Members Profiles

Darren Dione Aquino is the founder and CEO of Advocates for Disabled Americans,Veterans, Police, Firemen & Families (ADA VETs). Darren is a disabled American, who began advocating for himself and others in 1983, for Social Security claims and other disability rights, such as fair and equal treatment, which is a fundamental right as per the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
He established this non-profit in 1999, the premise of which is t0,  a) uphold, defend, police and restore the constitutional promise of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act- the Federal law protecting the disabled),  b) to ensure that all individuals with disabilities, whether they be young or old, are protected and included as productive members of our society, c) to assist and inform disabled individuals of their rights, and to function in society without barriers due to the disability.
The mission statement, goals and By-Laws, of the organization developed by Darren, are based on the guidelines of The Americans with Disabilities Act. All of the officers and volunteers of ADA VETs are required to take a sworn oath to adhere to and apply these guidelines while assisting disabled clients .
During his many years as an advocate, Darren has won many discrimination battles and has established a record of success with cases that  involved the Social Security Administration, Board of Education, Early Intervention,  Foster care, ACS, Corporate battles, State & local government issues and SAG (Screen Actors Guild). Darren is also an actor and played an integral role in enhancing the awareness of the fact that many talented and capable union disabled actors were overlooked for work in disabled roles. Through his efforts, disabled actors were hired for background and principle work, their disabilities were real, and their parts surrounded the disability. After this issue was brought to the attention of Dick Wolf, Ted Kotcheff and Peter Leto, they embraced the cause and took action. They had no idea that casting agents were not presenting these very capable actors for the opportunities that existed with this production company and television series, Law and Order-SVU and Law and Order-Criminal Intent.
Darren has developed relationships with governmental offices, including the White House . White House  officials, have closely collaborated with him. Among those that took a stand, were President Ronald Wilson Reagan (the inspiration of ADA VETs), President George Herbert Walker Bush, President George Bush, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator John Thune, Senator John McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton, Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani,the Capitol Police, Washington DC Police, the United States Secret Service, NYPD, FDNY, and former Justice of the United States, Sandra Day O’Connor,and most recently, Governor David Patterson. The list goes on…
President Ronald Reagan was the inspiration for ADA VETs. When Darren was in his twenties, he was a struggling, young father with a disability. He was trying to navigate through the bureaucracy of the social services system,  and was having great difficulty, decided to send a mail gram  to President Reagan, which at that time went straight to the President. In this mail gram,  Darren explained his situation, that he didn’t’ choose to be disabled, that he wanted to be a productive citizen, and that he would give his life for his country if he had to. President Reagan responded, he assigned Charlene, the agency liaison to the President, who was able to assist and expedite. Darren was given access to other departments, was given a 4 year scholarship for college, and thus, began his career as an advocate for other disabled  President was Reagan is his hero, he demonstrated that every citizen counts, that anyone, even with restrictions can achieve. Darren became very involved in the Republican party. He is a staunch Republican and has received the lifetime  Presidential Legion of Merit from the party.
Darren lost a hero when President Reagan passed, and he wanted to honor his President by being an active participate during the arrangements of his funeral. Darren worked closely with staff and arranged it so that all disabled ,  which included disabled veterans, did not have to wait on line to view the President during the services. The disabled were allowed in first, they were able to pay their respects honorably.
Program Development, Take Charge Leader, Leader of Innovation and Change, Special Needs Assessment,Organizational Development, Strategic Planning, Donor/Sponsor Relations, Public Speaking, Communications,
Event and Donor Planning, Team Leadership, Volunteer Management, Client/Public/Media Relations, Government Relations/Federal/State/Local/City, Entrepreneur, Mediator, Guardian of the Americans with Disabilities Act (The ADA)
Professional Experience
Advocates for Disabled Americans, Veterans, Police, Firemen & Families
Chief Advocate, CEO (gained non-profit status in 1999) 1999 to present
Developed this national non-profit with a unique concept-all members and volunteers are disabled. This comprehensive network of members and volunteers assist the disabled community with any and all issues related to the lack of societal integration and fair and equal treatment.
Directly supervises, coaches and trains all members and volunteers in the workflow processes involved in initiating and processing cases. Trains members and volunteers in ADA law and studies new laws together.
Assists all disabled individuals (all ages) that are considered qualified individuals under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in the initiation, development and completion of Social Security Disability cases. Expedites all cases, completion and award receipt always occurs within a timely manner.
Collaborates closely with the Mayor’s Office of Disabilities for the past 8 years. Worked closely with Commissioner Matthew Sapolin. Enforced the right of government policy.
Successfully obtained benefits for disabled veterans and 911 1st responders.
Has generated a network from state to state to ultimately guarantee equality where disability is concerned.  This was achieved by inclusion of other disabled Americans, merchants and partners joining the network and collaboratively working together to meet this very important goal.
In constant communication with the office of the President of the United States, state and local officials, holding each accountable.
Brought change to Family Court in Queens which was not accessible, failure to accommodate disabled.
Provides outreach whereby educating the general public to realize that disabled individuals and their families play a vital role in society.
Facilitates donor giving, developed the Angel Tree Program, whereby Christmas and Holiday gifts are donated for disabled families. Individually delivers each gift to the designated families.
Member of several disabilities Committees and panels; MR Council, LEICC, The Bronx Borough President’s Disabilities Task Force.
We would like to congratulate Lenny Salati, as of 9/1/19, he is the Vice President and Assistant National Chief to the organization. Lenny will of course, remain as a life time member and is on the Board of Directors. Bruno-Anthony Mascia, is Lenny’s assistant.
Sihar Aquino, Deputy Chief,Secretary
Sihar Aquino was Sihar Bessolt Derman when she and Darren met. Sihar has a degree in Psychology and Education and her Masters in Public Health Administration. She has worked in the Social Services field for over 25 years. She began her career as a Montessori teacher in Turkey. She was in the field working with families for over 15 years. She met Darren Aquino while he was advocating for a developmentally delayed child that was receiving services though an agency she was working for. The agency and Darren were both advocating for this child. Mr. Aquino won the case. Sihar and Darren began to advocate for families together and got married in November of 2007.
Fernando Gaud- Life time member. Fernando is Darren’s uncle and a disabled Veteran. He resides with Darren and volunteers at all veteran events.
Dr. Joseph & Mrs. Joanna D’Angelo
Dr. D’Angelo is a supporter of this organization. He is an orthopedic surgeon that not only is Darren’s surgeon, but, he has treated many of our disabled clients that we have referred. He and his wife are extremely caring and support our cause in any way that they can.
Dr. Grennadiy Kvetney-is a family physician, he is Darren’s personal physician and we have known him for over 20 years. He has treated a great many of our clients that we have referred. He and his colleagues in his office are efficient, caring and very supportive of our cause.
Joseph Gravagna- is special assistant to the Chief. He coordinates events, the Angel Tree program during the Holidays is one of Joseph’s special projects whereby he does fundraising during the  Holiday Season for those disabled families that are less fortunate. The gifts and contributions that are received are personally delivered to the families.
Joseph is totally hands on. His passion is disabled children. Joseph grew up with a learning disability and although he is a successful professional now, he knows all too well how difficult it can growing up with a disability.
Steven Barnes-CFO-Steven is our CFO and plays an integral role in keeping our organization fiscally sound.

