Gala 2014 – Celebrating Every Child:
40 Years of Serving Families
By Rebecca Rizoli, Parent Training and Information Center (FCSN)
“Growth, real growth, requires honesty, courage, hard work, and insight.”
– Eustacia Cutler on parenting a child with special needs
On May 2, 2014 over 400 people attended the Federation for Children with Special Needs’ annual Gala. It was a wonderful evening of celebration, marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Federation. The event was held at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.
During the cocktail hour, attendees were able to bid on silent auction items while enjoying the sounds of local band Calypso Hurricane. Once the crowd entered the ballroom, Executive Director Rich Robison introduced the evening’s emcee, award-winning reporter Susan Wornick.
Wornick commented on the energy and love in the room, and got the crowd laughing with some personal stories. She then introduced dancers from Boston Ballet’s Adaptive Dance program. The group performed a graceful, uplifting dance to the hit song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Their performance was a moving reminder that there is beauty and potential in all of us.
Following dinner, the program honored the lives and work of Robert H. Audette and Barbara Popper, both of whom passed away in the last year. Audette was the Associate Commissioner of Special Education for the Massachusetts Department of Education after Chapter 766 was passed. He worked tirelessly to ensure the law was successfully implemented. Popper was a long-time employee of the Federation, working on a number of programs since the agency opened in 1974. Mary Ann Ziegler, daughter of Federation founder Martha Ziegler, sang “Amazing Grace” in memory of Audette and Popper. She was accompanied on the piano by her voice instructor, Robert Gartside.
The next item on the program was the awards ceremony. Jim Whalen, President of the Federation’s Board of Directors, introduced Dan Heffernan, this year’s recipient of the President’s Award. Heffernan is a lawyer working for Kotin, Crabtree, & Strong and a current member and former president of the Board of Directors. Heffernan thanked his family, especially his son Brian. Brian has Down syndrome and was the keynote speaker at last year’s Federation conference. He also thanked Kotin, Crabtree & Strong and acknowledged Larry Kotin, who wrote the original draft of Chapter 766, along with his longtime legal partner Bob Crabtree and Connie Rizoli, former research analyst for then Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives David Bartley.
Rizoli then presented the Martha Ziegler Founders Award to Speaker Bartley. Rizoli praised Bartley for his tireless efforts to get Chapter 766 passed and forever change the education of children with special needs. In the tradition of the MA House of Representatives, she then said, “Mr. Speaker, please come to the rostrum to accept your award.”
Bartley began by saying that he couldn’t think of a better illustration of the effect of Chapter 766 than the Boston Ballet Adaptive dancers who had just performed. He also said that special education “is not a partisan issue. It affects Democrats, Republicans, the rich, middle-class, and poor. You never know if or when special education students will perhaps be in your family.” He thanked everyone who had worked so hard over the past 40 years to protect and maintain the rights of students with special needs.
The final award of the evening, the Patricia Blake Parent Advocacy Award, was presented by Susan Arndt, Chair of the Gala Committee, to Eustacia Cutler. Cutler is the mother of Temple Grandin, and she wrote a book about raising her daughter with autism in the 1950s. Cutler explained that Temple didn’t talk until she was five years old. With the help of a patient speech therapist who ran a preschool program, Grandin learned to talk and attended grade school at Dedham Country Day School. She went on to college and later got an advanced degree in animal science. Cutler said that it is our job to educate the mainstream about autism and other special needs.
After the awards ceremony, Wornick, dancer Sara, and Robison’s daughter Amy closed the program. They once again introduced Calypso Hurricane, who Amy called “the best band since S Club 7!” For the rest of the evening, the crowd danced along with Boston Ballet Adaptive Dance, as Calypso Hurricane played favorites such as “The Banana Boat Song” and “Stir It Up.” All in all it was a successful evening, raising over $200,000 to support the work of the Federation!
We look forward to seeing everyone on May 15, 2015 for Gala 2015 – Celebrating Every Child!