The Pratico Family- John, Sara, Stephanie and Michael Pratico. Submitted Photo.
In 1961, Elizabeth M. Boggs, founder of Arc of the United States and its first female president, was asked by President John F. Kennedy to sit on a panel regarding the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Unlike the rest of the panel, Boggs wasn’t a physician or a psychologist, a lawyer or a legislator. She was a parent – a parent of a 15 year-old son with a disability. Driven by her love for her son and a desire to fix a fractured system, Elizabeth M. Boggs became known the world over as a leading public policy maker and advocate for people with disabilities.
For those who know Hamilton resident Stephanie Pratico, the story sounds familiar.
That’s why Advancing Opportunities, a leading provider of services and supports for people with disabilities, will honor Pratico with this year’s “Elizabeth M. Boggs Award for Advocacy.” The award will be conferred at the agency’s 4th Annual Spring Hoedown – its largest fundraiser of the year – held at Laurita Winery on Friday, May 10th.
Much like Boggs, Stephanie Pratico didn’t set out to be an advocate. Her passion stems from a desire to be the “best parent she can be” to her children John (25) and Sara (20), both of whom have Down syndrome and complex medical needs. Recognizing that to ensure her children received the best possible care she needed to “speak the language,” she spent countless hours talking with experts in the field and educating herself on the complexities of (I/DD). She cites Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as integral to not only her education, but to her children’s overall well-being.
“These are the people who saved my kids’ lives,” Pratico says. So when she was asked to become more involved in CHOP programs, she agreed. She is a proud graduate fellow of the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) Program, a member of their Family Advisory Council, and CHOP Family Faculty. Along the way, she has also become a recognized expert in the field of disability services working to educate healthcare professionals, patients, and families on the practice of “patient and family-centered partnerships.”
After years of advocacy, Pratico’s vision for a comprehensive, interdisciplinary program that addresses the needs of people with I/DD in a holistic manner has come to fruition in the form of CHOP’s New Jersey Transition to Adulthood Comprehensive Care (NJ TACC) Program. Launched just last year thanks to funding allocated by the State Legislature, NJ TACC is a “team designed to assist teens and young adults with I/DD as they face the challenges associated with their transition to adult services and medical care.”
It is the person-centered approach that Stephanie Pratico and her team at NJ TACC employ that also makes her a natural fit to be honored by Advancing Opportunities. The organization also prides itself on meeting each person “where they are” and identifying solutions that are tailored to each individual’s unique needs. In fact, Pratico’s son John is set to begin working with an AO Career Development Specialist in the coming weeks.
“Most people who knew Elizabeth Boggs would describe her as a trailblazer,” said Advancing Opportunities President and CEO Jack Mudge. “We see Stephanie Pratico in the same way. She is a passionate advocate who is unafraid to tell her story and do the hard work that needs to be done to make change happen in our community.”
Pratico doesn’t see it that way. As a young person, she watched her grandparents advocate on behalf of her Aunt Cathy (of whom she would eventually become guardian) who had autism. When doctors told her grandfather that Cathy would never walk, he built parallel bars in their backyard, so she could learn. Citing her grandparents’ involvement in the establishment of The Arc Mercer, she views her efforts as simply an extension of their work. “I come from good stock,” she says.
As for what fuels her every day, she cites a simple belief: “This is the path that was chosen for me. John and Sara are so genuine and authentic. People gravitate to them, because they have good hearts. I feel blessed that God chose me to be their mother.”
Those wishing to celebrate Stephanie’s recognition as this year’s recipient of Advancing Opportunities’ Elizabeth M. Boggs Award for Advocacy are encourage to visit www.bidpal.net/AOHoedown for more information.