Message of hope offered at St. Anthony dinner

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - Updated: 11:28 am

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Edward Barbanell didn’t speak until he was 4 years old, but while his life began not with expectations but with limitations, he has come to inspire others.

“I never accepted limitations other people placed on me,” he said. “I never have. I never will.”

Barbanell, an actor with Down syndrome, was the keynote speaker at the annual dinner and auction for St. Anthony Charitable Foundation and St. Anthony School Programs Oct. 26 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh.

Barbanell pointed out that as a child with Down syndrome growing up in the 1980s, he had to find a stage that would give him a voice. He spoke of finding it when he grabbed a microphone in a store. He would go on to play sports and study Shakespeare in high school, but he was still mocked for being different.

“Growing up other people stared at me,” he said. “Now they take selfies with me.”

Barbanell has appeared in films such as “Addicted to Fresno,” “Dumb and Dumber to,” “Hall Pass” and “The Ringer.” He has also appeared in numerous stage productions and joined actor Jamie Brewer as the only actors with Down syndrome to play leads in a Broadway play, when they appeared in “Amy and the Orphans.”

St. Anthony School Programs is a Catholic-based inclusive educational environment for children ages 5-21 with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and/or other intellectual disabilities.

Barbanell said organizations like St. Anthony School Programs change the way people think about those with disabilities. He spoke of July 20, 1968, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver kicked off the first Special Olympics before a few dozen spectators in an empty stadium. She delivered a message of hope, he noted, one that would not be denied. It has since grown to fill stadiums and change minds, attitudes and laws.

It demonstrated, he said, what people are capable of in life if they are supported and included. “You wonderful folks have made my day,” he said. “Keep supporting us and they will continue to build stadiums for us to perform.”

Nick Blackburn, a St. Anthony School Programs student and a junior at North Catholic High School, spoke of how the program has impacted his life, socially and academically. He is a member of the robotics team — the Trojanators — and has attended homecoming dances and the junior prom.

The program has helped give him independence and confidence in classes, he said, and allowed him to be fully integrated into classes such as chemistry, visual arts and Algebra II. Blackburn added that he has a goal of attending Community College of Allegheny County to study computers.

“Thank you for all of your support for this this program,” Blackburn said.

Bishop David Zubik noted that St. Anthony School Programs is known throughout the country for its real diversity and inclusion. “It is where students are accepted and loved, and where their skills are nurtured,” he said.

Honorary chairs for the dinner were Rosie Swain and her family, and Nick and Sandy Matt. The Matts joined Swain and her husband, Kevin, as honorary chairs last year. 

Swain returned this year in honor of Kevin, who died Jan. 22. With her children behind her, she spoke of her husband’s love for St. Anthony School Programs and for what the program did for them as a couple.

“It brought a new meaning of team to our relationship,” she said. She spoke of how they worked for a common cause, not for themselves, but for all of the St. Anthony children.

Swain asked members of the audience to consider being co-chairs so that the great work of St. Anthony School Programs can continue to grow. “It’s not what you’re going to be doing for St. Anthony’s,” she said. “It’s what St. Anthony is going to do for you.”

For 65 years, St. Anthony School Programs has been helping students of all faiths live their lives to the fullest, academically, socially, vocationally and spiritually. Information is available at www.stanthonykids.org or by calling 724-940-9020.

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