BY GABRIELLE GUZ
With a rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the Guild for Exceptional Children kicked off its annual community appreciation luncheon on June 27 to celebrate this year’s “exceptional” honorees, chosen for their generosity and support.
The luncheon took place at GEC’s headquarters at 260 68th St.
“Some things are meant to be. Take my hand, take my whole life too,” sang the glee club, smiling at the crowd’s ovation.
Meanwhile, Helen Reyes, a longtime GEC employee, beamed with pride and said, “It takes a village.”
The GEC, a nonprofit organization that serves over 1,000 developmentally disabled children and adults each day, was founded in 1958 by parents who wanted to create a safe and nurturing space for their children with special needs. Since establishing its first home group in 1970, GEC has pursued its mission statement to help its participants lead fulfilling and dignified lives.
Caroline Mansuetto, GEC’s director of development, noted, “Saying thank you is all what it’s about today, and you really can’t say it enough.”
Among the honorees were Maryanne Brown and Kelly Lynch from Caffè Café; Theresa Carroll, a volunteer at the Wellness Center; Maryanne Coughlin and Patricia Woods from Sure Step Physical Therapy; Lori Mangone and Danielle Policaro, recent graduates of St. Joseph’s College; Benny and Will Huang, volunteers at Preschool Friends; and Capt. Robert Conwell, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct.
Each honoree received a certificate of merit from Assemblymembers Nicole Malliotakis and Peter Abbate as well as original artwork from the guild’s participants.
Frank Sena, president elect of GEC’s board of directors, said that the Guild works hard to connect its clients with the greater community.
According to Sena, the community grants opportunities for GEC’s participants of varying abilities to dream ambitiously, “Whether it’s the Police Department that takes care of us, the restaurant that feeds us and provides jobs, the physical therapy that keeps our people young and active, St. Joseph’s College that provides social functions for us, or volunteers at the Wellness Center that keep our people nimble,” he said.
Linda Carlton, an adult participant in GEC, expressed gratitude to Brown and Lynch for giving her a job at their cafe. One day, she hopes to open her own.
“When [Carlton] is not at work, people usually ask where she is. She’s an absolute joy, intelligent and loyal,” remarked Brown.
Another honoree, Will Huang, is a business owner alongside his father Benny. A resident of Queens, he heard of the GEC through one of its teachers. As a result, he donated food to the Chinese New Year celebration at GEC’s preschool, and helped pay for the school’s new auditorium curtains.
“I always believe that if you’re able to do something for a community, even if it’s a small thing, it’s always great to do it,” Huang said.
Mangone and Policaro, praised for their organizational skills and enthusiasm, were some of the most exceptional volunteers at the social events — mainly dances — hosted by St. Joseph’s College for the Guild, according to Joseph Riley, GEC’s executive director and CEO.
The student volunteers went out to nearby businesses, where they collected donations — such as gift certificates and other prizes — and bundled them into about 25 baskets. All of the proceeds went toward food and music for Guild events at the college. Every GEC participant was admitted for free and encouraged simply to have a great time.
Coughlin and Woods, physical therapists, were honored for the emotional support they provide to the GEC participants in addition to their physical therapy expertise.
“It can’t always be easy,” said Riley. “But they’re so good at keeping people enthusiastic and positive.”
The crowd then celebrated Carroll from the Wellness Center for her unwavering devotion to the Guild’s mission, and commended Conwell for keeping the community safe.
Riley said, “None of this would have been possible if the community had not welcomed us with open arms.”
To learn more about GEC, visit www.gecbklyn.org.