- ABOUT US
- OUR PROGRAMS
- Early Childhood Services
- Adult Day Services
- Residential Services
- Family Support Services
- Medicaid Service Coordination
- Foster Care and Adoption
- Family Service Centers
- HIV/AIDS Services
- Youth Programs
- Energy Assistance
- OUR AFFILIATES
- NEWS & EVENTS
- HOW TO HELP
- CONTACT US
HeartShare assists individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities and provides vital services to children and families.
HeartShare: Turning Dreams Into Realities
Dreams: HeartShare Turns Them into Realities
Watch David, Lisa and Lori share how HeartShare helped make their dreams come true.
Making Dreams Come True: Lives of Distinction
Matthew Cuthel is 25 years old, has autism and attends HeartShare's Brooklyn Day Habilitation Program. He lives at home with his parents, but wants to live in his own home one day, an idea supported by his parents.
Through the Life of Distinction process, Matthew expressed his desire for more independence and variety in his day-to-day life, including venturing alone in the community, going to work locations every day and expanding his love of the subway and bus mass transit systems.
"Matthew has a real love for trains and buses," shared his mother Barbara Cuthel. "He reads books that include the schematics of the different train cars and buses used in New York City. He can hear a bus blocks away and knows if it a local or express bus. He knows all the different models and what years they were used in the city."
While at HeartShare's day program, Matthew goes to various work locations, which include a grocery store where he stocks shelves, a senior center where he helps serve meals and the art gallery in Manhattan where ArtShare for HeartShare is held that he helps keep clean. His newest job is delivering mail to HeartShare's administrative office at 12 MetroTech Center.
"We knew Matthew wanted to be more independent, so we taught him the different routes to walk from his program site to the main office, which is only a few blocks away," noted Edgardo Velez, Program Coordinator of the Brooklyn Day Habilitation Program. "We taught him about safely crossing the street. Once we felt he knew what to do, we shadowed him for a short time. Now he is able to go by himself and it's working out great."
Another dream of Matthew's is to work in the New York City Transit Museum sharing his knowledge of subways and buses with others. To achieve this goal, staff members are working with him on his socialization and communication skills to enable him to speak clearly to groups of people.
"At the final group meeting [of the Learning Institute at HeartShare], Matthew stood in front of the group and said, 'I want to work more,' which is something I never heard him say before," said Ms. Cuthel.
HeartShare staff members are also helping Matthew learn skills to make his dream of living in his own home a reality. In the fall of 2012, Matthew will begin HeartShare's Apartment Skills Training (HAST) Program consisting of 16 workshops including money management, healthy cooking, home maintenance, health and dental care, and safety in the community.
Ms. Cuthel said, "I am so proud of the steps Matthew is taking and can see how far he has already come."
Peter Gervasi has been living in one of HeartShare's group homes in Queens for many years. He works at Queens College, volunteers at a local senior center, participates in the Special Olympics and swims regularly at the local YMCA. While he has a busy and active life, he has many more goals and dreams that he would like to achieve. Through the Life of Distinction program, HeartShare helped him to reach a few of those dreams.
Peter enjoys watching soap operas on television and reading about them in magazines. It was always been a dream of his to meet a soap opera star. That dream came true in November 2011 when, with the help of Emmy-winner Robert S. Woods and his wife Loyita, Peter was given a personal tour of the One Life to Live set where he met cast members, visited the control room, was on the actual set, and toured the hair and make-up, wardrobe and rehearsal rooms.
"It was such a special day for Peter, when he got to meet the cast and discuss their roles and the story lines their characters were engaged in," said Suzanne Clerge, Director of Programs at HeartShare. "He was given a script and the cast and crew autographed it for him. All he kept saying was 'I'm so happy!'"
Another dream of Peter's is to do modeling. Through a connection with another Program Coordinator from HeartShare, Peter will participate in a fashion show this spring. Arrangements are also being made for Peter to have a professional photo taken for his modeling portfolio.
"Peter is so happy now that he has met soap stars and will be modeling in the fashion show," continued Suzanne. "It has all meant so much to him!"
Thomas Lessler is a 33-year-old man with autism who lives in one of HeartShare's Brooklyn group homes. He has been in the home since it opened in 2003. However, getting Thomas to engage in activities in the residence and local community was always challenging. In the past, Thomas would go home every weekend. While at the residence, he would spend much of the time in his room and spoke little to his seven housemates and the residence staff. With the support of his mother, Thomas's Life of Distinction project involved helping him to build relationships with his peers and to create a life separate from his parents.
"One of the first steps was to have Thomas stay at the residence for part of the weekend," said Awo Adum-Bawuah, Manager of the Josephine and Joseph Abatemarco Residence. "We all felt that it was important for Thomas to maintain his strong relationship with his parents, but he needed to spend more time at his group home, too. Now he goes to his parents' home for one overnight visit per week and spends the other nights with us. He also goes out to dinner with some of his housemates on a regular basis, helping to support his socialization efforts."
"Also, we noticed in the past that, if plans changed and Thomas wasn't able to go home for the weekend, he was very upset and had difficulty with his behaviors. Since starting this new approach, he has had fewer issues and is better able to adapt to a change in his routine," continued Awo.
Thomas loves to listen to music, so an iPod was given to him. This helps when he is anxious or upset, as he can go to his room and play the music to calm down. Thomas's mother has indicated that he used to enjoy roller-skating when he was younger and staff members will begin working on that activity in the spring.
In a relatively short period of time, Thomas has made big steps to building relationships with his housemates. His parents are happy to see how well he is adjusting, as well as further appreciate the need for Thomas to create a life of his own.
Four years ago, HeartShare staff member Christopher (Chris) Elliott, Tsui Lee and Cynthia Solero began a photo club at the Frances Aiello Day Habilitation Program for participants who had an interest in photography. He thought it would be a good opportunity for the participants to explore the community while expanding existing skills and developing new ones. One of the first members of the club was Leonard.
The moment Leonard picked up the camera it was clear to staff that he had experience with photography and cameras.
"I learned that Leonard received his first camera from his grandmother many years ago and has been taking photographs ever since," reported Chris. "Very early on, Leonard expressed a desire to sell his photographs so that he could go on trips and buy gifts for family."
"I want to make money so I can go on trips to China and England," said Leonard.
"Leonard, who has autism, takes beautiful photos," continued Chris. "When his photographs were selected to be part of ArtShare for HeartShare, he was so excited. His work was going to be displayed for everyone to see."
During the Life of Distinction program, Leonard visited both The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Rubin Museum. He also participated in a Learning Institute group meeting at HeartShare in which he personally presented his story, including his personal goals and dreams. "One of the highlights for Leonard was visiting the main office. He was so nervous about speaking in front of everyone, and I think it reflected how seriously Leonard took the project."
In addition to having his photographs exhibited annually at ArtShare for HeartShare, Leonard was part of an independent exhibit at the New Century Artists Gallery from February 14 to March 3, 2012 that featured his artwork along with another individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With the help of his staff and industry professionals, he is also developing a professional portfolio of his work. By taking these steps, Leonard's dream of selling his photographs to earn money to travel is closer to becoming a reality.
How You Can Help
HeartShare is helping many more children and adults who are still working to make their dreams, however, we cannot do it alone. We need your support. Please make a donation to HeartShare by visiting our Donate page. You can be assured that 90% of all revenue goes directly to our programs and services.