PISCATAWAY – Tommy Licato has received myriad accolades for his work on behalf of the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) and its Peer Advocate Program. He’s been honored in front of thousands at a Somerset Patriots baseball game. But never before has he been the center of attention in front of more than 50,000 people.
Licato, a South Plainfield Middle School student, was granted that very opportunity on Nov. 29 when he was feted with the “Knight In Shining Armor” award on the field during halftime of Rutgers University’s Big East Conference football game against the University of Louisville at sold-out High Point Solutions Stadium. Licato was chosen for the award for his work with NJCTS and general TS advocacy efforts.
Licato, 14, didn’t get to see Rutgers bring home a victory (the Scarlet Knights lost 20-17), but he was all smiles as he chest-bumped Rutgers’ mascot and received the award, for which he was nominated by family friend Debbie Boyle.
“I helped fund him for his trip to Washington, where he learned in seminars how to create PowerPoint presentations about Tourette Syndrome,” said Boyle, who immediately thought of Tommy when she received an e-mail from a friend about the “Knight In Shining Armor” program. “That seminar (for the Youth Ambassador program) empowered him to speak out. It’s a wonderful thing, what Tommy’s doing. I applaud him and am really glad he won the award.”
In addition to being one of NJCTS’ Youth Ambassadors, Licato has given in-service presentations to fifth- and sixth-graders at Grant School in South Plainfield, been part of Patient-Centered Medical Education sessions with pediatric and family practice resident physicians at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown and JFK Medical Center in Edison, read a book about TS to children at the South Plainfield Public Library, and helped present a Wish Upon A Hero grant of an iPad to an 11-year-old Manahawkin boy with TS.
“I was in shock and so proud of him when he received that award from Rutgers,” Karen Licato said. “Two years ago, he didn’t want anyone to know he had Tourette Syndrome. Now, he’s standing on the field at Rutgers in front of 50,000 people. It’s great to see how far he’s come.”
If you’re a parent of a teen or pre-teen with TS who wants to get involved in the Peer Advocate Program, call 1-908-575-7350 or e-mail Education Outreach Coordinator Melissa Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information also is available on the TSParentsOnline blog.