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Larchmont Teen's Sister Inspires Work for Disabled

LARCHMONT, N.Y. – Seventeen-year-old Larchmont native Tess Bloch-Horowitz is, in many ways, like most of her peers. She goes to high school, has friends, does her homework.

But her pursuit to raise awareness for the disabled and mentally challenged takes up much of her time, and it all started with her 14-year-old sister, Emily, who suffers from a rather severe case of cerebral palsy.

“Emily is going to be part of my life for a really long time,” Bloch-Horowitz said. “I’d love to be able to do whatever I can to make her life easier.”

Bloch-Horowitz attends Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where she has immersed herself in her cause. This year, she organized the school’s first disability rights assembly, attended by hundreds of students.

At the assembly, she showed a documentary that she had filmed that discussed how disabled and nondisabled teenagers diverge during their junior and senior years of high school. While many nondisabled people plan for college and their futures during this time, many disabled students soon enter vocational training or a more sheltered environment.

Bloch-Horowitz’s mother, Amy Bloch, said her daughter wanted to raise awareness of this issue because, while some view disabled children as cute and sweet, she feels there is still a stigma around disabled adults.

Bloch said her daughter had many “intense and mixed feelings” as a child about having a sister with a significant disability. But Bloch-Horowitz’s work has brought her to a different level of understanding.

“Through this experience, Tess has faced challenges that most people don’t as a child. She’s developed a certain kind of capacity to face challenges and to be grateful for what she has been given,” Bloch said. “As she’s matured, she’s been able to not just see Emily as a disabled person, but Emily as Emily with deep sweetness, generosity, kindness.”

Bloch-Horowitz has an intensity that enables her to create and manage her various projects. And, usually, she does it independently. Bloch did not even see the documentary until her daughter showed it at the assembly.

“She keeps her cards very close to the vest,” Bloch said with a laugh.

And she has quite the number of cards. In ninth grade, Bloch-Horowitz volunteered with some classmates at a Special Olympics event at Fordham University. She decided to hold a similar event at Fieldston and has done so for the past two years.

More than 100 athletes participated in an aquatics competition and a basketball exhibition, complete with opening and closing ceremonies. In the first year, Bloch-Horowitz handled fundraising, but last year she moved up to director of marketing.

Her current project is to make her school accessible to the disabled by building a ramp this summer. She also works with JobPath NYC, a company that helps disabled people to find jobs, and Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem.

Still, Bloch-Horowitz says she hopes to do more. And so far, she has seen her labors bear fruit. After her assembly, she has noticed a marked decrease in the use of the word “retard” around her school. After the Special Olympics, many attendees came up to her and told her how meeting the athletes had changed their lives.

Bloch-Horowitz’s work has not gone unnoticed. The dean of her school nominated her for the Lovin’ Compassion Award from the Lovin’ Scoopful ice cream company, founded by Maria and Tim Shriver. The company donates 25 percent of all profits to the Special Olympics.

Bloch-Horowitz earned one of 19 honorable mentions from the company and was excited when she heard the news.

“It’s such an honor to be given honorable mention, and I really just hope that I can continue” to do this work, Bloch-Horowitz said.

Tess Bloch-Horowitz is, in many ways, like most other 17-year-old girls. But her work has transformed her from the 12-year-old girl who wrote this poem about coming to grips with her sister’s disabilities to the 17-year-old young woman who has championed the cause of awareness for the disabled and the mentally challenged.

What started with love for her sister has grown into helping many others like her. And the ones Bloch-Horowitz has touched have influenced her in return.

“It’s made more of a difference for me than it has for them, in a way,” Bloch-Horowitz said.

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