Home for the mentally disabled celebrates

By Eric Jankiewicz

A non-profit group that serves mentally disabled people is settling into a new service home in Woodhaven, despite an unsettled controversy that was stirred more than a year ago.

HeartShare Human Services of New York held a dedication ceremony Monday for its year-old houses at 92-19 89th Ave. The houses serve 10 mentally disabled residents. Among the services HeartShare provides, it has several homes across New York City for adults and children with such disabilities as autism.

The two-story house in Woodhaven was built in 2013, but community leaders and residents complained that HeartShare rushed through the approval process, and that not enough public input was given.

“People hear group home and they don’t understand what we’re trying to achieve,” said Jennifer Reres, a spokeswoman for HeartShare. “Once they knew what HeartShare was all about they accepted us.”

Reres said members of the group attended a meeting with the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, a civic group in the area. Since the house opened last year, residents and community board 9 have not complained about the organization, according to Reres. But for the time being, they are reserving judgment to see how the house is run. Many worried about an increase in traffic on a corner near Woodhaven Boulevard that is considered to be very dangerous, according to state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D- Howard Beach)

The Woodhaven house is divided into two floors, with the top floor occupied by patients who are more physically and mentally functional. This group has a greater degree of ability to travel through the neighborhood while the group on the ground floor – many of whom need wheelchairs – benefit from the handicapped-accessibility of the house.

The two floors were recently named Healy 1 and Healy 2 after Mark Healy, chairman of HeartShare’s board. Healy became involved with the nonprofit organization after a friend introduced it to him several years ago, and he has since become increasingly involved. Healy’s brother died three years ago and he said he wanted to honor his brother by naming the Woodhaven residence after him.

“What I really saw was people who believed in what they do,” Healy said. “I saw the commitment was very personal. My family has a connection to this place now.”

On May 11, a resident of the new home, Jackie, prepared for Healy’s dedication ceremony and was in the middle of fixing her hair as her favorite show, “I Love Lucy” played on the flat screen TV. Jackie, who has autism, is one of the higher-functioning residents and often explores the neighborhood.

“Although she’s been in her new home for a short time, she’s visibly happier. I’m confident that with continuing guidance and encouragement, Jackie can be even more independent than she is now,” said her caretaker, Albanerys Martinez.