Having met the talented Cheryl Wills when she was honored at our Power Women event, we had dinner together shortly after. I mentioned that it was the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Geraldo Rivera Group Home in Little Neck.
It sits gracefully on a half-acre on a lushly tree-lined street, Gaskell Road, just a block off Northern Blvd. I shared with Cheryl the battle we fought to open the house for children coming out of the infamous Willowbrook State
School on Staten Island. After winning a class action lawsuit, brought on behalf of my daughter Lara and other residents, we successfully won the right for the 5,400 people living there to be placed in homes with day programs created to go along with the home they live in.
Sadly, when Life’s WORC found a house, neighbors in Little Neck sued us to try and prevent us from buying the site.
I remember the days and nights spent talking to neighborhood groups near the proposed house to explain who
would live in the home. But no one who was opposed ever changed his or her mind. The locally created civic association sued us to stop the purchase and operation of the home.
Fortunately, we had the great Judge Angelo Graci who found in our favor and history was made again: Group homes
could exist in R1 and R2 zones, not in manufacturing zones as the neighbors had hoped to achieve.
With the battle won, our Life’s WORC board decided to name the house in honor of Geraldo Rivera, whose Emmy Award-winning coverage of the horrific conditions at Willowbrook influenced the parents who belonged to the Willowbrook Parents Association to join the class action lawsuit. That lawsuit changed forever how children with disabilities are served.
I still recall the day the first residents walked up the path to the front door carrying black garbage bags filled with all their worldly possessions. It was the first day of the rest of their lives living in a nurturing, protected environment. That continues to this day.
I was interviewed about the anniversary on Cheryl’s NY1 weekend talk show, “In Focus.” If you missed it, check out
#infocusny1. It’s available online. I’m so grateful we could once again recall the challenges families have coping with children with special needs.
Building memories on vacation
End of summer for me means I have the treat of my family gathering together.
For the past few years, I’ve rented an eight-bedroom house for my kids and their six children, and then another weekend with my late beloved husband Stu ‘s four children and nine grandchildren. How lucky am I?
Whatever the weather, for me the sun is shining as I watched the kids interacting with each other. I watched 10-year-old Blake carried little two-year-old Sloane in his arms as she ran into our rented house after her two-hour drive from Brooklyn. She was full of vim and vigor, ready to run and chase her cousins around the rooms.
What amazes me is that they can spend hours engaged with each other. On arriving, it was a family aff air blowing up the pool fl oats that had been stored away all winter after last summer’s fun. That alone took hours, with each kid helping Spencer, my son-in-law, pump away until the five fl oats were ready for action.
Although my media company goes on with the launch of our latest news magazine, the historic relaunch of the Long Island Press, I’m working while playing but my team is in full swing getting it ready for an early September distribution.
Gala planned for hotel association
Th e Chinese American Hotel Association will hold its first gala at Terrace on the Park in Flushing on Nov. 8. The gala is being organized in conjunction with our very own Star Network. Among those pictured are American China Hotel Association President John Lam (center, seated) and Association Vice President Derek Law (to Lam’s right).