Friday, 17 February 2012 00:00
Landmark for Abilities!, the Albertson-based school that serves the disabled, has been, from its beginnings in 1952, blessed with many devoted employees. But few stand out with as much prominence as Alex Alazraki.
Alex recently celebrated his 93rd birthday and was feted with a loving ceremony by staff and students. In fact, the history of Abilities! and much of Alex’s adult life are one and the same.
Alex is one of Abilties! first employees. Born without fully formed arms or legs, he began working for Abilities! in 1952 when the organization began in a garage in West Hempstead. For the next 60 years, he has continued that same loyal service.
Alazraki, a father of three, grandfather of three and great grandfather of one, was born in Manhattan in 1919. At an early age, his family moved to Coney Island, a much tougher neighborhood. There, Alazraki was forced to prove his independence and stand up for his rights.Throughout his childhood, the kids in his neighborhood would call him derogatory names. As he recalled, Alex had to literally fight off bullies that were easily twice his size. Eventually he proved himself and earned the neighborhood’s respect. He was a surprisingly good ballplayer and people would come to the field to watch him play baseball—-all with no arms and no legs.
Like so many disabled children, Alazraki was not allowed into elementary school but had to be home-tutored instead. He won his battle to enroll in a regular high school, although it took him an hour and a half to get there. After modifying his car, he also managed to pass his driving test and receive a license.
His first job as a junior in high school was selling The Daily News and The New York Mirror at a newsstand in Brooklyn. When he lost that job, which was his only source of income, he went on numerous interviews only to realize that no one would give him a chance. He was broke and had lost all hope that anyone would hire him. At this time, which was the lowest point of his life, a cousin told him about a program called Just One Break (JOB) located in a small office at Bellevue Hospital that helped people with disabilities to get jobs.
In a last ditch effort, Alazraki met with them and learned that Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. had started a company called Abilities, Inc., which hired people with disabilities. Alazraki met with Dr. Viscardi and began on a drill press a few days later. He went on to become the supervisor of the production department and to serve in many other capacities. For the past 60 years, he has worked for Abilities! And at age 93, he has no plans to retire. He personifies Dr. Viscardi’s dream, which was to ensure that all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.
Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. became Alazraki’s longtime friend and mentor. Born with vestigial stumps where his legs should have been, Viscardi dedicated his life to empowering people with disabilities to be active, independent and self-sufficient participants in our society. An internationally-known pioneer in the fields of rehabilitation and education for individuals with disabilities, Dr. Henry Viscardi served as an advisor to every president, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the affairs of the nation’s disabled. As Viscardi said, “Most of us are ordinary people trying to lead extraordinary lives. People with disabilities are extraordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives.” No one has exemplified that statement more than the amazing Alex Alazraki, the finest champion of the disabled Abilties! has yet seen.