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Profiles in Giving

My Cousin’s Keeper

For one alumnus, caring for the disabled is a tradition that started close to home

Joanna Bezubka was 15 and newly orphaned when she moved into the Fernald Development Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. Born with a severe form of Down syndrome, she was acutely intellectually disabled and might have faced a lonely future.

Fortunately, she had the Mavridis family. They made periodic visits and brought Joanna home for overnight visits biweekly and for holidays. They scheduled Department of Developmental Services meetings and medical and dental check-ups so one of them could attend.

“I was part of the first team caring for her— our maternal grandmother, my mother, father, and myself—we were the big four,” recalls George Mavridis, E61, who was 27 when Joanna’s mother, his aunt, died during heart surgery. “Maybe it was because, being immigrants, we tended to band together—those were values ingrained in our family. Whatever life deals you, you stick together.”

Taken to Heart

Mavridis would indeed take those values to heart, assuming Joanna’s guardianship when his mother died in 1991. That loving connection, started by a working-class, close-knit Greek and Polish immigrant family in Somerville, Massachusetts, continued for another 21 years, until Joanna’s death at age 60. He chronicled their journey together in a published memoir, Joanna, God’s Special Child.

Mavridis, a retired structural engineer, is honoring his cousin with a gift to the School of Dental Medicine’s General Practice Residency Program. The program, the largest of its kind in the country, provides clinical and educational experiences for dentists in training, including treating patients with developmental disabilities. Residents in the program rotate through three of the eight Massachusetts clinics that serve developmentally disabled people. They assist attending faculty dentists in all aspects of care—from referrals to treatment and follow-up care.

“It makes sense that my money goes where I believe it will do good,” says Mavridis. “This way I can continue to advocate for the care of people similar to Joanna.”

Back in Touch

The gift reflects his longstanding respect for the dental school’s leadership serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is especially pleased that it has brought him back in touch with Dr. Gina Terenzi, director of the residency program. They first met nearly 20 years ago when he was president of the Fernald League, a family advocacy group, and invited her to speak to parents of Fernald residents.

Dr. Terenzi, an associate professor of Public Health and Community Service, is grateful that their paths have crossed again.

“George wants his philanthropy to have meaningful impact and this gift certainly will,” she says. “George has a generous heart and unfailing determination to see that specialized care for this vulnerable