Melissa Ponzio and two friends were all set to run the 2020 New York Marathon in March, 2020, when the pandemic forced its cancellation. A year later, when the three friends were planning to run the NYC Virtual Half Marathon, they decided to run for a purpose—to help build a new playground at Easterseals Project SOAR in Carmel, New York.
When Melissa’s son, Nicolas, was diagnosed with autism in November, 2020, it wasn’t a surprise but still felt like a “gut punch,” Melissa said. That was two days after Nicolas enrolled in Project SOAR. Since then, Easterseals New York has provided extraordinary support. As an elementary school teacher, Melissa understands and appreciates all that ESNY Project SOAR teachers, therapists and staff have done for Nicolas.
“I can tell how they go above and beyond. They were so supportive when he was diagnosed, and really know who Nicolas is as a person, which is so important. They don’t sugarcoat things and always celebrate the progress that Nicolas makes, and that progress has been amazing. Today, Nicolas sits in front of the computer and participates in morning ZOOM meetings. He never would have done that six months ago!”
When the school announced it was seeking to raise $30,000 to build a new playground, Melissa knew she had a cause worth running for. As of March 17 an appeal posted on the ESNY website has raised close to $8000, with a goal of $8500—which Melissa is cautiously optimistic will be met and exceeded. Please click here to make a contribution. The event takes place on March 20th! Melissa will be leading a group of six women in the Half Marathon, as well as three running the 10K, four running the 5K, and a number of cyclists.
The journey has been an amazing one for Melissa. The idea for the fundraiser came about almost as happenstance, but has proved to be profoundly rewarding. “My kids understand that mommy is running a race for something good. It’s great for both of them to see what you can do when you set a goal, and how positive teamwork can be.”