Christmas came early for the members of the Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC).
On Thurs., Dec. 20, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis visited the GEC, 1273 57th Street, which provides a range of services to individuals with developmental disabilities, to distribute toys to pre-schoolers enrolled there.
Malliotakis described the day as a highlight of the year.
“This is my favorite day of the year,” she said. “This is great. I get to spend time with the people that we serve each and every day. It’s a special part of the year. It’s a reason for the season and it brings a lot of joy to my heart.”
It’s been a tradition for the assemblymember to collects toys from residents and give them to the students, as well as to children living at the Fort Hamilton Army Base and in the South Beach Houses, a NYCHA development on Staten Island.
“I’ve been doing this since I first got elected,” noted Malliotakis, who expressed her thanks to “the people of Brooklyn and Staten island who were really generous in contributing to my toy drive.”
Executive Director of GEC Paul Cassone, who is retiring from the role he’s had for many years, reflected on the event and his time at the Guild.
“This means a lot to me for a number of reasons,” he said. Noting that the Guild had been a “pioneer” in terms of preschool education, he said it gave him a sense of “closure” to complete his years at the Guild with a celebration that included a music program that he had championed.
“Things that I’ve worked on for a number of years are coming together,” Cassone said. “I’m leaving on a note where I feel positive about having hopefully improving the lives of the people here and put them in a direction where from years to come they’ll continue to address the needs of new families. We get 100 new children here every year because there are so many that need our help. It feels sweet.”
He also praised Malliotakis for her work with the GEC during the holiday season.
“Nicole has been a terrific supporter,” Cassone added. “Since the first year she was elected, she has made a point of collecting toys and bringing them here for our children. She’s really dedicated to people with developmental disabilities, both here and on Staten Island. She stood up for us related to BFair2DirectCare which was very important in paying our staff a fair and living wage. She’s been behind us all along the way.”
Joe Riley, who will be taking Cassone’s spot as executive director at the GEC, concurred.
“She comes every years and gives gifts to the kids,” he said. “It’s something the children look forward to greatly.”
In addition, Riley said, the students also enjoy the Guild chorus which performs Christmas carols. ”This is a big day for the Guild, both for the parents and the children,” he stressed. “It really instills the Christmas spirit. It gets everybody in the mood for the holidays. It’s a day where everyone loves being present. It’s something that Nicole does every year and it brightens everyone’s day. It give you a little bit of faith in humanity and the world.”
Photos courtesy of Nicole Malliotakis