M-W CARES Presenters (A-F)

  • A Vision in Motionis committed to improving people’s lives by providing dynamic speakers and high impact presentations that are diverse, educational, motivational and entertaining.
    • Phil Aronson and Jay Gittleson – “Reconnecting: The Importance of Friendship” – Friends Phil Aronson and Jay Gittleson (the founder of A Vision in Motion Speakers Bureau) lost touch for many years. They reconnected this past year after Phil heard about Jay’s health situation. They will share their inspirational story which they hope will save more than just one life.
    • Cornelius Barker – “The Choice: Lessons From the Street” – A former gang member who became a school administrator for more than 25 years, Cornelius delivers motivational lectures that help students re-evaluate themselves and their interaction with peers.
    • Scott Chesney – “Dream, Believe and Work To Achieve”   His blueprint for helping students journey from where they currently are in their lives to where they want to be creates a strong foundation of self-esteem and reinforces his overall message that “anything is possible when one dreams, believes, and works to achieve.” Students will learn how dreams can even come true for people with disabilities.
    • James Fiorentino – “Achieving Your Dreams” – At the age of 15, James became the youngest artist ever to be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for his likeness of Reggie Jackson. In 1998, James became the youngest artist to be inducted into the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators, along with such artists as Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth. His photo-realism in watercolor has helped him become a nationally known wildlife and portrait artist, painting people from everyday life to Presidents and Nobel Peace Prize winners. Many of James’ works currently grace the walls of notable museums, galleries, Universities, companies and private collections.
    • Eugenie Mukeshimana – “Story of Survival” – Eugenie’s story of surviving the Rwandan genocide provides a true insight into a well-organized genocide crime that only few survivors have the courage to recount. In compelling storytelling fashion, she recounts her life from childhood to motherhood, from captivity to liberation, from loss and despair to resiliency and hope, from near-death to life worth living, from injustice to justice for all.
    • Dan Occhiogrosso – “Create The Crossover” – always uses the message, “Live for Something Bigger than Yourself” to help inspire people to overcome specific issues in their lives. Create the Crossover emphasizes the fact that we are not able to fully see the potential of our lives, but when we take the step to live for something bigger than ourselves, we can come to realize a greater potential than we ever thought possible. Occh’s humanitarian work through basketball also demonstrates that achieving our dreams may look different from what we originally set out to do.
    • Janet Pfeiffer – “Domestic Abuse” – Janet is an internationally known speaker and award-winning author who is recognized as a leading authority in the field of anger management and conflict resolution. Her warmth, sincerity, knowledge, and humor flavored with personal stories of trauma to triumph evoke a profound awareness in her audiences.
    • Dr. Paul Wichansky – “Taking the ‘Dis” Out of Disability” – “Dr. Paul” is a speaker and author who has triumphed over cerebral palsy and a hearing loss. Dr. Paul instills in students the motivation and perseverance needed to soar towards success. Dr. Paul emphasizes the critical issues of tolerance and respect and relates to the development of a “Yes! I Can” attitude. By sharing his life experiences, he uses himself as an example to help inspire students to learn from their mistakes and failures, and in the process, helps them realize that success is readily available with hard work and determination. 
  • Anti-Defamation League/A World of Difference Institute – Jess Cooper – As a leading provider of anti-bias education, the institute recognizes that attitudes and beliefs affect actions, and that each of us can have an impact on others, and ultimately, on the world in which we live. As assistant education director for ADL Albany, Jess Cooper has implemented No Place For Hate throughout Upstate NY by providing anti-bias and anti-bullying resources and support to students, parents, teachers and administrators in in grades k-12.
  • Christa Avampato – College was by no means assumed in Christa’s situation. “The tuition was more money than my mother made in a year,” she adds. “We were on the free lunch program all through my schooling, and very fortunate to have programs like that because sometimes it was my only full meal in a day. But having those supports and having my teachers and Mr. Wherry made me realize that I could move beyond how I was raised. That it didn’t have to define me; it could influence me and it could drive me, and make me want to work harder and achieve more, but just because I didn’t have enough, didn’t mean that I wasn’t enough.”
