Pledge to save Guild programs that help children and adults

Local politicians and business owners gathered last week topledge their support to the Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC),facing possible budget cuts of over $600,000 in Medicaidfunding.

The GEC offers a comprehensive range of day rehabilitation andhealth supportive programs for people with developmentaldisabilities, from childhood to adulthood and now, as participantslive longer, into their senior years.

Every day, we work to create a meaningful day for people, saidPatricia Romano, the GEC’s assistant executive director of clinicalservices. We have to think about ourselves as a society. How wetreat [participants] says a lot about who we are. These programsgive people a very full and qualitative day, making them feelvaluable.

Understanding the GEC’s purpose is what brought politicians,business owners, community leaders and medical professionals to theGEC’s headquarters at 260 68th Street last Thursday, February 17for a tour and meet-and-greet with some of those benefiting fromtheir programs.

Such programs have been a part of Harriet Leich’s daily routinefor several decades, providing the now 69-year-old with a schedulechock full of activities.

I work with residential services. I study for the GED and wantto get my scores [on reading and math] up to 710 or 720. Mycounselor is going to help me with trigonometry and a friend’sbrother is going to help me with algebra. And I went to CUNY CityTech to learn computers and other things.

For Lowell Isaacs, the Guild’s horticultural program hasprovided the guidance and support he needed to communicate withfamiliar and new faces alike. Since arriving in December of 1986,when he was putting fists through walls, the silent but faciallyexpressive young man has become what greenhouse coordinator ShelleyWine calls a success story.

The horticultural program is perfect for him. He works wellwith plants and is able to communicate in sign language, saidWine. The program is divided into steps. Each simple step leads tomastery. Each mastery leads to self-confidence.

Group shopping and travel trips, skills programs likejewelry-making and flower planting, and volunteer work in thecommunity are all available as part of the GEC’s dayhabilitation[CQ] programs, which are tailored for the individual’s particularlevel of functioning and abilities. These are supported throughstate funding of the Office for People With DevelopmentalDisabilities (OPWDD) and Medicaid. Additional programs in music,art, nutrition and physical education, which focus on strengtheningcommunication, are funded through renewable grants.

Younger participants join the Without Wall’s program where theemphasis is on volunteering in the community, at places like PETCO,Rite-Aid, Sunrise Assisted Living, Shore Hill, and local churches.Most will gain valuable vocational skills and a feeling ofindependence in a larger community; a few will eventually be ableto get part-time employment.

Programs like the horticultural project are what GEC staff areconcerned about, as they receive no direct funding and would be thefirst to cut in order to preserve the more basic services, despitetheir proven value. Last year, budget cuts eliminated four percentof dayhab funding, three percent in residential services, and 18percent for service coordination.

Local officials and business owners, however, have begunpledging their support, whether through advocacy in city counciland congress, or large checks such as the $20,000 donationpresented to the GEC at the meet-and-greet by the Brooklyn-basedSalaam Club Foundation, a non-profit comprised of businessmen fromthe Middle East. Assemblymembers Peter Abbate, Jr. of Brooklyn’s49th District, Nicole Malliotakis of the 60th District, and AlecBrook-Krasny of the 46th District also expressed their support.

The GEC was started 52 years ago because parents saw a need forservices. Since then, they have served over 1,000 residents in 13group residences and six apartments throughout south Brooklyn, 125of which live there now.

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