Dinner of Hope, 2016

Thinking Outside the Box

Although Daniel Hnatio volunteered to be our official photographer, Adam Rajczyk also took lots of pictures. We thank them both for a job well-done. In addition, Tim Coco of COCO+CO and Katalin Baltimore donated the pictures they took at the event. Between all of our photographers, you can get a feel for the good time those in attendance shared.

Our Speakers

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, this year’s Keynote Speaker,  was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2007 in a special election, becoming the first woman in twenty-five years to serve in Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She represents the Massachusetts Third District, holding the same seat that was held three decades earlier by her late husband, former Congressman, Senator, and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas. The Third District spans across portions of Essex, Middlesex, and Worcester counties.

The Third District has a proud tradition of military service, and Congresswoman Tsongas honors that tradition, as well as the military family she grew up in, by serving as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. In this role, she has championed the fight to combat and prevent sexual assault in the military; authored numerous pieces of legislation that provide modern, cutting-edge resources to our service members; and worked to support veterans transitioning to civilian life. She has also led the push for modernized body armor and is working to support the unparalleled innovation taking place at Massachusetts military installations.

Congresswoman Tsongas also serves in a leadership role on the Natural

Resources Committee as the top Democrat on the Federal Lands Subcommittee. In addition, she has made supporting small businesses a priority and encouraging the growth of state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology companies that have become a trademark of the region.

The Congresswoman has made accessibility a hallmark of her Congressional office. With offices in Lowell, Lawrence, and Fitchburg, and office hours in Haverhill and Marlborough, she has worked to make it as easy as possible for residents to connect with her about any issue of concern to them or to get assistance with problems they may have when dealing with federal agencies.

Asperger Works was fortunate to have the services of Daniel M. Kimmel as this evening’s Master of Ceremonies.

Daniel is no stranger to being in the public light. His movie reviews appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 25 years. Now they can be found online at northshoremovies.net. For seven years he was also known as the “Movie Maven” for The Jewish Advocate.  Later he served as its editor.

His book on the history of FOX TV, The Fourth Network, received the Cable Center Book Award. His other books include a history of DreamWorks, The Dream TeamI’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind the Scenes of the Great Romantic Comedies; and Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies, which was nominated for a Hugo Award for “Best Related Work.”

Daniel’s first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide, was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award. He is a past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and past co-chair of the Boston Online Film Critics Association. He has taught at Emerson College and Suffolk University, lectures on film to a variety of groups, and served as emcee for the New England Region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

Daniel Rivera (Mayor of Lawrence, MA) is the 45-year-old son of a single mother who emigrated from the Dominican Republic to find a better life for her family. He is married and has a young son. Mr. Rivera graduated from Lawrence High School, where he served as a co-chair of the LHS Model UN and as the Senior Class Secretary.

He earned his Master’s degree from Suffolk University in Business Administration going to school at nights and weekends.

He worked as Project Manager at the public housing project where he grew up and was the Economic Development Director for Congressman Marty Meehan. Prior to becoming mayor in 2013, Mr. Rivera was an At-Large City Councilor. Throughout his political life, but especially since he became mayor, Mr. Rivera’s goal has been to put Lawrence on the map as the vibrant, energetic immigrant city it is.

Mr. Rivera has also been a major cheerleader and supporter of our fledgling organization.

James J. Fiorentini (Mayor of Haverhill, MA) is a native of Haverhill. Mr. Fiorentini graduated from Haverhill High School and attended Tufts University with a degree in Political Science, was a Vista volunteer, and received his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1974 followed by admission to the New Hampshire Bar. He is married to Martha Fiorentini and they have three children, James, Regina, and Chrissy.

Jim served as an Assistant District Attorney and prosecutor in the Haverhill District Court and as a Special Assistant Attorney General to Attorneys General

Francis X. Bellotti and Robert Quinn. Mr. Fiorentini served on Haverhill’s City Council from 1995 to 2003. In 2003 he ran for mayor and won. Since then he has been reelected six times.  Although he will soon be celebrating his seventieth birthday, he does not appear to be slowing down and is working as vigorously as ever to better the city he loves so much.

Richard Rodriguez is a member of  the Asperger Works Advisory Board and is a disability lawyer. He is a product of Special Education and a long-time advocate for people with disabilities.

He himself is disabled due to a slight hearing problem, speech impairment, and other disabilities. But he has refused to give in to self-pity and has, in fact, succeeded despite his hearing difficulties.

Richard succeeded despite his disabilities and overcame poverty having grown up in a New York housing project in a drug and crime infested neighborhood. Despite his disabilities, he served nine years in the Army National Guard where he was appointed to Officers’ Candidate School.

