From 1995-2015, Peter Smergut was more than the CEO of Life’s WORC, he was its heart and soul. Under his supervision the agency grew from a small, boutique provider to an organization that now serves more than 1,500 people and their families. Peter had an innate ability to see the unique value, contributions and, most importantly, basic rights of each and every person, regardless of their abilities. These qualities are what led him to his successful career and elevated him as a leader not just at Life’s WORC, but in his roles with associations such as Interagency Council, AGNY and NYSACRA.
Peter’s reputation as a kind and endearing advocate and leader was perhaps best known among the many employees he oversaw during his remarkable tenure. He was often recognized by staff for his impact upon their own careers, and under his lead Life’s WORC received numerous acknowledgements and awards for its workplace environment.
“Early on in my career, Peter taught me not to question ideals, but to accept people for who they are and what they comfortably have to offer,” said Janet Koch, who succeeded Peter as Life’s WORC Executive Director upon his retirement in 2014. “This may sound easy, but for Peter it truly was. He always saw the glass completely full, and people even fuller. He never had an unkind word to say about anyone. He only saw potential.”
Peter was well known for his casual charisma and excellent storytelling ability, which enabled him to capture audiences with ease. “He also had the intelligence and wisdom of a great philosopher,” Koch continued. “He gave me another view, another perspective, and a desire to be better – personally even more than professionally.”
“Peter was a man of unique insight, intellect, and most of all decency,” added Matthew Zebatto, who worked with Peter for 18 years. “He only saw the good in people. He didn’t have time for the bad.”
“My husband and I met Peter at the gala and were so taken with him,” shared Stacy Zauderer, Life’s WORC parent and advocate. “His love for Life’s WORC, his commitment to help as many people as he could, was so evident – so unique and so beautiful.”
“He was a great and compassionate man that always made time for others,” added Rick Ritacco, LW Board of Directors Executive At-Large. “I am proud to have served and worked with Pete at Life’s WORC. He was always a text or a phone call away, ready and willing to offer his opinion, advice or quick wit, and make you laugh when you needed it most.”
Even after he stepped down as CEO in 2015, Peter remained a staunch supporter of Life’s WORC and its mission. When Peter passed away in 2020, a dark spot on an already difficult year, it was a great loss to the agency and the special needs community. His spirit, however, lives on in the work and actions of all who knew him. He is greatly missed.
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!