Graduating Senior Brings CPW’s Gifted Corner Showcase to Iona University During Abilities Week 2024

On Thursday April 25, Cerebral Palsy of Westchester (CPW)’s Gifted Corner premiered a powerful showcase at Iona University as part of Iona’s Abilities Week 2024. Hosted by Senior Annika Ziels, and with the support of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, the Gifted Corner’s program was presented as part of Ziels’ senior thesis. CPW’s Ollie Lowery, Claudia Tompkins, Jennifer Feltenstein, and Nickolas Wheeler presented singing, cooking, poetry, and a live sports podcast to an entranced student audience – demonstrating how much those with intellectual and developmental disabilities have to offer. The group was vocal about their desire to be acknowledged and “seen” as vibrant contributors to society.

The Gifted Corner was originally conceived by a group of CPW’s Self-Advocates as part of “We the People – Partners in Advocacy: Shifting social perception about disability and the value of difference in our community,” a program facilitated by Carol Blessing from Cornell University. CPW’s team chose to use a showcase-styled platform to educate the community about individuals like themselves who are living with disabilities, and to banish some of the negative conceptions. “With a little bit of assistance, we can be full members of the community,” commented the advocates. The Gifted Corner’s mission statement includes “Shifting perceptions by showing what we can bring to society . . . Let’s Stand Together and Be Better Together!”

Iona University Senior Annika Ziels has been volunteering with CPW since the fall of 2022. Connecting those living with disabilities and the broader community has been part of her personal mission and has played a part in her studies ever since she participated in her high school’s peer mentor integration program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ziels initially committed to volunteering at CPW once every other week, but soon began showing up weekly. She organized friendship visits with her Iona peers, bringing in 8-10 volunteers every week to assist in various art and recreational programs at CPW. When CPW volunteer and internship placement manager Joan Colangelo approached Ziels about arranging a showcase for the Gifted Corner, Ziels quickly went to work, realizing that the Gifted Corner’s mission so perfectly matched her own and aligned so well with her senior thesis, which broaches on the subject of representation and inclusion of those with IDD’s in the media and the arts.

Joan Colangelo commented, “Annika has been a wonderful addition to CPW, helping to bring in different people from the Iona University community, helping them to get to know the individuals here, and connecting our communities.”

For more, visit For more information on the The Gifted Corner, contact Joan Colangelo, Special Projects Director, at