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NEW YORK, NY (May 26, 2021) - YAI will once again turn its annual Central Park Challenge into a virtual celebration this year on June 5. As always, Central Park Challenge will feature stories of hope and resilience from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who have overcome tremendous adversity during the pandemic.

With the dual purpose of raising awareness and resources for YAI programs in New York, New Jersey, and California, most of the party will take place online, though Central Park will still feature prominently.

YAI’s Central Park Challenge will be hosted by WABC-TV's Bill Ritter. The celebration will kick off with a Social Dis-Dance party with music by renowned Hot97 radio personality DJ Enuff. New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, will make special appearances.

“At YAI, Central Park Challenge helps us reflect on our strengths. After so many rough months, that has never been more important,” said YAI CEO George Contos.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) were among the populations most disproportionately affected by COVID-19. From the onset of the pandemic, the community dealt with disruption and disconnection, leaving many isolated and afraid. Routines were broken and access to crucial health and social services were curtailed when YAI programs had to shut down to protect people from infection.

But over 14 difficult months, the YAI community has persevered, re-emerging stronger than ever as the nonprofit takes lessons learned over a tumultuous year and anticipates a brighter future.

This year more than ever, YAI staff worked hard to support the community. YAI psychotherapist Justin Parker witnessed firsthand the affect the pandemic had on this vulnerable population. Seeing his patients’ struggles led him to take part in “Everesting” - an endurance bike ride he embarked on to help raise vital funds for children and adults with disabilities. Earlier this month, Parker climbed 29,032 feet of elevation, a feat that took him an entire day, about 11 hours, to complete. In the end, Parker exceeded his fundraising goals and raised close to $3,700 for YAI.

“This year I felt like I wanted to something extra for the agency that has given me so much over the years, and especially when I saw my patients getting worse and worse, I wanted to help bring attention to this group and the cause,” said Parker.

In Ocean Parkway IRA, one of YAI’s oldest residences, the dedicated frontline workers were the ones who kept the house afloat. The home has overcome tremendous challenges, including losing three residents to COVID-19 and having to operate with staff shortages due to many falling sick from the virus. Nevertheless, they prevailed because their Direct Service Professional staff made it to work every day despite the risks.

“It’s inspiring to see so many people put their needs aside and say, ‘If I don’t show up, nobody shows up,’” said Joseph Matos, Residential Supervisor at Ocean Parkway IRA. Additionally, this year’s celebration is a proud moment for the IRA, because one of its own, Assistant Behavioral Intervention Specialist, Jasmine Russell, will serve as co-host.

This year’s lineup of performers includes top Broadway talent Miguel Cervantes of “Hamilton” and LaChanze from “The Color Purple.” Join the livestream starting at 11 a.m. at

“I am looking forward to seeing a lot of diversity and unity at this year’s event because you don’t get to see that everywhere these days,” said Ismael Nunez, a person YAI supports and self-advocate. “Central Park Challenge is the perfect place to be because there is no hate, just love... and that’s important because it acts like a role model for elected officials to see that everyone can work together and believe in each other.”


Kamana Shrestha

ABOUT YAI: Founded in 1957, YAI remains at the forefront of an extraordinary movement aimed at empowering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. YAI and its network of affiliate agencies offer children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities a comprehensive range of services. YAI is committed to seeing beyond disability, providing opportunities for people to live, love, work, and learn in their communities. YAI’s 4,000 employees provide supportive housing, education, medical, dental, and mental health care, job training, community integration, and social enrichment for more than 20,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families, in New York, New Jersey, and California.