Rita Monte, Assistant to Chief, Italian-American Disabilities Affairs-Long Island

At age twelve, Rita Monte immigrated to the United States of America with her beloved family. At a very young age she’d loved to listen to music on the radio, dreaming that one day not far away she could play a vital role in the world of music and radio.When she came to the United States the Italian radio shows were the only link she had with her beautiful and far-away land. Well, it had been seventeen years that Rita has been bringing music, information, public announcements, poetry, interviews and much more into our homes, every Thursday from 5-7P.M. on 90.3 FM, you can tune in to Profumi D’ Italia" Radio Show.

Rita is very active in the Italian American Community. She is the vice president of the I.A.W.C. (Italian American Women Center) of Manhasset. She is M.C. to many Festivals and Community events in the Metropolitan Area. In 2004, she was chosen as woman of the year by the well known Columbia Association in 2005, A.S.P.A., American Society for Public Administration of New York awarded her for community work and fundraising for Cancer Research. In 2007, she received the award from L’Esperienza magazine for her continued work in our esteemed community. Also in 2007, she was nominated Woman of the year, by Sanniti Nel Mondo Association, for community work and Radio services. In 2008- received Woman of Distinction Award by the Assembly State of New York, assemblyman David G. Mc Donough .In 2009 she was nominated Woman of the year by the Order Sons  (and Daughters) of Italy in America, Michael Valente. Rita Monte is married to an exceptional man, Gianni and has a son named Alessandro, who is very proud of his parents and his Italian background.

National Chief, Darren Aquino, Tony LaBianco,long time friend of the National Chief, Sihar Aquino, Rita Monte, celebrating Columbus Day, 2012, at Gracie Mansion.
Mr. John Monte-Assistant to the Chief, Italian disabilites affiars.


