A photo of Tony Award Broadway star Ali Stroker with a group of elementary students with physical disabilities singing.

One of The Viscardi Center’s beloved events, the annual Reach for a Star Luncheon was held on November 14, 2023, at the Crest Hollow Country Club. This spectacular event featured a live musical performance by Broadway star Ali Stroker. A Tony Award winner for her role as ‘Ado Annie’ in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, she made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway in Deaf West’s acclaimed 2015 revival of Spring Awakening.

The funds raised at the Luncheon support after-school programs and adaptive sports for the students with severe physical disabilities attending the Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center. Many of the students rely on accessible transportation, assistive technology, and life-sustaining medical support throughout the day, and opportunities for socializing outside the school day are often limited. The monies fund activities such as wheelchair basketball, Friday Night Recreation, cheerleading, and life skills-building overnights in Viscardi’s Independent Living House and provide students the chance to spend time with friends outside of school, cultivate interests and share new experiences.

This year’s alumni speaker at the Luncheon was Class of 2003 Valedictorian Shashi Bangera who, like Ali Stroker, enjoys acting. Applying the tools and valuable lessons she gained from the Henry Viscardi School (HVS), Shashi graduated from St. John’s University and is now a financial analyst at the EPA. Shashi gave a remarkable speech recalling some of her favorite memories at HVS. They include participating in the school performances and the annual Celebrity Sports Night fundraiser. It was through these experiences that Shashi found a passion for acting. Shashi credits the HVS for helping make her an accomplished young woman, “When I started school, I knew that this was where I belonged. My HVS experience was something that I wouldn’t replace. It helped mold me into who I am today. I was honored to have known Dr. Viscardi, who showed me to never give up.”

Henry Viscardi School’s second graders attended the event and joined Ms. Stroker on stage for the closing song “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent, for more than 300 Luncheon attendees. Following her performance, she was presented with an original piece of artwork created by a Henry Viscardi School student to honor her performance.

The event consisted of a cocktail hour, sit-down lunch, an international auction, grand prize raffles, and a silent auction.

About the Henry Viscardi School
The Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center is a New York State supported school that offers parents of children with severe physical disabilities and who often require life-sustaining medical treatment throughout the day, a traditional educational setting option that provides rigorous academics and opportunities for personal growth and leadership development. Its specialized, accessible educational setting provides a fully enriched academic program, a variety of therapies, assistive technology, and medical support to students who may otherwise need to receive instruction in their homes or a hospital setting.

About The Viscardi Center
The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations based in Albertson, NY, provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ, and empower people with disabilities. Its programs and services include Pre-K through High School education (to age 21), school-to-work transition services, vocational training and job placement, digital accessibility services, entrepreneurship, veteran employment, and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses.