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Special Needs Grad Gives Back to Armonk Schools

ARMONK, N.Y. – Geri Mariano has a special reason for wanting to give back to the Byram Hills Central School District. Four decades ago, when no other district would take her as a special needs child, the Armonk district did. Today, she makes a point of visiting the district as an inspirational speaker for the students.

Monday, as she has done for the past few years, Mariano went to Wampus Elementary School to encourage students to stand by one another in difficult times.

“It is my hope that you will show up for each other,” she told the students.

Mariano was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a condition that affects bones and cartilage and causes unusually short stature. As a result, Mariano wears prosthetic legs in order to stand and walk. She shares her difficulties growing up and living with the condition to inspire students to get out and accomplish their goals and not to judge others based on physical characteristics.

Mariano was accepted by the Byram Hills School District in 1972 after many districts rejected her. (Public schools were not legally obligated then to accept special needs students.) She grew up in Armonk with her adopted family after her biological parents abandoned her after birth. Mariano spent the first year-and-a-half of her life living in the Blythedale Children’s Hospital, which she praises to this day for the care she received.

"I’ll be forever grateful to them,” Mariano said.  “They loved me, they cared for me, they showed me affection and they helped me become the person I am today.”

Mariano shared with the fifth-grade students that anything is possible. She shared stories about learning how to walk with prosthetic legs. Eventually Mariano was able to ride horses and scuba dive. She urged the children to take on challenges with the mindset that they can succeed.

“My life is figuring things out like a puzzle,” Mariano said. “Don’t you feel a sense of satisfaction when you solve a puzzle?”

Fiona Mitchell contributed to this article.

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