“When my mother first put me at the Leake & Watts Biondi School, I was out of control and too much for her to handle,” boldly admitted Alex Valenzuela, guest speaker at the 2012 Leake & Watts Annual Awards Gala. “I just wanted to drop out of school and live my life. I was angry with my mother for putting me at the Biondi School. But being a student at Leake & Watts changed my life and helped me grow up into the young man I am today.”
The crowded ballroom at the Pierre Hotel paid close attention as Alex, the 2012 Biondi School valedictorian, described the support that he received from his teachers and the opportunity that he had to assist Biondi School Nurse Michel Philpot. He explained how this support encouraged him to think about continuing his education after high school, inspired his new commitment to academics and propelled him to the head of his class.
Alex not only recognized his Biondi School teachers, but the generosity of donors and friends of Leake & Watts, many of whom attended the Gala on October 25 to show their support and made the evening a great success. “To everyone here tonight, thank you so much for all the support you have given to Leake & Watts,” said Alex. “You have not only changed my life, but the lives of all the students that go to Biondi.”
Executive Director Alan Mucatel echoed Alex’s sentiments, expressing his appreciation for the crowd of over 200 in attendance, as well as other members of the Leake & Watts community. The event raised over $405,000 to support the agency’s child welfare, special education, early education, developmental disabilities, and juvenile justice programs. “Leake & Watts is grateful to our many friends who generously offer steadfast support of our work,” says Mr. Mucatel. “With their help we can offer high-quality programs and expand our services to our vulnerable neighbors throughout the New York area.”
The evening was a success on many levels, bringing our supporters together with not only Alex, but the evening’s honorees, former Leake & Watts Board Member Nora Sheehan Schaaf and New York City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, and special guest and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Rod Gilbert. Ms. Schaaf expressed her heartfelt gratitude at being honored by Leake & Watts, and Councilwoman Palma riveted guests as she shared her inspirational journey from life as a teen mother in the South Bronx to her role as a community leader in the very same neighborhood. “I congratulate our honorees,” stated Mr. Mucatel, “Who both have had a significant impact on Leake & Watts’ life affirming work and are continually striving to help children, adults and families achieve success. The example of these dedicated women and our many other active community members inspires us all.”
New York City Councilwoman Annabel Palma was presented with the Leake & Watts Thelma Stackhouse Award in recognition of her efforts to secure funding for programs for the underserved in her community, particularly for early childhood education.
Current Board Member Susan Benedict presented Nora Shehan Schaaf with the Leake & Watts Community Leadership Award for Distinguished Service. Schaaf served on the Leake & Watts Board from 1976 to 1990 and has been a dedicated volunteer in the community for 56 years.
To see more photos from the event, visit our 2012 Annual Awards Photo Galleries on Facebook and Flickr.