Larry Montna may seem like your average seventy-three year old at first glance, but when you take time to hear his story, you quickly learn that the extent to which he has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of others classifies him more as a superhero. Due to Larry's dedication, a young man with cerebral palsy who has previously been excluded from recreational activities uses a new piece of equipment which eases his body into a pool and, for the first time in his life, he is able to take a series of swim strokes, experiencing the same sense of achievement, independence, and excitement as any individual learning how to swim. This is a daily accomplishment witnessed at Butchie's Pool, an organization created by Larry that seeks to empower the lives of individuals with disabilities through warm-water exercise therapy.
In 1961, Larry and his wife Norma became parents to their one and only son, Butchie, whom they nearly lost several times in his first weeks of life. Butchie was born with severe developmental disabilities, which never once slowed the family down, but created an ever-growing passion to break barriers and create opportunities for children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Montna worked to establish a pre-school and primary school for children with special needs during a time when they were treated as outsiders in the public school system. Following this breakthrough was The Gateway Project, which served as an activity center for individuals with disabilities of all variables. The Gateway Project soon included its own thrift store, embellished by Larry's craftsmanship, constructing from the ground up to ensure The Gateway Project would be a self-sustaining charity.
After Larry and Norma's son Butchie was killed by a drunk driver in 1971, Larry's efforts to change the lives of others intensified and he developed local chapters for Special Olympics, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and the organization which continues to impact the lives of thousands, Butchie's Pool. These selfless achievements among several others resulted in Larry Montna's selection as the winner of the San Francisco 49ers 2013 Community Quarterback Award.
For thirteen years, the San Francisco 49ers have recognized individuals who demonstrate leadership, commitment and philanthropy in their communities through the Community Quarterback program. Five finalists receive a $1,000 grant for their organization, and one grand prize recipient receives $10,000 towards his or her non-profit. This year's finalists have devoted their lives to an array of causes, many of which germinated following a personal tragedy. This year's finalists include: Matthew Corona, Debra Schlesinger, Kris Gudjohnsen, Herky Ostlund, and Darrell Cortez.
After the passing of his father, Matthew Corona of Gilroy established the Make Your Mark Foundation which sees no barriers to a cause that needs assistance. Every day, families in our community struggle - to pay rent, endure the stress of medical bills caused by a battle against cancer, or find a way to pursue a dream of higher education despite a lack of financial resources. The Make Your Mark Foundation addresses issues such as these and not only creates awareness, but also crafts solutions that provide aid to those in need as well as hope for a brighter future.
"We believe the mark we leave on the world is based on the impact we make on the lives of others," said Corona, "We never say no and will bend over backwards to help someone. That is an attribute of our father who inspired us to create this organization."
Debra Schlesinger of San Mateo endured unimaginable heartbreak when she lost her daughter to anorexia. Schlesinger assuaged her grief by applying her time and dedicating her heart to the Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC). The Eating Disorders Resource Center's mission is to increase awareness of eating disorders and provide early diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Debra not only volunteers her time to promote growth of the organization, but has created a Mothers Against Eating Disorders Facebook page, as well as connected EDRC with the Santa Clara County Dental Society to educate dentists on dental indicators of eating disorders. Though the pain from losing a child will never ease, Debra continues to inspire those coping with the disease and those with loved ones doing so by opening a door for communication and restoring hope for all.
Coach Kris Gudjohnsen has been an avid volunteer for the Special Olympics for over thirty years and is also the proud father of a Special Olympics athlete. The Special Olympics do not merely provide athletic opportunities to those with physical and cognitive disabilities, but deliver a combination of self-confidence, independence, and memories which will last a lifetime. Kris' volunteerism and motto that "it does not matter how many times you get knocked down in life—all that matters is how many times you get back up and try again" are selfless qualities of a man of devotion, while to others, such as Director of Volunteer Services for Special Olympics Northern California, these acts are "training for life."
Rio Vista CARE is a counseling and family resource center which provides professional counseling and workshops to improve the quality of life and a path towards a promising future for individuals and their families. The Pals Mentoring Program, where Herky Ostlund volunteers, provides a one-on-one support service from caring volunteers who help boost the self-esteem of children and young adults, which encourages these youth to become productive adults who in turn contribute to society and continue to help the community.
Eighty-nine year old Herky of Rio Vista CARE's Pals Mentoring Program spent seventeen years mentoring children often lacking financial or emotional resources. Herky began volunteering at a young age when her sister contracted polio. Since then, helping has simply become a way of life.
"I am always looking for something to do," said Herkey, "Babies and children have always been my life, and CARE allows us to be there for them without searching for a reason as to why they need us—we just let them be."
When Darrell Cortez became a police officer, he did not do it solely for a profession, a salary or a status, he did it for the compassion and contributions he could make to society by protecting, serving and bettering the lives of others. Cortez's resume of volunteerism is admirable, but it is his work with the Shop with a Cop organization that separates Cortez from others and makes him a true Community Quarterback.
"When I became a cop and saw all that people are going through, I wanted to give back," said Cortez, "I hope these children who we have the opportunity to help in turn view police officers as good people and know we truly care about them."
Matthew Corona, Debra Schlesinger, Kris Gudjohnsen, Herky Ostlund, Darrell Cortez and this year's grand prize winner of the 49ers Community Quarterback Award, Larry Montna, represent what others may aspire to be or some may be inspired by to change their lives or do more for those around them. All have grown to appreciate what they have in life, and, with what they have lost, they have created something positive which directly affects others. For their incredible leadership and devotion to bettering lives within their communities, the 49ers are proud to recognize these individuals as the 2013 Community Quarterbacks.