From the Superintendent's Seat:
Community Mayors & Special Education
Special Education in New York City has a guardian angel, a maker of dreams which come true for special needs youngsters. It is the Community Mayors of New York City. This group is comprised of selfless men and women from various federal, state, and city agencies: Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Transportation, CIA, FBI, Department of Sanitation, who give their time and energy to brighten the lives of the most challenged children in the city.
The President of this organization, Shelley Della Rocca is continuing the work that her father, Dominick started which emanated from the founder, Louis Zeltner in 1875. as the Locality Mayors. The group was originally dedicated to community and charitable activities and one of its notable members was Teddy Roosevelt. In 1957, Dominick Della Rocca, reincorporated the organization as the Community Mayors with special needs children as his primary focus. He was Community Mayors’ Chief Mayor for almost 50 years until Shelley took the reins and continued his work to provide “recreational therapy” for over 50,000 children with disabilities.
Through linkages with various cultural institutions and private recreational entities in the city, the Community Mayors schedule outings to places where disabled and disadvantaged youngsters would otherwise not have access. Each year students visit The Bronx Zoo, the Aquarium, the Circus, Nellie Bly Amusement Park ,Coney Island and the piece de resistance, the annual “Operation Santa” which is held in a hangar at JFK airport. At this event, several thousand special needs students are surrounded by clowns, marching bands, and are given presents and after a boxed lunch watch the hangar open and see Santa appear from the “North Pole” waving hello from the window of Delta Airlines jet plane. They go home fed, with gifts and smiles on their faces as hundreds of volunteers from all government agencies push the wheelchairs or help escort them to their school busses. All the labor is provided by these government workers on their days off as they volunteer their time.
The other gift that the Community Mayors bestow to special needs students is scholarships to summer camps either day or residential. Through District 75, the Special Education district in New York City, the Community Mayors sort through hundreds of applications and select students who are awarded with checks for the camp of their families’ choice. Over the years students have spent summer time in the country, with all the necessary supports they require, as a result of the generosity of the Community Mayors Organization.
The money raised for the children is from donations and fund raisers. One is easily awed by seeing the goodwill of these people at a time in our history when narcissism and greed have led to an economic recession. The fact that these people give their personal time and energy to unfamiliar but very special children in order to make their lives happier gives one hope for a better world. The philosophy of this organization is exemplified in the logo of the Community Mayors. It reads, ”No man is so tall as when he stoops to help a handicapped child.”#
For more information please see the website www.communitymayors.org
Dr. Bonnie Brown is the superintendent of District 75 in NYC.