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WNY's Great Kids: Lew-Port teen does not let his cerebral palsy define him

"If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be determined," said Charles Dieteman, 17, who lives with cerebral palsy.

LEWISTON, N.Y. — A 17-year-old from Lewiston talks the talk and walks the walk by inspiring and helping others just like him who live with disabilities. That's why Charles Dieteman is being recognized as "WNY's Great Kid" of the week.

Whether it's practicing his golf chip shots in the backyard, or skiing, or managing the varsity baseball and basketball teams at Lewiston-Porter High School, Charles Dieteman does not let his cerebral palsy define him. 

 "I just don't let it bother me and I keep going," he said. "Cerebral palsy doesn't hold me back. I keep up with other kids and do the same as them."

His mom says he's been a fighter since day one. 

 "From the second he came into this world and I was told that he would never walk or talk, I knew he was a fighter. I know that seems kind of silly but I could tell," said his mother, Tara McLellan. "He's just never let anything stop him. If you tell him he can't do something, he'll do it ten times over." 

And he has done so much in his 17 short years. Since 2012, he has raised more than $10,000 for an organization called Empower.

"I am in awe of Charles. I think he's a wonderful ambassador, not just for people with disabilities and showing that they can do anything they set their mind to, but for anyone," said Elizabeth Cardamone, Director of Communication and Development for Empower, a service provider for people with and without disabilities.

"The basic tenant that Charles operates under is being of service. He's constantly looking for ways to help people. And I think that is an inspiration that we can all follow," said Cardamone. "He is approachable. He's positive. He has this magnetic personality that people are drawn to. He really is a community connector and that's very rare, especially in someone so young."

His words and his actions are inspiring. Charles has been honored with the following awards: President's Gold Award for Volunteer Service (2018); Empower's Junior Leading Luminary Award  (2016); and Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York's Charles Koenig Award (2017). 

And Charles will now be able to spread his message statewide, as he was recently chosen as the New York State Elks Ambassador.

 "Charles was one of the ones we interviewed and I fell in love with him right away. He's a great kid with a huge heart. He does so much for his community and he's going to do so much for the Elks organization," said David S. Brown, the NYS Major Projects Chair of the Elks Association.

Since they were established, the Elks have given away $27 million to Cerebral Palsy of New York through fundraisers with their 48,000 members across the state. 

Charles uses what makes him special to educate and help others.

"I like to think of myself as approachable.  I am open to answering questions from my classmates and community members about cerebral palsy.  I show people that it's ok to talk about my disability which then helps them to feel more comfortable around me and to connect on other topics such as my passions for gardening and business. 

If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be determined. I push my body beyond its limits, mastering things like swimming and jumping. My mom likes to say that my mind is smarter than my body, but even that doesn't stop me," he wrote in a personal statement.

While representing the Elks, Charles plans to continue raising money for Empower. But most importantly he wants to spread this message:

 "Cerebral palsy doesn't stop us. We're just like normal people."