Thursday, September 23, 2021

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Dilger Award Supports Young Adults Working to Overcome Challenges


Emma Fanelli (second from left) and Kaylee Moen (second from right) accept the Amanda Dilger Awards from Gale (left) and Patrick Dilger. Photo courtesy of Jane Moen

Emma Fanelli (second from left) and Kaylee Moen (second from right) accept the Amanda Dilger Awards from Gale (left) and Patrick Dilger. (Photo courtesy of Jane Moen)

For years Emma Fanelli has been focusing her energy on staying active and fit. Fanelli is a brain tumor survivor and has had physical challenges since childhood. She fondly remembers running and riding her bike fast, activities she has missed since her treatment and surgeries that began when she was just six years old.

Fanelli, now 27, has a recumbent tricycle that allows her to bike with her mom, Charlene Voyce. But the trikes are heavy and unwieldy, limiting her range of accessing trails, until now.

Recently, Fanelli was one of two young adults from Deep River to be named recipients of the Alexandra Dilger Award, which is presented annually to individuals aged 18 to 30 from area communities. The award is aimed at young adults who have faced challenges due to autism or neurodiversity but have persevered to reach a personal goal.

Fanelli received a double recumbent trike rack and hitch that will enable her and her mother to travel to a wide range of locations and be able to ride together. Riding her recumbent tricycle is a treasured and important form of exercise for Fanelli.

The Alexandra Dilger Award was created in 2019 in her memory by Dilger’s parents, Gale and Patrick Dilger of Deep River, in conjunction with A Little Compassion, Inc. (ALC), a non-profit organization. Alexandra Dilger, who loved travel and had wide and eclectic interests in the arts, was an undergraduate student looking to complete her degree and move on to graduate school when she died at age 21. Her parents said that one way to honor her legacy was to recognize other young adults who, like their daughter, had wrestled with personal challenges but were determined to progress toward the attainment of their goals, such as becoming an illustrator or musician, attending college, or starting a small business.

“This award is really unique because it isn’t a typical scholarship,” said Mary Jo Helchowski, a board member of ALC, an area non-profit that offers the awards in conjunction with the Dilger family. “It truly looks at the challenges, desires, and goals of the applicants. Instead of giving money that could be lost to everyday expenses like rent and groceries, it gives true, concrete items that will directly benefit the lives of the recipients.”

Kaylee Moen, also an award recipient, received a range of tools and materials that she will need for the book binding program, including a binder’s knife, cutting board, shears, a Japanese pull kit, and numerous other supplies to aid her in the bookbinding program, as well as a desk for work and storage.

For the last several years, Moen has been working hard to determine a career path that would leverage her skills and bring her joy. Diagnosed with autism and managing anxiety and depression for much of her life, there have been many challenges along the way.

Moen, now 27, lives on her own and has taken college and continuing education classes to prepare herself for her next step: a two-year program at North Bennett Street School in Boston that will teach her skills in bookbinding as well as manuscript repair and prepare her for a career in book preservation and conservation.

“I am so excited to start the bookbinding program this fall.” Moen said. “I’ve always loved working with my hands and the prospect of building a career around that seems pretty ideal. The tools are an immense help, and while they won’t make me a better craftsman on their own, they (along with the class) will give me the opportunity to hone my skills and pursue this dream in a way I could not have done without them. Any craftsman will tell you that tools are important, and the tools given to me by the Alexandra Dilger award should (with proper care!) last me a lifetime. I can’t wait to get started.”

ALC, a nonprofit that operates The Nest Coffee House on Main Street in Deep River, seeks to nurture the skills and strengths of young adults with autism, intellectual, and developmental disabilities or neurodiversity through employment and social opportunities.

“I truly cannot think of two more deserving individuals,” said Helchowski. “They are kind, caring, and headstrong, and they have both already overcome so many obstacles in their lives. I really look up to both in terms of persistence and acceptance.

With the help of ALC, the Alexandra Dilger Award gives wings to a community often silenced and overlooked.

“Though things have improved in the past few years, the neurodiverse population sometimes gets left out when it comes to scholarships, employment, and social opportunities,” Helchowski said. “ALC provides opportunities to move past the awareness of autistic and neurodiverse people to the acceptance and inclusion of neurodiverse people. And this award truly promotes and lifts deserving people toward their goals.”

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