In 2014 he was appointed by Mayor Dan Rivera and confirmed to the Lawrence Commission of Disability by Mayor Dan Rivera. His appointment was confirmed by the Lawrence City Council. His peers elected him as Chairman of the Commission, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the city is in compliance with the American Disabilities Act.

Diagnosed with Learning Disability when he was a child, Daniel R. Rajczyk did not learn that he had Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with Autism, until the early 2000s.

Despite his disabilities, Daniel earned his B.A. in Sociology and Media Studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA and his M.A. in Information Technology at Endicott College, Beverly, MA. It was while studying at Endicott that Daniel first began formulating ideas about a nonprofit organization that was to become Asperger Works.

His difficulties in finding and maintaining appropriate employment drove him to make his dream a reality in 2012. With minor help from others, in 2014 he filed an application to make Asperger Works a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization. In July of the same year, Asperger Works became a 501(c)(3) organization and the rest as “they” say is history.

Our Honorees

Through the Bryan Noble Award,  State Senator Barbara L’Italien was recognized by Asperger Works for her strong advocacy on behalf of the disabled and elderly communities of Massachusetts.

Senator L’Italien was born in Passaic, NJ but was educated in Andover Public Schools and is a graduate of Merrimack College. Prior to becoming the State Senator from the 2nd Essex and Middlesex Districts, she was a member of the MA House of Representatives, 18th Essex District (2003 – 2011) and the director of government affairs for the MA treasury department (2011 – 2015).

Ms. L’Italien is married to Kevin Hall and they have four children: Rudy, 26; Alexandra,  24; Samantha, 22; and Andrew, 18.

Ms. L’Iatlien has been serving as Chair of the Autism Commission since November of 2010. She founded the Commission in order to better deliver services to everyone with Autism Specter Disorders. Over the years, she has worked to protect children on the Spectrum from bullying, to require training for teachers on “augmentative” communication; to create an Autism Division within the Department of Developmental Services; and to pass legislation establishing an Autism Federal Medicaid Waiver. Additionally, she was able to get bi-partisan support for a bill that passed unanimously granting comprehensive autism medical insurance coverage, including adults who had been diagnosed as Autistic prior to their eighteenth birthday.

The Senator has been tireless in her support of our fledgling organization and has been one of our greatest advocates and cheerleaders.

The Community Service Award was given to the Northeast Independent Living Program for its unwavering support for Asperger Works and the disabled community. The organization’s Executive Director, June Sauvageau, accepted the award.

NILP focuses on assisting people with disabilities to live in the community with whatever supports they need, as do the other Independent Living Centers in the United States. All of the centers are private not-for-profit organizations that are run by and for persons with disabilities. It is mandated that the staff and the nonprofit board have at least 51% persons who have disabilities.

NILP began its work in Lawrence thirty-six years ago with a staff of three by providing services that have allowed people with disabilities to live dignified, independent lives. Up until NILP appeared on the scene, those with disabilities had few choices: life in residential schools, nursing homes, or state hospitals. NILP provides “Peer2Peer Resources for People with Disabilities.”

But NILP not only helps people with disabilities. It has also taken it upon itself to aid a new, basically unknown entity, Asperger Works, by providing us with the use of a conference room for meetings, donation of office space (including Wi-Fi and phone service), and emotional support. Everyone associated with NILP has shown our tiny staff of Board members, intern, and volunteers much respect and large doses of kindness that we hope to pay forward in the future.

The Asperger Works Award was given to Dusya Lyubovskaya (seen here with Tom Wood) by Asperger Works in recognition of her staunch advocacy work on behalf of the Autistic community, and indeed the entire disabled community.

Dusya is a Boston native who has dedicated her life to helping others. She is a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) and a Home Health Aid (HHA) and works primarily with the disabled and the elderly (sixty-five and over). As if her dedication to these endeavors were not enough, she also finds time to be an American Red Cross Ambassador, be involved with Toastmasters, and advocate for those who she feels have been ignored by society for a long time: people with Autism and other disabilities.

Presently, she has embarked on the study of American Sign Language and has great interest in medical science. It is noteworthy that Ms. Lyubovskaya was diagnosed with non-verbal learning disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome only six years ago at the age of twenty-seven.

Our Magician

What can we say about Stephanie Beach? This is the second year in a row that she wowed us with her magic and donated her time and show. During dinner and before the speeches, Stephanie went from table to table dazzling our guest with her magic tricks.

Then came the big event. Her theme this year was Halloween. And, like last year, she insisted on audience participation, which many were all too willing to give.

Everyone had lots of fun; and laughter and mirth filled the room.

Here are the pictures from …