For someone who’s rubbed elbows with her share of famous names, thanks to her job as a veteran news correspondent, survived breast cancer and become an award-winning television personality, co-hosting the fourth hour of The Today Show alongside Kathy Lee Gifford, you don’t think there would be much that would impress Hoda Kotb. That is unless you happened to get Kotb’s impressions of Albertson’s Henry Viscardi School, where she was the guest speaker at the organization’s recent Reach For a Star Luncheon.
“It seems like it’s necessary and clearly a model for so many other places. Most people just want to be productive members of society and contribute and do their thing and sometimes you need to be in a place that builds that confidence and all those different kinds of things,” Kotb explained. “It sounds to me, and I’m not an expert on the school, but it seems like it shows all these kids that they have such long runways and possibilities. All a kid wants to know is that they can do something and I think that’s the part of it. There are certain parts of you that shape you, but they don’t define you and that sounds like a lot of the kids that go there have so much going on with them that their physical challenges just happen to be one of the things on their list as opposed to the only conversation.”
Founded in 1962 by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., the school is an accredited model 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 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 supports to students who may otherwise need to receive instruction in their homes or a hospital. The school first came on the Oklahoma native’s radar when she learned that Susan Gordon Ryan, the sister-in-law of her friend and assistant Kathy Ryan, not only attended the school, but taught at it as well.
“I’ve known Kathy’s sister-in-law for a long time and I knew that she was dynamic, bubbly, vivacious and the kind of person who you want to be friends with. There are 10 things you notice first and her being in a wheelchair is not one of them,” Kotb pointed out. “Susan Gordon Ryan talked about how great [the Henry Viscardi School] is, all the wonderful things they do for kids and how they grow up into really productive and awesome grown-ups. It sounded like a great thing.”
As impressed as she is by how achieving the students are who attend the school, Kotb admits that she also is equally inspired and humbled by how they don’t allow physical obstacles to keep them from succeeding. When asked what she gets out of visiting a place like the Henry Viscardi School, Kotb said perspective and humility wind up being the two major takeaways that add up to the warm and fuzzies for this world-famous television personality taking time out to swing by Albertson.
“I find that I’m so uplifted. In your life, you know that you’re going through things whatever they are. Then you realize that some people are going through so much more every single day and dealing, coping and handling it with a smile and not complaining about it. Sometimes you complain because you can’t get a cab and it’s raining. It’s the big issue of the day, but then you realize what other people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis that they’re just handling,” she said. “You hope to be half of what these kids at the Viscardi School are about in your life and that’s all you can hope for. I feel like that’s such a boost, people who have so much to overcome and seem to do it with so much grace and ease. It becomes, again, not your only conversation and I think the kids who go to the school are shown and taught that the sky is the limit and that they can be what they want to be, so it offers hope.”
To learn about the Henry Viscardi School, visit www.henryviscardischool.org or call 516-465-1400.