Meet the 2021 Abilis Walk/Run Ambassador, Andre DeNunzio

With just five days left until the Abilis walk/run fundraiser at Tod’s Point, event ambassador Andre DeNunzio and Abilis CEO/president Amy Montimurro talked about the 2021 event, which will be held in person after the pandemic took it virtual in 2020.

“It’s been an honor for me to be chosen this year’s walk/run ambassador,” Mr. DeNunzio said. “It’s a passion. I love doing community service and being able to speak and self advocate.”

Abilis Walk/Run 2021 Ambassador Andre DeNunzio with with Abilis CEO/president outside the Abilis gift shop. Oct 12, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

“I feel like the walk brings us closer together as an Abilis family,” he said. “You get to meet so many different people.”

The annual event, held at Tod’s Point in Old Greenwich, gives participants the option of a 5-mile run at 9:00am or a one-mile walk at 11:00am.

“This is the first year to come back in person,” DeNunzio said. “It’s going to be 67° on Sunday. It’s supposed to a great day.”

Ms Montimurro shared Mr. DeNunzio’s enthusiasm for the event, noting that 2021 marks the 70th anniversary of Abilis and the walk/run is a perfect way to celebrate.

Start of the 5K run back in 2017. Photo: Leslie Yager

She said 70 years ago Abilis provided the first integrated pre-school in town, and has always led the way in supporting inclusion.

After the pre-school launched, Abilis established the first group home at 52 Glenville Street.

“We’ve been developing based on the needs of the community,” she explained. “Currently we’re responding to the needs of elderly community so they can age in place. We’re also making sure we have opportunities and housing for young adults to transition into the adult world, including job training and employment.”

The walk/run is an important fundraiser for Abilis, whose mission is to provide assistance to adults and children with developmental disabilities and their families. The fundraising goal for the event is $140,000.

“The real reason I do the walk is to raise money and help, not only me, but other individuals get services to live independently and build relationships and skills,” added DeNunzio, who said he joined the Abilis family in 2020 and lives with two housemates in Norwalk.

“I am a people kind of guy. I love social interactions. That’s what Abilis builds – social interactions with the public and with the houses they serve.”

At 22, Mr. DeNunzio, exudes energy and enthusiasm. He is pursuing his studies at Norwalk Community College part time and especially enjoys Introduction to College English.

Abilis is growing more than ever.

Today the non profit is responsible for 48 houses. They employee 500 people. Their fleet features 65 vans and 260 people are supported during the day for job training and employment. Also, their Therapy Center in Stamford supports 435 children per year.

Montimurro said all the expansion at Abilis has created employment opportunities, and there is a two day job fair this week.

The event is Wednesday, October 13, from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at the Abilis Therapy Center at 1150 Summer Street in Stamford, and Thursday, October 14, from 10:00am to 7:00pm at the Abilis headquarters at 50 Glenville Street in Greenwich.

“There are a lot of spots to fill with all the expansion here, including Coffee for Good (on Maple Ave), a new café in the works at Darien Library, and one in the New Canaan YMCA,” she said.

DeNunzio is particularly excited about a new Abilis housing effort in the works on East Lane in Darien, which he has been selected for. The independent living arrangement will feature 12 apartments and is set to open next month.

“It’s right off the Boston Post Road. It’s easily accessible to the bus and I’ll have my own kitchen,” said DeNunzio, adding that he was excited to host his family in Darien on Thanksgiving.

“Whenever a chance comes up to do something for Abilis, I take that opportunity,” he said, adding that he is a keen volunteer. “I’m part of Boy Scouts in Darien. I volunteered with Person to Person in Darien, and at Darien Library and New Canaan YMCA.”

A popular feature of the Abilis walk/run is the bubble bus! Photo: Leslie Yager

DeNunzio said that as of Tuesday, response for the walk/run was promising.

With five days to go, 85 runners had already signed up, and a large number of walkers is anticipated.

“People are excited to be together,” he said. “It’ll be the first time in person in two years.”

A shuttle service is being organized for people who need physical assistance to access the event.

Also, it is still possible to participate virtually, which is nice for people whose families are far away.

At Sunday’s event, Billy Blanks Jr will gather everyone together for some dancing.

The event will also feature items from Abilis Gifts, which are made by people with disabilities. Happiness Is will donate donuts and the Greenwich Library Café, run by Abilis, will serve coffee and snacks.

And, back by popular demand is the bubble bus!

“It’ll be a fun and safe day,” DeNunzio said, adding that the walk/run route is available on the event website.

“My hope is that people join and support the agency in any way they can. Any money raised helps support individuals and our daily operations. Donations are needed more than ever,” DeNunzio said.

More information on the 2021 walk/run is available online.