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Anchor Liz Faublas of Currents recently sat down with HeartShare President and CEO Bill Guarinello to highlight his 45 years of dedicated service to the agency.
Bill, thank you so much for joining us. For those of us not familiar with the organization and its mission, can you briefly explain what it is that you do?
HeartShare is a diocesan-driven agency. It’s been in business for 101 years. We celebrated our centennial last year and it services over 30,000 people in many ways. We have cradle-to-grave for developmental disabilities programs, an autism school, after-school programs, foster care and adoption programs, preventive services and AIDS programs.
Let’s talk about your dedication because that is what I really want to dig into—45 years at a company. And that’s a lot for anyone. What is it about HeartShare that gave you the desire to come in each and every day for over four decades?
You didn’t want to come in every day! (laughing) But certainly, there are more days that you do want to come in and I think it’s because of the climate we create here. I was a social worker. I started out as a social worker in Jamaica, Queens, servicing foster children and we always said, no matter how big we got, we always wanted to maintain a family atmosphere because if we’re happy as workers we’re going to be better to the folks we serve. So, that’s what keeps me coming back. It’s like a family.
You’re serving developmentally disabled people and their families. While worthwhile, that must present its challenges. How did you deal with the day-to-day challenges?
Very challenging. As a matter of fact, my predecessor was Dr. Catherine White and when the Willowbrook expose happened with Geraldo Rivera, I was one of the first folks who went out to Willowbrook as a social worker, trying to see how we could respond to the needs out there. It’s very, very challenging, but you look at these developmentally disabled folks, you look at the level of their disability and there’s something they can do. That’s the rewarding factor. I took some of the kids out when they were 13 years old—out of Willowbrook—and put them in (HeartShare) group homes. Now, they’re around fifty and I’ve seen the development. It’s wonderful to break bread with them.
I have to talk to you about this. I love the local angle. I love that you’re one of our local heroes because the work you do is extremely worthwhile. Your faith – how has that been a driving force for you in this very challenging work that you do?
I’m a member of St. Bernadette Parish. I’ve been a part of that since I was born. So, I live in the same area and I was instilled by my parents with very good Catholic values. That’s how I got my job, by the way!
See, it all begins at home!
My mother knew that I had volunteered in the Church, been a coach, mentored kids…I got a psychology degree from St. Francis College. She said “What is he going to do with this?” then, got me my job.
You’re a local, Catholic hero! When you hear about Pope Francis, who I absolutely adore, embracing the infirm, the elderly, what he calls the overlooked… what does that do to your heart? Someone who does the same (as you).
I have always lived that mission, so to see the leader of the Church do this—absolutely phenomenal! It is a great example for the staff we have to see that the leader really jumping in the trenches because I do that. I still, after 45 years! It naturally re-energizes me when I visit one of my group homes. You see the love and dedication of the staff. It just renews my faith.
And the organization does more than provide this medical care, the resources and the support. You have education, you provide services that help keep the lights on, after-school and summer programs—what more do you do and how do people get in touch with you?
You can get in touch with us by dialing 718-422-4200.
What qualifies someone?
Each program is different. For example, for the heating funds, there are certain criteria. You have to meet HEAP standards. There are certain standards for each program. Foster care –you certainly don’t want to be in our foster care program because that means that your family has deteriorated and you needed to have outplacement.
But it’s good to know you’re there!
It’s good to know we’re there if that happens. My after-school programs are in communities in Bay Ridge and Coney Island. People just know us and they come.
What’s next for you, Bill?
What’s next for me? Well, I’m certainly going to end my career here (at HeartShare) and I’m certainly not done yet. People see 45 years and say, “Okay, bye! Out the door!” (laughing) I’m not out the door. I do have some things I want to accomplish still. I think I can make a contribution. Maybe, you’ll see me at my 50th year.
I would love that. Our hearts and prayers are with you. I have a feeling you are not done. I hope you’re not done because we really need people like you in our communities, so congratulations!
Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.