A fighter. A visionary. A saving grace.
Mary Pulvino was born in Pennsylvania and moved to an Italian-American community in Rochester with her family when she was preschool age. As a teenager, Mary played the role of interpreter and advocate for her immigrant neighbors who had difficulty communicating in this new culture. This was just the beginning of Mary’s fight for other people’s rights.
Mary worked as a deputy employment certification officer for the Rochester Board of Education and later as a caseworker for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Through these experiences she learned about discrimination, abject poverty and unacceptable treatment of children—and she learned how to fight harder for people in need.
In 1944 Mary’s sister, Jeanette Borelli, gave birth to Butchie, who was born with severe developmental and physical disabilities. Through his preschool years, his family was able to care for him at home. However, when Butchie reached school age, the family learned that no school could accommodate him.
Although Mary was in her fifties and ready to retire to Florida, this was an injustice she could not ignore. She joined forces with six other families in similar situations, and they opened The Day Care Center for Handicapped Children.
Throughout her life, Mary had learned how to network through the community to gain support for her cause. She wasn’t afraid to knock on doors and ask for help. Despite the prejudice shown by the people who asked, “Why bother?,” her tenacity and commitment broke ground for the ideas exemplified today in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mary believed that the Center should accept any child no matter what physical or mental disabilities they had. Today, the Center still honors Mary’s wish.
Mary’s nephew Butchie died in 1967. The agency was renamed Mary Cariola Children’s Center in 1977 in honor of Mary’s dedication to offering the highest-quality innovative educational programs and small group homes for children with severe disabilities. She remained active on the MCCC Board of Directors until her death in 1987. View a timeline of Mary Cariola milestones