This year, Life’s WORC is proud to “Celebrate 50,” commemorating fifty years of supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
This journey began more than five decades ago when a brave young woman by the name of Victoria Schneps Yunis placed her severely challenged daughter Lara at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. At that time in the late 1960s, Willowbrook had a state-of-the-art facility for infants such as Lara. Suddenly the operating budget for the school was drastically cut by the state, and people were literally choking and dying, as Victoria recalls the terrifying events. In response, she rallied the women of Bayside, her close friends who were passionate and boisterous in demanding that the funds be restored. But as Victoria remembers it, “We were knocking on air.”
As the stories of the horrors inside the walls of Willowbrook grew louder and louder, a young reporter on WABC’s Eyewitness News snuck into the facility to investigate – that reporter was Geraldo Rivera. Geraldo and his cameraman revealed images of gross abuse and neglect of people with developmental disabilities. He showed pictures of people sitting on the floor in their own feces. He told stories of sad, hopeless faces, but as he said in one report, “I can show you the pictures, but how do I explain the smell?”
It was the power of the press that exposed and eventually forced the closure of Willowbrook. It was the vision and determination of a mother and group of women that created a new model of care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Victoria had immediately removed her daughter from Willowbrook when she learned of the atrocities inside it, and Lara spent her final days at home with her mother. Victoria’s next mission was to create a home for other children and people who were like Lara. On April 27, 1971, she formed and incorporated WORC, which was renamed Life’s WORC in the early 2000s. They purchased and opened their first residence shortly after, which would become home to former Willowbrook residents and would be ultimately be named the Rivera residence, in honor of the reporter who helped reveal the truth.
Today, on this incredible anniversary, we recognize Victoria Schneps Yunis for her vision and commitment which brought about a monumental change in how people with special needs are viewed and cared for. Fifty years later, thousands of lives that have been changed for the better and benefitted from her efforts. She transformed frowns into smiles, despair into hope, empty days into days filled with activity and purpose. She created Life’s WORC, and because of Victoria and her mission, today we Celebrate 50!
This year, it is time to celebrate each of our homes, our multiple non-residential programs, our Family Center for Autism and our Supportive Employment program. We are excited to announce that in this 50th year, we have been approved to open our 50th home – a monumental achievement. This year, it’s time to Celebrate 50!
Celebrate 50 is a year-long acknowledgement of our proud past and a commitment to a promising tomorrow. While we honor and our grateful for Life’s WORC’s history, the journey has truly just begun.