  • Judy and Rocco Battista – Tista 4 Life – Judy and Rocco Battista, residents of Warwick, NY, lost their 20 year old son, Daniel, to suicide in 2008. As a retired FDNY member who served at Ground Zero, Rocco was familiar with loss and grief. The loss of their son made them determined to work to fight suicide and the stigma that surrounds it. They established “Tista 4 Life” in memory of Danny which organizes blood drives, music scholarships, art exhibits, support groups, community outreach, and participation in the Out of the Darkness Walks to help fight suicide. Visit Tista4Life.com.
  • Believe Elite Athletic Training – John Rahn: Owner/ Head Coach of Believe Elite Athletic Training – Rahn will talk about the importance of setting goals every day and how you can achieve them. His life changed because of one young man. His relationship with Vincent Vespa helped him to be strong, have courage and work for what he truly wanted out of his life. Rahn’s business has given him the chance to impact lives, build relationships, and create an atmosphere where young kids can learn about living a healthy life.
  • Wendy Bollenbach – Bollenbach shares her personal stories of dealing with untreated addiction and mental illness…the before and the after.
  • Breaking the Cycle – Convinced that proactive prevention is the best way to stem the rising tide of school violence, and in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, the assembly program, Breaking the Cycle, was initiated. This award-winning program stresses honest communication and forgiveness as a way of resolving conflicts and easing the tensions that linger afterward. Focusing on real-life experiences, rather than theories, Breaking the Cycle assemblies feature several internationally known advocates for peace and reconciliation.
    • Ann Marie D’Aliso – Ann Marie and her husband, Patrick, (high school football coach and health teacher), lost their son, Pat, to suicide on May 19, 2004 at 16 years of age. Nobody feels the death of a child more than a mother, but together with her husband, Ann Marie worked through the terrible trauma that ensued. By sharing her story Ann Marie hopes “others might be saved.”
    • Hashim Garrett – At 15 years of age, Garrett was shot six times. This gang-related shooting left him partially paralyzed from the waist down, filled with anger and a desire for revenge. He realized that forgiving the perpetrator was the only power that would free him to move forward positively. Forgiveness is the cornerstone on which his company, “Wisdom & Understanding, LLC” was founded and he remains committed to sharing its power with the world.  
    • Randi Kelder – Randi’s brother Ryan died after a heroin overdose in 2015 at the age of 24, following a long struggle with addictions. Randi and her parents now work to raise awareness about the growing epidemic of deaths caused by opioids. Randi forgave her brother, but wants to prevent anyone else suffering the pain she and her family endured.
    • Michael O’Shea – At 11, Mike O’Shea discovered a solution to his self-doubt in alcohol, the only thing that would make him “feel right inside.” Before long, he was entangled with addictive drugs as well. The turning point came only when Mike encountered a man who believed in him despite his problems, someone he could be honest with and trust completely. Now, Mike views his recovery as a precious gift. His passion is to work with troubled adolescents and encourage them on their own paths to find purpose and peace.
  • Tim Collins a nationally touring solo theater artist, Tim presents his highly acclaimed one-man play, TO BE HONEST. This engaging multi-character performance addresses a range of issues including: Cyberbullying, Teen Depression, Bystander Intervention, and the impact of texting and social media on friendships and intimate relationships.
  • “Drug Crisis in our Backyard” – Steven &  Susan Salomone  The Salamones created Drug Crisis in our Backyard when they experienced the death of their son Justin to heroin overdose on May 29, 2012. The goal of the group is to create awareness and reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorders.
