Since as long as I can remember Cerebral Palsy of Nassau County has been apart of my life. My brother, Philip, now 42, was born with Cerebral Palsy and attended the Children’s Learning Center (CLC) at 18 months old and eventually transitioned to the Adult program when he was 21 years old. As his younger sibling, I loved visiting Philip at CPN and going with my mom to his appointments or attending the various events that CPN would hold. I remember at the age of three walking the halls surrounded by walkers, wheelchairs, and equipment, and thinking this was nothing short of “typical.”  We were so well known from our frequent visits, I often would sit on the lap of the staff who used to answer the phones at the switch board and answer the phone, “ United Cerebral Palsy, please hold”. It was pure joy peeking through the windows of the physical therapy gym seeing all the games and the occupational therapy gym where I would do anything to go in the ball pit. Most importantly, I loved the environment of pure happiness, love, and joy that permeated throughout the building.

The vibrant environment that exists is a salute to the hardworking teachers, teaching coaches, and aides that day in and day out teach, provide experiences, feed, and take care of the needs of all the students and clients. The staff truly performs “Gods work” in that they are their eyes, ears, arms, legs and voices. We, as Philip’s family are beyond indebted and filled with gratitude to all of those who have given him friendship, life experiences, care, and love.  There is not enough money in this world that can pay them enough for what they do everyday. They are our essential workers and hero’s not only during this crisis, but everyday.

I never viewed Philip as being different, despite the fact that he couldn’t walk, talk, or do the same things I could do. I didn’t see him as disabled. I just loved him for who he was, my brother. I was fortunate to never feel neglected, alone, or jealous because of the strong upbringing of my parents, Joan and Antonio. I watched how they cared, loved, and nurtured him. They never allowed my older sister, Gabrielle and I to feel anything but love, and showered us with the same adoration and attention. They did this so well because my parents acted as a unified front, a team. They taught us through Philip the meaning of love, compassion, and selflessness. Gabrielle became a nurse and I am an occupational therapist. There is no doubt that Philip was the driving force behind our career paths. He ultimately shaped the woman we have become today.

My mother, Joan, was a very active part of Cerebral Palsy of Nassau County. I watched her dedicate much of her time to CPN and to help bring joy and happiness to the staff, students, and clients. My mother was president of Tri-town Auxiliary, President of the CPN parents group, and a member of the Board of Directors. I watched her seamlessly juggle her role as a mother, full time caretaker to my brother, medical assistant, and as a full time volunteer at CPN for more years than I can keep count. My father, Antonio, was a full time factory worker at Farberware who not only was the main financial provider of our family, but the most hands on and present father you could ever ask for. He showered our family with love, support, and guidance. When any of us, especially Philip was in need of anything he always found a way to make certain Philip had it, even if it meant making it himself.  My family has faced many obstacles over the years, but we have always come together with an amazing support system to overcome the hurdles we have faced. CPN has been apart of this support system for us and we can never thank them enough for all they have done.

Recently, I came across the news article and message from the Executive Director, Bob McGuire, regarding the state of the clients and staff at the residential facilities. As I sat and listened my heart shattered and tears streamed down my face. I new it was my time to step up as Philip’s sister to help his peers and the staff that very well could of once been in his classroom. I also new that this was the time to follow in the footsteps of a phenomenal woman, my mom, who gave her heart and soul to CPN for so many years to not only help in this crisis, but in the years to come.

Over the years, I have received so much positive feedback about Philip’s impact on so many people’s lives. All of my friends and those who have encountered Philip often talk about how hechanged their view of people with disabilities and how they view the world.  A friend, and now a mom of a son with autism, wrote, “You and your family are such amazing people. Your brother Philip was my first interaction with a handicapped person, at such a young age (K-1). I remember so vividly watching your parents care for him and think these two are like real life superheroes, they did it with love and happiness, and always smiling. So I have not just my own loving parents, but yours too to show that with faith and love and yes laughter, I will and can get through it all.  Similarly a friend wrote, “I also wanted to thank you and your family. When I think of love and compassion and generosity, I think of your entire family. Buddy Baseball at UCP was one of my favorite memories from when we were little. There are so many things in life that as a young child you are unaware of because they are outside of your experience. Those days truly opened my eyes and my heart. I also think you are the amazingly wonderful person you are today because of your family”.

As you can see, Philip’s life is a gift. He is and will always be my heart and soul and that of my family. He has touched so many and because of him he reminds all of us to keep paying love and compassion forward.

With the help and support of the Malverne community, including Malverne Feeding Our Heroes run by Lori Hunt Lang and Bridget Jelovcic, and the Malverne Girl Scout Troop 2500 we are providing lunch from Antonio’s Deli in Malverne to the clients and staff at the residential facility in Bayville. Collette Lee Morales and Rachel Engel along with the organization, Rescuing Families Inc. run by Gina Cantone-Centauro, provided gloves, masks, and hair caps to the essential workers. Community members offered ponchos for protective wear and the children made cards for the residents and staff. A very special thank you to 11 year old and Malverne resident, Luke Major for making a large banner supporting our heroes to be hung at CP Bayville.

Emilia and friends also generously provided gift bags with handwritten notes of thanks to each Nurse in celebration of Nurse’s Week.  The nurses were extremely grateful for this thoughtfulness and recognition.

It seems that Emilia’s caring just has no end because she continued to show her support and encouragement for our frontline workers by providing wonderful dinners for every residence catered by Prince Umbertos in Franklin Square.  The staff and residents were so very grateful and truly enjoyed their delicious meals and the great caring and generosity that made it all possible.