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Porto Charities hires executive director Larry Rzepka to lead support for special-needs students

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Porto Charities Inc., a Northern Virginia nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, recently appointed its first executive director, Larry Rzepka, a development and fundraising veteran with 35 years of experience and deep roots to Catholic schools.

Leo Alonso, the organization’s founder and longtime president, made the announcement. He called Rzepka the right choice, saying he could help Porto Charities grow its size and impact.

According to Rzepka, the move has brought his career full circle. He has lived in Northern Virginia for 20 years, sending his daughter to diocesan Catholic schools and attending Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria until his recent move to Dumfries. Joining Porto Charities recalled for him earlier career experiences, including working for Madonna University in Livonia, Mich., and Bethlehem University in the Holy Land. "I’m excited," he said.

Since founding Porto Charities in 2009, Alonso and a network of volunteers powered the organization’s work, mostly focused on raising funds to provide diocesan schools with the resources to accommodate children with special needs. Many parishes in the area conduct second collections annually on Porto Charities’ behalf. He’s hopeful that the addition of a full-time executive will allow the charity to expand its reach and further its recent initiative to land students good jobs when their education is complete. Alonso will continue to serve as president and on the board of directors.

Porto Charities recently placed 11 individuals with disabilities in positions at local Catholic schools, Alonso noted, with principals at other schools eager to hire more as interns or staff members. Earning a paycheck produces a sense of purpose and pride, something he witnessed in his own daughter, who has Down syndrome and works on Capitol Hill delivering mail. "Vivian knows when her paycheck is due in the mail every two weeks and beams upon opening that envelope," he said. She then pays her own way for lunch or other necessities. "They are able to live a life of their own and (are) very proud of it."

He and Rzepka hope to scale up such efforts, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic abates and in-person gatherings and fundraisers become more practical.

Find out more

Go to portocharities.org or email info@portocharities.org

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021