Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the front-running candidate for mayor of New York City, visited Life’s WORC group home in Little Neck to learn more about the life changing services the nonprofit provides for individuals with disabilities and their families.
On Saturday, Oct. 23, Adams joined Life’s WORC’s Founder and Honorary Board Member Victoria Schneps, Life’s WORC CEO Janet Koch, Board Chairperson Lynne Koufakis and staff to tour the organization’s first group home, located at 251-40 Gaskell Rd. in Little Neck.
The group home is named the “Geraldo Rivera Home” in honor of the noted journalist who played an important role alongside Schneps and other activists in exposing abuses at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. Rivera’s reports of Willowbrook’s infamous history of mistreating and neglecting thousands of disabled residents brought about public outrage, and eventually led to the facility’s closure, with its residents relocated to smaller group homes.
In fact, the first residents at the Geraldo Rivera Home were former Willowbrook residents.
Life’s WORC is dedicated to supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as autism, and has group homes throughout New York City.
Adams recently received criticism after he said that closing Willowbrook was a “mistake” during an interview on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.
“A few employees harmed those who were patients at Willowbrook on Staten Island. There was a reaction from the advocates to close down Willowbrook, deinstitutionalize those who needed around-the-clock services, but we didn’t balance that with real programs to give it to them,” Adams said in that interview.
Adams later clarified through a spokesperson that while he was “disturbed by the mistreatment at Willowbrook decades ago,” he meant that “since then, New York has systematically eliminated mental health beds that can be greatly beneficial to those who need constant care, leaving our city unable to provide for them,” according to amNew York Metro.
Schneps, whose daughter Lara had been a patient at Willowbrook, invited the Brooklyn borough president to learn more about Willowbrook and Life’s WORC.
During his visit Saturday, Adams again referred to his comments about Willowbrook, saying that he felt that after the institution closed, the city and state “did not give support to the families.”
“I just really felt as though the city, the state just abandoned those families with children with special needs, because behind every child with special needs is a special parent,” Adams said. “The challenge of what it takes — that love and nurturing and you just want your child to have the dignity and respect that they deserve, and that’s what every parent wants. And I believe in it.”
During his visit at the Rivera home, which included a tour of the inside and outdoor facilities, Adams met with residents of the home and spoke with staff about the many services they offer beyond their residential group home, including behavioral analysis services, community habilitation, customized employment services, day habilitation, school-based services, respite and family support services, and trust and financial services, as well as the programs and services offered by its Family Center for Autism.
The Life’s WORC team spoke with Adams about the challenges they face, particularly relating to workforce shortages.
Adams offered to set up an advisory committee to help address some of these challenges at the city level, if elected mayor.
“If we could put together a group like this, a cross section […] and just say, ‘Eric, here are the low hanging fruits that we can do now, here are some of the things that we can do later,’ and just start putting us on a pathway,” Adams said. “We need to be pouring our resources into those who have barriers.”
Along with representatives from Life’s WORC, the event was attended by InterAgency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies Inc. (IAC) Executive Director Thomas McAlvanah; AHRC New York City CEO Marco R. Damiani; and Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC) NY Chairperson Yvette Watts.
Disclosure: Victoria Schneps is publisher of QNS and Schneps Media.