Peace Maker Spotlight

Posted on: September 24th, 2013 by jeni No Comments

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Peace Maker

Fall 2013

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Neil Michael Dafner

10/6/1985 – 11/26/2012

Maryland, USA

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Mattie said that a person who makes peace is one who chooses to “live peace” and who chooses to “make peace a habit — something that is a part of our everyday words and actions, at home and at school and at work and in the community.”  Neil Michael Dafner was a peacemaker.

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Neil was born in 1985, and diagnosed three years later with a life-shortenening neuromuscular disease. Throughout his 27 years on earth, Neil made people smile, and laugh, and love life in spite of challenges. Neil asked people questions, and questions, and more questions. In doing so, he let people know that they mattered — regardless of age or religion or ability — and that he was interested in what they had to share. Neil lived his entire life dealing with the complications of a progressive condition. Yet, he found an inner peace, and made it his habit to share this in word and deed, so that other people could experience peace as well.

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Now, as we celebrate individuals and groups during National Disability Awareness Month, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Neil Michael Dafner, our first posthumous honoree, as the Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree for our Fal 2013l post. -

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Neil Michael Dafner — Peace Maker Spotlight Feature

Reflections shared by Neil’s parents, David and Beth,

and by Neil’s sister, Lauri.

 

Peace Maker Honoree, Neil Dafner, with (L-R) his sister, Lauri, and his mom and dad, Beth and David.

 

Tell us a bit about Neil.

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Neil Michael Dafner was born on October 6, 1985. He is our son, and brother, and a friend to many, many people.

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Neil was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in September, 1988. Despite having a progressive neuromuscular disease, Neil loved socializing with all people, especially the elderly.

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He was always curious about people he met and places he went. It was important to Neil to really get to know the person.  He would ask about their homes, families, jobs, and hobbies.

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Neil had a special charm, making people feel they were very special to him. With his extraordinary memory he never forgot you.

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Neil’s favorite activity was spending every Saturday with his dad exploring surrounding areas. They would go to parks, bridges, power plants, airports, battle fields, light houses, and visit friends.

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On Sundays, they would visit Neil’s grandmother who lived in a senior home. It was here that he spent hours learning about their very interesting lives. The residents looked forward to their visits and they established strong bonds of friendship.

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Collages created by Neil’s family.

Please click on images to enlarge.

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Neil loved life and as his muscle disease slowly progressed we as a family learned how to live life with it.  Our family became a team and we embraced life in a unique way.

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Living in a wheelchair changes your perspective. You become empathetic to those with challenges and aware of the daily struggles that others take for granted. Neil brought this awareness to all those he touched and shed a new light on the world of the disabled.

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Neil graduated from St. Elizabeth School in 2006, then attended the League for People with Disabilities until his unexpected passing in 2012 at the age of 27.

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The inner peace that Neil found was infectious and brought joy, understanding and peace to all that knew him, exemplifying the true essence of Mattie’s Foundation.

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Peace Maker Honoree, Neil Dafner, with Mattie during MDA Summer Camp Week 2002. Neil and Mattie were close friends for many years, and sometimes cabin-mates during camp.

Tell us about the friendship between Neil and Mattie.

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Neil and Mattie met at Camp Maria — the MDA Summer Camp program for children and teens diagnosed with neuromuscular disease who live in Maryland.

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Mattie loved Neil’s infectious smile and happy disposition, and Neil loved listening to Mattie talk. He especially liked the way Mattie would race around in his wheelchair with such energy it would make Neil laugh. The two became friends for life.

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We have all the Heartsongs books written by Mattie. Our  favorite poem is the one Mattie wrote in 2001, titled “For Neil.” Mattie included this gift for Neil in his Celebrate Through Heartsongs book when it was published the following year.

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Jeni framed this poem, and gave it to us at Neil’s funeral. It is our most special gift.

 

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(click on image to enlarge)
A poem Mattie wrote for Neil is in Mattie’s
“Celebrate Through Heartsongs” (Hyperion, 2002) book.
Neil is also a part of Mattie’s
“Just Peace: A Message of Hope” book (AMP, 2006)

Thank you, Neil,

for being a Peace Maker.

We miss you, but

thinking of you makes us smile.

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Return to Archived Spotlight page

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Return to Main Spotlight page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July Spotlight

In-Kind Support

Celebrating our "in kind" sponsors and advocates -- who support Mattie's Foundation with services and materials. Thank you ezStorage, Montgomery Printing, Parcel Plus, and Potomac Valley Brick! Read more...

Nourishment Support

Celebrating our "nourishment" sponsors and advocates -- who support Mattie's Foundation with food and services. Thank you Botanero Restaurant, Fontina Grille, Safeway, Coffee Republic, and Red Hot & Blue! Read more...

Community Support

Celebrating our "community" sponsors and advocates -- who support Mattie's Foundation with commitment and participation. Thank you City of Rockville, King Farm Citizen's Assembly, Kick's Karate & Mix 107.3! Read more...

Champion Support

Celebrating our "Foundation Champions" -- sponsors and volunteers of all ages who support Mattie's Foundation through donations, brick sponsorships, participation in our activities and events. Thank you!!! Read more...

- Mattie J.T. Stepanek