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South Queens Speaks: Achievers of America holds its annual Christmas party

Sting Ray as Elvis Presley and a secret Santa Claus came bearing gifts and song last week at the 12th-annual Christmas party for the Achievers of America, which was held at the Palace Diner in Flushing.

Achievers of America is a program for individuals of all ages with disabilities. Achievers has a baseball team that meets at Kissena Corridor Park from May through October.

Founder Steve Biondo started this program in 1998. He is a Special Olympics coach and loves helping others. He also started the team for his son Raymond to be a part of. Biondo said this is a program that helps many who cannot help themselves. It has about 80 members and several coaches.

“The people on the team come from several group homes from all over Queens,” Biondo said. When the Achievers come to a game or a party like this one, they really socialize, dance, talk and come out of their shell.”

Head Coach Sara DiGennaro, of Howard Beach, said it is a fun program that promotes learning, self-esteem and exercise. She said it has been a great experience for her and the team. DiGennaro joined some of the Achievers and danced and swayed to the Elvis tunes at the Palace Diner.

Elvis got the excited crowd rocking and rolling to music with the songs “Viva Las Vegas,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender.” Two other favorites were “Johnny Be Good” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Parents and the guardians of some of the Achievers came out to dance and join in the festivities.

Richmond Hill resident Matthew Harley, a 23-year-old Achiever who never misses an event or a game, came out on the dance floor jumping to the Elvis beat. He has been on the team since it started.

The special guest Santa Claus came in from the big chill with a big, red, fuzzy sack giving stuffed toys to all. After all the toys were given out, a big, holiday whipped cream cake was rolled into the party room made by diner owners Pete Markos and George Mantzikos, who donate food and sponsor the yearly Christmas party.

“I do it for the Achievers because it is for a good cause and it makes them happy,” Markos said.

Biondo works with agencies, schools and group homes to help improve the quality of life for people of all ages who are handicapped or have developmental disabilities. He also has a bowling team in New York and Florida for the challenged.

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