A few weeks ago I was going through Theresa Foundation paper work from a few years ago and I stumbled upon this beautiful today written by a dear friend of Susan and Vincent’s. I wanted to share it on this blog because as The Theresa Foundation and Theresa Academy grow, supporters don’t always get to hear how it all started. Here are some excerpts from a speech made at the 2011 Theresa Awards Dinner. – Lindsay Rogan
Good evening. My name is Richard Cogliandro. Tonight, two people will be officially honored for the good works that they have done. But I’d like to talk for a few minutes of unofficially honor two people for the good works they have done… my personal heroes and yours, Susan and Vincent Russo.
I met Susan back in the seventies when she was Sue Smith and we were going to Columbia University together for our Masters in Dance Education. And Susan told me that she was being wooed and pursued by a handsome Italian American from Long Island by the name of Vincent Russo. And being a handsome Italian American from Long Island myself, I thought, “Go Vincent!”
So as most beauty queens do, Susan went on to have her fairy tale wedding. I remember getting the call to come and meet their first beautiful child, Dante. So I went to their home in Queens and I met Dante in his cradle. Donte, you don’t remember but it was a day I’ll never forget. A short while later, I got a call to meet their second beautiful child, Elizabeth. If you think I’m exaggerating, just look at her. Then I got a call to meet their third beautiful child Theresa.
But God had special plans for Theresa. You see, she was born with severe mental disabilities and the doctors told Susan and Vincent that she wasn’t going to live long and if they were smart, they’d put her in a home.
Now Susan told me years ago that Southern girls learn to swear with a smile. So she looked the doctors dead in their eyes and with her best Miss America smile said, “We are smart and we are going to put her in a home… ours!” So they took Theresa home and gave her the same love and caring and nurturing that they were giving to Dante and Elizabeth.
In my home, my wife and I have a wall of pictures of family and friends. There is a photo of the Russo family. If you look at the picture, you notice one thing and only one thing… a family full of love and happiness. If you never met Theresa, everything you hear about her smile is true. Like the sun, it was dazzling and when you were near it, you felt a bit warmer.
When God called Theresa back to heave to become of His smallest angels, Susan and Vincent stood up at the funeral and with nerves of steel, thanked everyone for the love and support that they had given not just to Theresa but also to them. On that day they became my personal heroes.
Normally, this is where the story would end but this is where one began. Using the picture of Theresa as an angel that Dante had drawn of his little sister which is still used as the logo today, Susan and Vincent went on to found The Theresa Alessandra Russo Foundation, where for the past few decades, hundreds of children with different disabilities have come together to play, dance, and sing. They may not know that they have special needs but like Theresa, they know that they are loved and happy.
Sometimes we don’t know why God does what He does, but I’m convinced He had a special plan that He told only to Theresa… that the little girl with the smile of sunshine would make it possible for so many children to receive the same love and caring that she had received from her family while here.
You know, someone once definces a hero as an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Susan and Vincent, I don’t know how ordinary you are but I know you’ve done extraordinarty things. So ladies and gentlemen, would you raise your glasses to toast our personal heroes. On behalf of the hundreds of children whose lives you’ve enriched, we say “thank you”. My toast is that all the love and caring that you’ve given to those children, God give back to you one hundrefold. Cheers!