organizers said.
Walk attendance has grown steadily as New York State transforms its services for the intellectually and disabled, empowering families to seek out better services, said AHRC Foundation director Mary McNamara.
Funds enable AHRC, a New York-based organization offering services such as day treatment and community residences for the disabled, to support more than 4,000 children and adults living on Long Island throughout their lifetime.
Though funds are always important, the event was about building and celebrating a community, McNamara added. Thirty people represented Team Philip, in honor of a man with a neurological condition who died three years ago at age 27. His mother, Mindy Bach, 56, of North Woodmere, said attending the walk was emotional and bittersweet, but “kept her going.”
Roslyn Goldmacher, an AHRC board member and fundraiser, has attended the walk for more than two decades to support her sister Shelley and others who are “differently abled.”
“It’s a way for us all to come together to support our family, friends and the people who care for them,” said Goldmacher, of Westbury.
Woodmere residents Victor and Penny Besso, who raised the walk’s largest donation of $15,600, said AHRC helped their 35-year-old son Scotty have a fuller life.
“We want adults and kids to have a life like our son’s,” Victor Besso said, adding that the couple would be back to fundraise next year.
Attendees mingled and enjoyed activities such as a pumpkin patch and live musical performances. People also lined up to snap team photos to commemorate the day.
Walkers wrote their reasons for participating on an inspiration wall. The placards were varied, listing names of family members and friends, and motivations. One note read, “I walk because I can”; another said “to be healthy.”
Valley Stream resident Ellen Moore, whose 48-year-old son Douglas has Down syndrome, said though outsiders might see the event differently, there was “a lot of joy” at the event.
“Regardless of if they’re disabled, they are happy and maximizing their independence every day,” Moore, 70, said.
Over the past few decades, there have been many advances to create a better life for disabled people, but issues such as employment still warrant improvement, McNamara said.
Another key topic is New York State’s mandate to phase out sheltered workshops by 2020, many of which do not pay disabled workers — a decision lauded by some advocates as a way to help the disabled land jobs with a living wage. McNamara said that AHRC supports disabled people having a choice of employment, and that the organization will phase out its one sheltered workshop in Nassau County by 2020.
Coleen Mackin, a 39-year-old with learning disabilities, said that being a self-advocate for those with disabilities made her proud. “It makes me happy to speak up for other people who can’t,” Mackin, of Levittown, said.