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Arc of the NRV award recipient exemplifies agency's vision

Roanoke Times - 4/20/2017

When The Arc of the New River Valley hosts its annual Benefit Fundraiser on Saturday, April 29, one highlight of the evening will be the presentation of the Renee S. Brown Award, which shines a light on remarkable individuals in our community who embody the Arc's vision: "People with disabilities leading full, rich lives as active contributing members of their communities."

This year's award will be presented to Peter Gwazdauskas and his mother, Judy Gwazdauskas. Their initiative to integrate Peter into the public school system opened a door for other young people.

Montgomery County Public Schools wasn't always an inclusive school division. Before 1990, students with significant disabilities were bused out of their neighborhoods to schools in different parts of the county to attend segregated classes with other children who experienced similar disabilities.

That all changed in 1991.

Judy Gwazdauskas wanted a different school experience for her son Peter. Both she and Peter wanted him to be with the rest of the kids in a regular class in his neighborhood school. Christina Gilley, then director of special education, thought that was a great idea. With the support of talented teachers eager to have him in their class, Peter entered third grade at Gilbert Linkous Elementary School that fall.

"There was an immediate change in Peter," Judy said. "He started humming all the time. Humming always means he's happy." He started learning third-grade subject matter, and made friends who became his champions and allies.

Pete's successful transition to regular classes cleared the way for other students with disabilities to attend regular classes in their home schools. As one teacher put it, "Pete was the pioneer for inclusion."

Pete continued with his classmates through middle and high school. In high school he participated in extracurricular activities. His interest in sports led him to contribute to the athletic program in high school, serving as manager for the girls volleyball team and later for the powerhouse boys soccer program.

Peter now lives in the community with his host family. He has a good life. He attends Virginia Tech football games to watch his beloved Hokies. He goes to church regularly and volunteers there to help prepare for special events. He attends Knights of Columbus meetings with his father and participates in their projects. He walks and swims on a regular basis. And like all good sons, he visits his parents on the weekends.

The Arc is "the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families." ( Nationally,

The Arc has nearly 700 state and local chapters. For more information about the Blacksburg chapter, visit them on Facebook.

- Submitted by Chris Cadwallader

Arc of the NRV's Annual Benefit

Saturday, April 29, 6 to 9 p.m.

Christiansburg Fire Department, 110 Depot St., Christiansburg

The evening will include a BBQ dinner catered by Hethwood Market, music by Hoppie Vaughan and the Ministers of Soul, and a silent auction which will feature an autographed jersey from NBA star Steph Curry.

The public is welcome to attend this fun, family-friendly night out!

Tickets are $30 (kids under 12 free) and may be purchased at


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