Assemblyman Tom Alfano and 14 Assembly members from throughout New York State held their fifth annual Disability Awareness Day ceremony at the state Capitol. The day hopes to raise awareness of challenges that people face each and every day associated with disability issues throughout the state and country. The "Excelsior Award for Excellence" was developed to recognize individuals who have succeeded despite these challenges.
In recognition of the day, Elmont sixth-grader Peter Ponce was honored at the Capitol for his work in raising awareness of scleroderma. Ponce was nominated by Assemblyman Alfano. Ponce joined the ranks of 14 other honorees nominated from throughout the state.
"Peter is my first nomination for this very special honor. He has made a difference in the fight against scleroderma and leads by example with the development of his charity walk with the Rotary Club and Elmont School District," said Assemblyman Alfano. "He's a bright young man who is a fighter and inspires all of us."
Scleroderma is an autoimmune connective tissue disorder that consists of an overproduction of collagen. The tissue hardens, affecting muscles and tendons and eventually causing joints to contract and become stiff and painful.
The Excelsior Award honors extraordinary achievements and public service of those who have overcome physical and other personal challenges. Alfano, who serves as assistant leader in the Assembly, co-hosted the event with Assembly members Jim Tedisco, Tom McKevitt, Greg Ball, Will Barclay, Nancy Calhoun, James Conte, Janet Duprey, Roy McDonald, Annie Rabbitt, Teresa Sayward, Dede Scozzafava and Marc Butler.
Alfano introduced Ponce as a leader and role model for young people who only wants to help others in combating scleroderma. "Peter is a giver. With the funds he's raising, he wants to help others. That's the sign of not only a leader, but of a kind soul who wants to help young people who may not have the means to help themselves." Alfano said. "The world needs more Peter Ponces who help others."
In accepting the award, Ponce addressed the standing-room-only crowd in the historic Assembly Parlor by talking about scleroderma and the challenges he personally faced with his family. His speech clearly moved audience members. Assembly members throughout the state recognized Peter in their remarks for his extraordinary speech about Scleroderma. In fact, Assemblyman Roy McDonald of Saratoga greeted Ponce as "our future governor" in his award presentation.
When asked about the awards program and his winning the Excelsior Award, Ponce remarked, "This is very cool. I'm really happy everybody was so nice and wanted to know about scleroderma."
The awards ceremony was carried by television throughout the state. In addition, Ponce's speech and the awards presentation will be featured in a future edition of Assemblyman Alfano's television show on Cablevision Channel 18. The show will also highlight his special walk in the battle against scleroderma that took place on June 9 at Covert Avenue School.
Ponce and Alfano also visited the historic Assembly Chamber together. They both stood at the speaker's chair, where Ponce banged the speaker's gavel, which is used to bring the chamber to order. Joining Peter and his family at the ceremony were Elmont Superintendent of Schools Al Harper, Gateway Youth Outreach Director Pat Boyle and Norma DeBartolo, special assistant for community affairs in the Elmont School District.