Joe McDougall has cerebral palsy and yet he feels his whole life has been blessed.
In January, he will pay it forward by mentoring Anthony Salvo, a young man facing his own set of challenges.
Salvo, 26, is a person with developmental disabilities, but like Joe, he has a passion for life.
This month, the two are partners and official members of the Leadership Niagara class of 2019, and it will be the first time a person with an intellectual disability will be a member of the leadership class.
Pairing the two will allow McDougall to be at Salvo’s side throughout the year as the leadership organization takes a class of professionals from around the region and leads them in an exploration of the opportunities available in Niagara County and beyond.
The idea to pair the two came from Elizabeth Cardamone, director of communication at Empower, a Niagara region nonprofit that serves people with disabilities by focusing on the person rather than the disability.
Cardimone, a graduate of Leadership Niagara; knew the benefits and opportunities the organization could provide. The idea to send an Empower client to Leadership Niagara came to her mind last April, when Empower was undergoing a review by The Council on Quality and Leadership, an international organization that accredits agencies which serve people with disabilities and embrace person centeredness.
During the week that the agency was visiting Empower, she watched Salvo rise to the occasion as an enthusiastic spokesperson for the recipients of Empower’s services.
“Anthony was up there the entire time, presenting, talking and contributing and we just thought, ‘what an amazing person and what an opportunity for him to really develop as a leader.’ “
She led the efforts to recruit Joe, a volunteer at Empower, to be the mentor for an Empower client through the Leadership Niagara 2019 program, and when he heard about Salvo, he was totally on board.
“I have cerebral palsy myself,” he said. “However, I have been extremely fortunate to benefit from exemplary parents, teachers, faculty and individual mentors. I wish to pass along some of my advantages to others not so lucky.”
Salvo works at Empowers Bottle Exchange facility on Military Road in the Town of Niagara. He was also recently certified in document shredding as part of Empower’s new document shredding service at the site.
He dreams of opening an Empower Cafe in the future and employing Empower clients. He also hopes to marry one day and have children. But, in the meantime, his efforts will be directed at learning leadership.
“The opportunity for me, right now, is for leadership,” he said during at recent interview at the bottle exchange site.
McDougall believes the leadership program could change Salvo’s future. ““This can open a whole new world for him,” McDougall said. “Every job I ever got was the result of a casual personal encounter with someone I liked. These are movers and shakers and you are meeting them on a first name basis.”
Anthony’s presence in the program could also change the way a lot of people see the mentally and physically challenged.
“I think just the interaction between Anthony and people without disabilities will be enormous,” said Elizabeth, who sees peoples minds change everyday when they come into the bottle exchange location.
One of the main unforeseen benefit of this place is having people that maybe never talked to a person with disabilities engage in conversation and come back because they value the relationship,” she said.
As for leadership Niagara, they are anxious to take a step forward into unexplored territory of having a class member like Salvo.
“Our ability to diversify the composition of the class can only stand to strengthen the experience for everyone,” said Liz Zulwaski, president of Leadership Niagara. “When we have people who live and experience the world differently, it is in the difference that everyone can develop, learn and expand their perspectives.”