Queens Kiwanis charter first-ever club for disabled

This week, Queens West Kiwanis will welcome a brand new club to the division.

For the first time in Kiwanis International history, the club is made up of 16 members who are diagnosed with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The club, Kiwanis Club of Sharing Hearts/Queens West, will be a true Kiwanis club as opposed to an Aktion club, which is a service leadership program that supports people with disabilities.

Carol Verdi, lieutenant governor of Queens Kiwanis West and executive vice president of education services at HeartShare, said that the idea came to fruition at a training session with New York Kiwanis Governor James Mancuso.

“He told us to try and find some new clubs and think outside the box. I’ve been working with the developmentally disabled for my entire professional career, and I thought we should start a Kiwanis club with our guys who are adults,” Verdi said.

“Everyone at HeartShare was on board with it, and I’m very proud of them,” she continued. “They will be as active as a regular club, and there are many clubs in the West Division that said they will support them with anything they need to be successful.”

The club welcomes 17 members: Kevin Facey, president; Larry Ottley, treasurer; Michael Cyrus, secretary; Sofia Ghale, Marilyn Barros, Michael Jones, Brianne Sheridan, Manuel Hazoury, Mariam Abdallah, Mathew Koshi, James Cutright, Joanna Norris-Boyd, Dowlat Sukhram, Paula Samaroo, Aletha Capers, Nicholas Palmeri and Feliz Cruz.

The charter date is April 1, where there will be a luncheon at 11 a.m. inside the Hyatt Regency JFK Airport at Resorts World to celebrate the newest addition to the Queens West Kiwanis family.

Verdi, who’s been involved with the Kiwanis since 1986, is no stranger to being isolated from the organization because of her identity.

She could not become a formal member of the Kiwanis club until about 24 years ago because they did not allow women to join, so she takes pride in seeing another “first” for the organization today.

“Oftentimes in our society, people with developmental disabilities are looked down upon because of their ability. People think they can’t do what others do, and I think showing the community and the greater Kiwanis family that they can be successful and they can do just what we do,” Verdi said. “For example, the treasurer may need some help doing math, and the secretary may need help with spelling, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable. And I think that taking this step, especially for our division, is showing everyone that our guys can function in the real world just like the rest of us.”

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