Bill Guarinello: community activist extraordinaire

With an open heart, an open ear and a constant lending hand, lifelong Bensonhurst resident William Guarinello has proven himself an unstoppable force in the community.

He comes by his activism naturally. From his early days, Guarinello recalls a certain “sense of community” and a “helping your neighbor” mantra, instilled in him by his mother.

“Part of why I’ve always been involved in the community really goes back to the roots my mother had instilled in us when we were very young,” Guarinello said, “[those values of] helping your neighbor, caring for your neighbor. I was very involved in my local parish and I was dealing with the youth. I was a coach, I was part of the athletic association and I played ball until I was in my 20s, knowing that builds good character. Even when I was doing it for myself, I was giving back.”

Guarinello went on to receive a degree in psychology and began his career at HeartShare Human Services as a social worker with the then-Catholic Guardian Society of Brooklyn and Queens in 1970, rising eventually to the organization’s top spot. He was named executive director of the Catholic Guardian Society in 1985 and in 1993, earned the title of president and CEO, which he still holds.

In 1984, he was appointed to Community Board 11 and six years later, in 1991, became its chairperson, a post he keeps to this day.

“I think it’s because [I run] some of the tightest meetings in the city,” Guarinello said of his success as chair, noting that many know him for running a tight ship. “It’s not because we try to make it [quick], it’s so that we’re just dealing with the [necessary]. I just don’t want 10 people to say the same thing.”

Guarinello has also been behind some major advancements at HeartShare – a nonprofit human services organization, which he’s been a part of for the past 45 years — throughout his long and distinguished career.

During the 1972 Willowbrook State School expose, he innovated and expanded the agency’s programs to improve services to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Shortly after, in 1977, under Guarinello’s leadership, HeartShare opened its first group home for young men with developmental disabilities.

Throughout his four decades with the organization, Guarinello has overseen the development of several extensive programs, aimed at serving individuals in need – including the addition of residences, early childhood centers, an evaluation center, adult day programs and family support programs.

“It really is a multi-faceted human service agency,” Guarinello said of HeartShare. “We have a breadth that I’m sure almost every community has been touched by.”

Along with his commitments to HeartShare and the community board, Guarinello is president of the Fort Hamilton Citizens Action Committee, has served on the boards of the Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies, the Boy Scouts of America, the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council and was president of the Visitation Academy Fathers Club.

He was also an integral part of getting the 9/11 memorial erected at the 69th Street Pier, serving as chair of the Brooklyn Remembers committee, and was chair of the board at the now-shuttered Victory Memorial Hospital.

As for his person life, Guarinello is a family man. He spoke about his love for his wife Donna, daughter Alison, and his granddaughter Gianna Nicole, who he says is “everything” to him.

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