Lawrence Blessinger, Jr. Assistant to the Chief, Director of Transportation. Larry is a member and has been volunteering since 2011.  He is the Vice President of ALL ISLAND TRANSPORTATION. Larry, is a true advocate for disabled. He has been a member since 2012, has been volunteering his services since 2011. As the VP of a very well run car service, serving all of Long Island, Larry knows all too well about the accessibility issues of the disabled. Larry is an innovator and is always trying to think of ways to enhance accessibility for the disabled. If you need car service folks, call ALL ISLAND TRANSPORTATION, they have become part of the ADA family. You will experience prompt and courteous service. And our disabled community, you will find that there are businesses that do care about our needs.
Dr. Lana Gordon-Confident Smile-
Alex Gordon-Confident Smile-
Dr. Lana and Mr. Alex Gordon are Board members  to the organization. Not only was Dr. Lana Gordon voted one of the best dentists in NY, but, she and her family are extremely generous. Lana has treated numerous disabled clients at no cost. Lana and Alex have 2 sons, Alex and Michael. Alex and Michael both volunteer for the organization.
Tony Martino- Assistant to the National Chief. Tony is responsible for Veterans issues. Mr. Martino is an inspiration to the organization, especially when it comes to Veteran Affairs. His wisdom, knowledge in this area dates back to the Vietnam war which he is a disabled veteran of. His role is essential and personal due to hos experience. His role is vital since he haexfirst hand experience. He is very passionate about the work he does with veterans and their families. He is also Darren’s uncle. The family comes from a line of decorated Veterans.
Matthew Gravagna-Assistant National Chief, Disability Affairs for Nassau County.
Joseph Aquino- Assistant to the National Chief. Joseph is Darren’s brother and volunteers to assist with all issues.
Arnold Scotto- Assistant to the National Chief -Florida.
Stephanie Gravagna- Assistant to the National Chief. Stephanie is Darren’s sister and assists when and where needed. She has been integral in collecting donations for the under served families of disabled.
Christopher Gravagna- Assistant to the Chief and Promotion and Marketing Director. Chris is Darren’s nephew. He is the individual that produced and printed over a 150,000  American flags to be distributed after 911, He did this so that no American would be without a flag. He put the name and logo of our organization on the corner of the flag, this was his way of showing his support to our cause. The flag had a statement on it, which was ” United We Stand”, at his own cost.
Aza Derman- para legal to ADA -Westchester Special Assistant to the National Chief. Aza is Darren’s step daughter and assists with case gathering, interviews, field visits and documentation of facts. Aza is a para legal and a physical anthropologist. Her analytical skills are key when gathering information for legal battles and issues.
Eric Irizarry-Physical Therapist consultant for disabled-Westchester
Luigi Lusardi and Mauro Lusardi-Executive Board Members
Imer Djekaj-Executive Board Member and Assistant National Chief
Danielle Rosario Cushion- Assistant to the Chief Iowa
John Gravagna- Assistant to the National Chief. John is Darren’s nephew. John is an ordained minister and specializes in disabled youth. Pastor John is the founder of  CONNECT CHURCH in East Meadow.  He volunteers in events and ministers to youth and families for ADA. John ministers all over the world. He is an inspiration to this organization.
Kato Elijah Jenkins-Assistant to the National Chief in the State of Pennsylvania.
Adam Stengel- Assistant to the National Chief. Adam is an attorney. He assists and consults as needed.
Nicolina Aquino- Special Assistant to the Chief. Nicolina is Darren’s daughter and assists in all events.
Brendan Aquino- Special Assistant to the Chief. Brendan is Darren’s’ son and assists in all events.
Lawrence Schwartz- Assistant to the Chief. Lawrence assists with all issues concerning the disabled in North Carolina. He’s been friends with Darren for over 40 years.
Onur Topac-Assistant to the National Chief. Onur is the Assistant Chief of Veteran Affairs in the state of Florida. He oversees all affairs regarding disabled veterans and their families. He is not limited to the state of Florida, however, since Onur resides in Florida, he actively assists in that state. He assists disabled veterans with their benefit,with the status and condition of the VA, Veteran family needs, accessibility and accommodations. Officially, he is the eyes and ears of the organization. He has been recording information for the organization since 2009. Although his expertise is disabled veterans, he is not limited to only advocating for disabled veterans, but he and his wife defend and protect the rights of disabled civilians nationwide, as well.  Any disabled citizen in the state of Florida experiencing difficulty can report to Onur.
Fernando Gaud-lifetime member. Fernando is Darren’s uncle and a disabled veteran.
Kelly Topac-Administrative Assistant to Onur Topac, the Assistant Chief of Veteran Affairs. Kelly records all complaints and sends them to headquarters.
Nihat Bessolt- Assistant to the Chief .Nihat (Ni) is Darren’s brother-in-law and assists with all concerns involving the disabled in Florida.
Victor Rosario- Assistant to the Chief. Victor (Pete) is the founder of the ONE ARM BANDITS baseball team. He was born with a disability and has use of only one arm. His team is comprised of baseball players that have use of one arm. This team plays Nationwide and in other countries. All the proceeds go to hospitals, orphanages, basically to children with a similar disability. His goal is to inspire children with this disability that there are no limits and that you can DO. He also volunteers in special events and deals with concerns with disability related issue in Florida. He works closely with Nihat in Florida.
Joseph Urgitano-Joseph is Darren’s cousin and National Chief of Security. Oversees the security of fund raising events. Ensures Darren’s personal security.
Steven Palladino- National Chief Veteran Affairs
Every member is either disabled or has a disabled family member.
Rachel Aquino Assistant to the national chief Executive Board member.
Joseph Picollo-Assistant to the National Chief, Executive BoardMembers:
Lenny Salati-Board and lifetime member
Dino Salati-Board and lifetime member
Leonard Bulaj-Assistant Chief Of Security
Dielli Tolaj-Driver and Advocate
Thomas Waxman-Special Assistant To The Chief