  • “Dylan’s Wings of Change Foundation” – WingmanIan Hockley, cofounder – Parents of a first grader killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Ian and his wife Nicole created the foundation to support children no matter what their challenges in life. With a group of experts, they created Wingman, a program for sports, schools and dance that is youth led and empowers children to build a supportive community where everyone can be themselves.
  • Encore Performing Arts – Rick Adam – A Journey Through Addiction – Rick Adam has been performing, teaching, and inspiring people of all ages for over 20 years. Rick has combined his extensive theatrical and musical experience to create original theatrical performances that both educate and entertain. Using original music, drama, mime, special effects, and vaudeville, this compelling autobiographical theatre production (complete with scenery, costumes and props) explores alcoholism, drug dependency, eating disorders, teen suicide, and self-destructive attitudes.
  • End Distracted Driving – Joel Feldman, Esq. – Casey Feldman was 21 years old when she was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. Her parents created The Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation and EndDD.org to honor Casey’s life and help stop the crashes and deaths caused by distracted driving.
  • Sarah Panzau Evans – In 2003, 21-year old Sarah Panzau’s life changed forever. She had partied the night away and made an irrevocable decision to get into her car and drive home. After a harrowing car crash that left her clinging to life, with her left arm severed, toxicology tests revealed that she had a blood-alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit. Sarah now lives in constant pain and has endured more than 30 surgeries in the past five years. She has been given the gift of a second chance at life, and she is using it to educate young people about the hazards of underage drinking, and the risks of making bad decisions. Her story is truly about learning from one’s mistakes and the resilience of the human spirit. Sponsored by Dana Distributors through the Anheuser-Busch Community Speaker’s Program.
  • Eye to Eye Christie Spisak, Alyssa TierneyMagic happens when Eye to Eye gets face to face. Eye to Eye Diplomats — successful students or adults with learning differences, like Dyslexia and ADHD — inspire audiences with presentations, workshops, and keynote speeches across the country. Eye to Eye Diplomats share inspiring stories and practical strategies for success and are professionally trained to speak to groups large and small. Inspiring messages from the Eye to Eye Diplomats Christie Spisak and Alyssa Tierney encourage different learners to find strength within themselves to reach their full potential. 
  • Paul D. Failla – actor, former police officer, educational consultant – in a one-man show that is an emotional roller coaster, Failla teaches life lessons every student should be taught: be accountable for your actions; live life through your values; go after your goals.
  • Fly Right Ministry – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides live events and mentoring to inmates and students to help them make better life decisions and exercise self-control.
    • Jim Harris – uses radio controlled airplanes and helicopters to entertain the students and then brings the excitement and fun to them by giving “flight lessons.” After the demonstrations end, the program really begins. Jim uses impactful illustrations from flying to teach students the importance of making wise decisions. His own personal story of drug addiction and how it landed him in prison definitely catches their attention.
    • Jack Baker – Jack is a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama where he earned All-SEC Academic and Honorable Mention All-American Honors. After college, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox and played professional baseball for 8 seasons. Jack challenges students with his personal story of faith, commitment and perseverance. His story is encouraging to those who might want to give up.
    • Jerrilyn Johnson – Jerrilyn has a very complex career in finance. She did not get here in the normal manner. Jerrilyn was sexually abused as a very young child and was then violently and repeatedly raped in her home at the tender age of 12. She became a drug addict and her life was so horrible that she had a “suicide shot” drawn up and was ready to kill herself. At that point she cried out to God to save her if He was real. He did and changed the course of her life. He chose an interesting way to get her out of trouble. She shares these details and more in her presentations
    • Paul Wrenn – Paul began his unusual career in the early seventies, using weight lifting and amazing feats of strength. He is a 24 time National Power Lifting Champion, 12 time World Open and Masters Power Lifting Champion and holds several other prestigious Power Lifting titles. He has spoken in hundreds of prisons, jails and schools all over the world. Paul encourages students to excel in academics, say no to drugs, and choose their friends carefully. He has been a favorite in school assemblies for many years.