Why is 53-year-old Hyde Park resident Tom Chieffo a Hudson Valley Hero? According to Melissa McCoy, chief advancement officer for Abilities First, a Poughkeepsie-based organization serving the needs of people with disabilities, there are several reasons. For one, Tom, who has Down syndrome, makes those he works with “value aspects of life we may take for granted,” she says. She also sites “his positive and loyal commitment to supporting those dependent on his services.”
For more than 20 years, Chieffo has participated in the vocational training program at Abilities First, helping the community and becoming a role model to others with special needs. That loyal commitment was honored this past spring, when Abilities First acknowledged him as Participant of the Year at its community breakfast.
Through the program, Chieffo has worked at Bard College, Marist College, and the Culinary Institute of America, and currently continues his community engagement at MidHudson Regional Hospital. “Kitchens are his favorite place to work, and food is his favorite subject,” says his mother, Dianne Chieffo. Her son empties food trays, stacks the dishwasher, busses tables—whatever is needed—with a smile. His mom, in fact, thinks he is a hero because, “He is always happy and makes everyone else happy. He has a welcoming personality.”
This spring, Chieffo moved into his own apartment in Wappingers Falls, after living at home his entire life. “I thought it would be tough, but he loves it,” says Diane Chieffo. “It has been a wonderful experience for him.” — David Levine