In the late 1960s, Life’s WORC founder Victoria Schneps Yunis placed her developmentally disabled daughter Lara at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. At that time Willowbrook had a state-of-the-art facility for disabled children, but when the operating budget for the school was drastically cut by the state, conditions in the school decreased rapidly, putting the lives of the children and young adults who lived there in jeopardy. Victoria and her friends fought for the funds to be restored and rallied support, but made little progress.
When the stories of the horrors inside the walls of Willowbrook were starting to spread, Geraldo Rivera, then a reporter for WABC’s Eyewitness News, snuck into the facility to investigate. He and his cameraman revealed images of gross abuse and neglect of the people living there. 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?”
As a result of his report, exposing the deplorable conditions to the world, Willowbrook was closed for good, and thanks to Victoria’s dedication and hard work, Life’s WORC was created and able to provide an incredible alternative for children and adults with special needs. In recognition of his contribution, when Life’s WORC opened its first home in 1977 it was named the Rivera House in Geraldo’s honor.
Over the five-plus decades since, Geraldo’s support for Life’s WORC has remained. For the past 33 years Life’s WORC has hosted the Geraldo Rivera Golf Classic – a golf outing and dinner that raises significant funds for the organization each year. Geraldo attends, speaks at, and invites guests to the event year after year, continuing to use his position in the media to help share Life’s WORC’s mission with others.
In 2015, Geraldo was a contestant on the reality show and contest “The Celebrity Apprentice,” finishing in second behind television personality Leeza Gibbons. His success on the show to that point raised $725,000 for the charity of his choosing – Life’s WORC.
This spring we will come together for the Celebrate 50 gala, to honor the 50th anniversary of Life’s WORC and its mission to provide services and supports that facilitate an independent and fulfilling life for people with developmental disabilities and autism. At the gala we will be honoring both Geraldo Rivera and Victoria Schneps Yunis for their role in the creation of the agency as well as their unwavering support to this day.
We would once again like to thank Geraldo for all he does to help make a difference in the lives of so many. We look forward to many more celebrations ahead.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Life’s WORC, we will be sharing the stories, people and events that have made Life’s WORC the organization it is today, along with our goals and vision for the future. Thank you for celebrating with us!