Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities Inc., the Westport-based nonprofit organization, celebrated the message that "The Sky's The Limit" for children with learning disabilities and ADHD at its 11th anniversary benefit in Norwalk May 13.

More than 200 guests attended the event at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children. The award ceremony in the Museum courtyard was hosted by Jonathan Mooney, the well-known LD activist, author and speaker.

Judi Bernstein of Tampa, Fla., formerly of Westport, was honored with the organization's first Community Service Volunteer Award. Bernstein was a founding member of Smart Kids with LD, served on its board of directors, wrote for the organization's print newsletter and chaired its first six benefit events from 2003 through 2008.

Stamford native Ryan Haggerty received the organization's Youth Achievement Award, a national award in recognition of a student's talent, determination and accomplishments. Haggerty, 17, who attended Villa Maria School in Stamford to address his severe language and reading disability, went on to Trinity Catholic High School before he was recruited by the U.S. National Developmental Hockey Team, moving to Ann Arbor, to train with the team. He has been a key player in the team's international gold medal-winning success both in 2010 and again in April, and will attend Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute next fall.

August Hunt of Paris, Texas, currently a sophomore at The Kildonan School in Amenia, N.Y., and Jacklyn Sullivan of Wantagh, N.Y., a junior at General MacArthur High School in Levittown, N.Y., won Special Recognition Awards. Hunt, who arrived at Kildonan as a ninth-grader with second-grade reading skills, has distinguished himself as a student ambassador, athlete and photographer, and spearheaded the founding of The Kildonan chapter of Project Eye-to-Eye, the innovative student mentoring program developed by Jonathan Mooney.

Jacklyn Sullivan, 16 and dyslexic, won the 2009 U.S. Soccer Foundation Passback National Volunteer of the Year Award, is a semi-finalist in this year's Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition, and will be the youngest-ever presenter of a research study at the 2011 American Psychological Association convention.

"The Sky's The Limit" benefit was emceed by Mooney, the acclaimed learning disabilities author and lecturer. His award-winning book, "Learning Outside the Lines," was published at the time he graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 2000, earning a Truman Fellowship -- after finally learning to read at the age of 12. While still at Brown, he founded Project Eye-to-Eye, an innovative mentoring program for students with LD and ADHD. After publishing his second book, The Short Bus in 2007, he was the recipient of the Smart Kids with LD Community Service Award in 2008.

"I was taught to think that I'm stupid and I'm lazy," he told the audience. "I was sent to the principal's office or put out in the hallway every day: I was on a first-name basis with Shirley, the school secretary, and the janitor. I say that these kids aren't suffering from `dys-lexia' or any other `dis-ability.' These kids are struggling with what I call `dys-teachia'. You have to stop fixing and start accommodating and empowering kids who think differently." He described Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities as the most innovative program for parents in the country, through its emphasis on these children's strengths and abilities.

Accepting the Smart Kids with LD Community Service Volunteer Award, Judi Bernstein spoke about the pain of growing up in Connecticut with learning disabilities, being told that she would be lucky to find work as a grocery clerk, a generation before Mooney was told he would be fortunate to flip burgers for a living.

She described the tremendous satisfaction of raising her son, Alec, to have confidence in himself despite his learning disabilities and the joy of communicating this message to other parents through her work with Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities. She continues to be passionately dedicated to Smart Kids' mission, empowering parents to help their children with LD and ADHD succeed.

Among the guests at the event were the heads of six leading schools for students with learning disabilities: Marjorie Castro of Eagle Hill, Greenwich; Benjamin Powers of The Kildonan School, Amenia, N.Y.; John Russell of Windward School, White Plains, N.Y.; Robert Siebert of Churchill School, New York, N.Y.; Sister Carol Ann of Villa Maria School, Stamford; and Beth Sugerman of Winston Preparatory School, Norwalk.

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