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Since the age of 3, William has lived at a developmental center in Queens Village, NY. The campus style living is the only way of life he has known for 53 years. But on Monday evening, William walked up the front steps of a house sitting at the end of a cul-de-sac. As he opened the front door to the house, he opened himself to new and exciting opportunities. For William, it’s his first chance to live as part of a local New York community and it’s also his first chance to call a house his home.
On Monday, January 14, HeartShare Human Services of New York officially opened the doors to its new home, named in honor of actor, producer, director, philanthropist Tamara Tunie and husband Jazz Vocalist and HeartShare Board Member Gregory V. Generet. Located in Holliswood, Queens, the Tamara Tunie and Gregory V. Generet Residence will provide a new community-based home to six men with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism.
For more than 2 years, HeartShare has planned to open the home in response to the downsizing of the state operated Bernard M. Fineson Developmental Center in Queens Village. The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) operates several developmental centers across New York State which have cared for thousands of individuals but in recent years, New York State has decided it must make a concentrated effort in providing living opportunities which are located in local communities. “We have an obligation to provide the very best services for individuals with disabilities and reform our system, and that includes more community-based care,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. To date, OPWDD has closed 13 of its developmental centers and plans to close its remaining centers by the end of 2014.
“HeartShare’s new home provides an opportunity for the individuals to have a normal life in the community, a life that everyone else enjoys, and a chance to participate much more in community activities and amenities that they may not have had as much access to in the developmental center,” said HeartShare’s Executive Director for Developmental Disabilities Services Linda Tempel. “Just living in a regular home and being a part of a small family, rather than living in a larger institution, will help open up a whole new life for them.”
HeartShare began the complete renovation on its new residence in the Spring of 2012 and completed it in December 2012. The first floor consists of recreation, laundry and office space. The second floor is designed with 5 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, and bathrooms. Special accommodations in the construction include a fire alarm system, accessible bathrooms, wall corner safety guards, safety film on windows to prevent dangerous glass breakage, and CareTracker – a wall mounted computer system to record and maintain important goal, behavioral and medical data for each resident.
HeartShare’s new residence also created new employment opportunities to the local community. The house will utilize 12 Direct Support Professional positions in addition to clinical staff. All new employees have completed mandatory trainings and additional site-specific training tailored to each resident based on his behavior, medical and dietary needs. Last week, the staff made arrangements for the men to visit the house for a luncheon and sleepover to help them transition to their new home.
On Tuesday, HeartShare’s Frances Aiello Day Habilitation Program in Brooklyn welcomed the men from the residence. The Aiello Day Habilitation Program offers adults with developmental disabilities a wide range of individualized skill-building services and carefully planned day program experiences with an emphasis on community-based volunteer and work experiences.
The residence and day program provide a continuum of services which enhance an individual’s ability to gain meaningful experiences in the community. The move from the developmental center will help provide a higher quality of life through the benefit of community integration and the opportunity for individualized choices. While moving is never easy, the opportunities that await these men are great and the staff at HeartShare are happy to have them join their family.