The Guild for Exceptional Children celebrated some of its supporters on Friday, October 25, at its annual Autumn Gala.
Held at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, 2911 West 15th Street in Coney Island, the lavish evening shone a spotlight on the former president of the GEC’s Board of Directors, Anthony Cetta; volunteer Antonia Hatzipetros; St. Joseph’s College supporters Jaime Vacca-Hoefner, Rosemarie Hamlin and Stefanie Burgio; this paper’s Co-Publishers, Victoria Schneps-Yunis and Joshua Schneps; the President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Carlo Scissura; and legendary entertainer Joe Piscopo, all of whom were honored during the evening.
Cetta, who received the Founder’s Spirit Award, stressed the mutual efforts shared by many of those in the room. “Tonight,” he said, “we celebrate three things – you, our supporters, our children, for the love and affection we experience every day with them, and all parents of disabled children, for the courage you’ve demonstrated that’s led to developing children to the fullest.”
Schneps-Yunis and Schneps received the GEC’s Trailblazer Award for the family’s efforts to change the way services were delivered to the developmentally disabled in the era of Willowbrook. Schneps, who accepted the awards on behalf of his mother and himself, said that his family’s commitment arose out of efforts to get services for his sister.
“My parents fought for my sister every single minute, every single hour, every single day,” he told the group, adding that, through that effort, which contributed to the closure of Willowbrook, “My sister made a change.”
The evening was an opportunity, said Guild Executive Director Paul Cassone, “To celebrate our mission and the way the honorees contribute to it. Each one,” he stressed, “gives time, energy and commitment. This is what transforms city blocks into neighborhoods where people look out for each other.
The master of ceremonies for the gala was Ken Rosato, anchor of Channel 7’s Eyewitness News This Morning. Rosato, who has hosted the event for the past four years, praised the GEC as “one of the most wonderful organizations I have ever taken part in. Since the first time,” he continued, “I have felt like they were part of my family. The Guild is beautiful. The families are beautiful. The organization is essential.”
Nearly half a century ago, when the GEC was founded, noted Cassone, “Parents [of developmentally disabled children] faced daunting challenges. They made it work for their children and those that followed. Now it’s our turn to continue changing the world. We’re happy to be there for those families because we know the struggles they face.
“No one needs to face these challenges alone,” Cassone continued. “You will help. We will help. That’s the nature of community. We do it with love, and we do it together.”