The Catholic Herald
Oct 2, 2018
The National Catholic Educational Association awarded Porto Charities the Seton Award as part of its annual gala at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington Oct. 1. Porto Charities President Leo Alonso, who received the award on behalf of his organization, was quick to credit Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, who accompanied Catherine Finnegan, a 2018 NCEA Seton Scholar, onto the stage.“If anyone really deserves the award it is the bishop,” Alonso said. He also thanked three tables of educators from the diocese of Arlington for their work in “teaching our kids independence, self-esteem.” After some coaxing, Alonso convinced the teachers and staff from Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington and other Arlington schools to receive applause from the 305 people gathered.
“Diocese of Arlington, stand up,” Alonso said. “Don’t be bashful.”Alonso credited the Diocese of Arlington for providing welcome to students with special needs.“The mission of Porto Charities is to give every child that requires special education the opportunity to go to school in a caring environment,” Alonso said in an interview before the awards ceremony. “That’s what we give at Paul VI and the other programs we have in the diocese: acceptance. It’s something they don’t necessarily get in the public schools.”Alonso’s daughter, Vivian, who has Down syndrome and joined himon the stage, was part of the first special needs program at Paul VI. Her father witnessed firsthand how she and subsequent special needs students were integrated into the entire school community through the Options program.“They receive acceptance from everybody involved: their peer mentors, the other students, the teachers; even the basketball team and the soccer team are involved in the tournaments that we do at the school,” Alonso said regarding PVI Options. “And all of this leads to a certain independence and self-confidence, which is the most important thing, because they’re treated with respect like everyone else.”Selecting Alonso and Porto Charities for a Seton Award was an easy decision to make according to Matt Russell, NCEA’s chief advancement and business development officer.“They were nominated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and members of his Catholic schools office team. Bishop Burbidge said, ‘Hold on, you know who you have to recognize? This Porto Charities group has been doing amazing work here in the diocese and this really ought to be recognized and promoted nationally,’” Russell said. “The first time I heard the story of what Porto had done, I said, ‘Oh yeah. This is it.’”