A Pennsport facility hosted its annual Christmas luncheon for the blind and visually impaired.
“People with visual deficiencies are often neglected,” owner Carmen D’Aquilante said Tuesday afternoon at The Waterfall Room, 2015 S. Water St. “However, they’re as worthy of love and respect as everyone else.”
The proprietor welcomed nearly 100 blind and visually impaired individuals to his Pennsport establishment for a Christmas party, furthering his 20-year involvement with the South Philadelphia Lions Club. He and his peers honored their guests with gifts, a luncheon and seasonal songs to celebrate their successes and encourage their aspirations.
The Lions Club has made such occasions mainstays of its 77-year history, gladly aiding Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest service club organization with more than 1.3 million members in 200 countries. Its 70 representatives adopt “We Serve” as their motto and lived up to that precept by offering physical and emotional sustenance to figures from Associated Services for the Blind, the Overbrook School for the Blind, the Rudolphy Mercy-Douglass Home and The St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments, along with invitees from St. Monica Manor, 2509 S. Fourth St.
“Many people know of us as helpers for people with visual problems, but we consider participating in any community building activity our true vocation,” secretary and 45-year member Nick Montone, of the 500 block of St. Michael Drive, said as the honorees received a monetary gift and greetings from host Jason Douglas, owner of DanceAdelphia, 1100 Snyder Ave., before sampling salads and pizza.
The attendees filled 15 tables and eagerly fraternized with Montone and Douglas, a 21-year member, whose chapter’s altruism also includes acknowledging top football players from Edward Bok High School, 1901 S. Ninth St.; South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St.; and Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St.; and providing scholarships to local secondary students. Though navigating responsibilities minus the gift of sight can and has posed difficulties for the guests, the duo wanted them to realize the simplicity of knowing many people admire their pluck.
“The charitable nature of the Lions Club attracted me,” Douglas, donning a recently acquired jacket adorned with club pins, said during a break from cracking jokes and serving as a disc jockey. “I love the emphasis on community growth and support.”
The energetic emcee has seen his club add diabetics and those with hearing woes to its list of beneficiaries, with their inclusion accentuating opportunities for him and his colleagues to promote even more devotion to selflessness.
“Our message is one of inclusivity,” Montone said, noting the club’s 1994 decision to incorporate the Lioness Club and end gender division has bred more harmony and results.
Sister Meg Fleming has enjoyed accepting and spreading the local helpers’ message for the last 15 years. The principal of St. Lucy’s, a North Philly institution that assists 32 blind students and eight deaf pupils through its partnership with The Archbishop Ryan Academy for the Deaf, has brought excited youngsters to the Waterfall Room over that period, with her site receiving more than 25 years of aid, including tuition assistance endowments.
“We’re so blessed to have the Lions Club’s backing,” the 2007 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award recipient, who brought a dozen thrilled learners with her, said. “They always make it a fun day for us and usually have us provide entertainment.”
Shortly after she said that, Douglas called the children up to belt out Justin Bieber’s cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” with their rendition winning ample applause.
“We appreciate the opportunity to meet new people and have a good time,” eighth-grader Becca Weber, who awaits the club’s visit to her school for St. Lucy’s Dec. 13 feast day, during which members will come as elves, said. “The club means a lot to us.”
Becca, her schoolmates and their elders shared conversations on numerous topics, including Christmas wish lists and hopes for a fruitful new year. Those matters, however, trailed declarations of gratitude for the opportunity to tout their perseverance and rejection of marginalization of them as people deserving pity.
“We know we have differences,” St. Lucy’s eighth-grader Bridget Cassidy said just before she and the other attendees feasted on baked ziti, meatballs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, french fries and string beans, “but we have many strengths, too.”
“I never notice a trace of negativity among our guests,” D’Aquilante said. “They appreciate everything.”
He, Douglas, Montone and their allies are constantly planning how to promote their charitable philosophy, with this month always proving full. On Sunday, they will hold a celebration for children following the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 18th and Morris streets, and will gather Tuesday for their Christmas dinner party at Galdo’s Catering & Entertainment, 1933 W. Moyamensing Ave.
“This is an especially crucial time to remind people of their value to one another,” Montone, formerly the club’s president, who joined in the Lions toast of “Not above you, not below you but with you,” said.
Philip DeLuca thanked Douglas and the others for their help in allowing him to participate in his fifth luncheon. The resident of 10th and Morris streets lost his vision shortly after his birth in 1958, as excessive oxygen from an incubator cost him an opportunity to experience the benefits of all five senses, but his situation has not sullied his spirit.
“I enjoy coming,” the St. Lucy’s graduate, with mother Mary DeLuca at his side, said. “The food is always great, and the people are so kind. I hope to come back next year.”
“What you see at DanceAdelphia is what comes out of DanceAdelphia,” co-owner Jason Douglas said of his site, 1100 Snyder Ave.
When Dante Coccia Jr. was chosen to receive a Shining Star Award, presented by Philadelphia Phillie Ryan Madson, the Coccia family, from Broad Street and Oregon Avenue, knew it was fate.
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