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Dear Friends,

Honoring our Past - Embracing the Present - Building the Future

ACTIVITY_CENTER_1959_1.jpgThis year, The Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC) proudly celebrates 60 years of compassionate care and service to help children and adults living with developmental disabilities. To fully appreciate this milestone anniversary, we remember GEC’s humble beginnings.

Pictured at Left: GEC Day Activity Center (1958) held at the Bay Ridge Catholic Center (Pictures) Dorothy Fetten, Judy Fetten, Charles Sabatelle, Olga De Felippo, Pat Neary, and GEC program participant.

At one time, The Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC) was only a dream envisioned by parents who desired to improve the quality of life for their children with developmental disabilities. During and prior to the 1950’s, American society did not validate, or properly provide for the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental needs.

Our founders wanted their children to be part of society, not separated because of their disability. They wished their sons and daughters would have the opportunity to make friends, play, learn, and grow to reach their fullest potential. Today, the wish of 60 years ago still exists in the hearts and minds of every parent with a child living with special needs.


Honoring our Past

Please read this excerpt taken from a statement authored by the late Angela Canade featured in GEC’s 50th Anniversary Journal ( 2008).

It was 50 years ago in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and not that much time to accomplish a miracle; there was little opportunity for children with developmental disabilities, except for a few classes in the local public school. They had no friends, no recreational outlets, nowhere to go where they could learn to really maximize their potential. Therefore, they stayed at home, sheltered and protected by their family members. The less fortunate, those with no one to care for them were packed off to dreaded institutions like the infamous Willowbrook.

Julia Carosella, a Bay Ridge teacher of youngsters with special needs, was well aware of the loneliness that surrounded her charges. She and a group of parents with similar concerns joined hands and decided to do something about it. They found a storefront in the community so the group could meet. At that meeting, in November 1957, the group decided to take steps to alleviate the children’s loneliness. The first social was a festive Christmas Party held the next month. More youngsters than expected showed up.

As the project jelled, the group of founding parents chose The Guild for Exceptional Children as its name and Mrs. Olga DeFelippo, mother of a son with special needs, was elected as the first president. With the cooperation of then New York State Senator William T. Conklin, whose son had developmental disabilities, and Assemblyman (now Judge) Luigi R. Marano, the Guild was incorporated on March 19, 1958. At the start, the entire program was run by volunteer mothers who helped 50 youngsters. Developmental disabilities has come out of the attic.


The GEC continues to honor the legacy of our founders and our mission:

“To help children and adults living with developmental disabilities lead dignified and satisfying lives, reaching their fullest potential and assisting families in every step of their journey.”

Pictured at Left: Through their unwavering determination, courage and faith, the GEC became a reality on March 19, 1958. (Pictured) Second Row (l-r) Senator William T. Conklin, Hon. Luigi Marano-First Row- (l-r) Olga De Felippo, Charles Mastronardi, and George Alaino.

Today, the GEC continues to be at the forefront in providing programs, services and support to nearly 1000 individuals, and their families each 
day of the year. We are proud to be an efficient and principled charity, with 90 cents of every funded dollar going to actual service and support!


Embracing the Present

GEC-First-pre-school.jpgThe Carrie Mastronardi Early Childhood Education Program is a shining example of the importance of providing a comprehensive clinical and educational program to preschoolers with developmental delays or disabilities from ages 3 to 5 years old. The GEC is front and center to help families when they are first facing the challenges of raising young children with special needs. This can be a stressful time for families. The most important message we convey to parents is that they are not alone. We will walk beside them to provide support, guidance, and the resources they need. The GEC also serves neighborhood children enrolled in our UPK program. Our preschoolers receive a full day of instruction focused on developing the foundational knowledge and skills in the NYS Prekindergarten Foundation for the Common Core standards. Children reach important milestones as they are encouraged to learn and try new things, actively explore with their peers, adjust to routines, problem solve and use new vocabulary words. School staff provides services for families in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Pictured at Right: GEC’s First Pre-School Class 1962

IMG_0477-1-new.jpgEach year, I look forward to attending our preschool graduation ceremony. It is heartwarming to see the beaming faces of our children as they receive their diplomas. The happy and prideful faces of their families convey more than can be expressed in words. In the fall, the children will continue their educational journey, and enter Kindergarten in the public school system. Some will be able to attend school with minimal or no supports and other children will continue to benefit from special educational supports through the age of 21. At that time individuals are welcomed to attend GEC day habilitation programs.


GEC’s Day Habilitation Program

The GEC offers a variety of Day Habilitation Programs. Our main objective is helping to improve the quality of life for all individuals. The eldest individual in our program is an active and vibrant 92 year old woman.

Our programs teach important life and social skills, and offer opportunities for work preparation, recreation, exercise, wellness, art therapy, and horticulture therapy. GEC program participants are contributing members of the community and many look forward to volunteering at community sites such as: senior centers, religious institutions, nursing homes, and local schools and colleges.


GEC’s Residential Program

In 1970, the GEC opened the first residence in New York State.

The GEC is proud to be serving the first known generation of senior citizens with developmental disabilities and 72% of people living in our residences are 50 years of age and older.

GEC’s Residential Program includes 20 homes located in Brooklyn. Each home provides a comfortable, safe and welcoming atmosphere where individuals thrive and grow to realize their full potential under the guidance and supervision of dedicated staff. Our residents are active members of the community. They enjoy shopping, movies, community outings, and events, vacationing, travel, and strive to lead a full, happy, and productive life.

GEC has and continues to rescue people from the institutionalization of nursing homes and hospitals when they were medical stable, but their families were unable to provide the care needed and they had no place to go.

I want to share with you the story of a special man:

Picture1_1.jpgOver thirty years ago, Lowell was 21 years of age when he came to GEC. In addition to living with a developmental disability, Lowell is totally deaf, and not able to verbalize. During his younger days, Lowell was institutionalized for 6 years at the infamous Willowbrook. At that time, he was sent to Willowbrook simply because there were no other options for people with complex developmental disabilities.

Shelley Wine, GEC’s Greenhouse /Horticulture Program Coordinator has successfully worked with Lowell these many years, and recalled that when he first came to our program, “Lowell would just look down at his shoes, and not connect with the world or individuals around him.” Shelley learned Sign Language to better communicate with him. She also introduced Lowell to the Greenhouse program. It seemed that horticultural therapy provided a way for Lowell to advance on many levels. Lowell possesses a natural “green thumb.” He loves gardening, whatever he sows…grows!

At the GEC, Lowell experienced many turning points. When he first came to our program, Lowell had a volatile temperament, and would express his dislikes by punching the walls. As an example, he disliked eating in the upstairs lunchroom. Lowell would punch the walls on route to the lunchroom. Shelley noticed the behavior pattern, and arranged for Lowell to eat in the staff’s downstairs lunchroom. He was pleased with the new location, and punching the walls quickly ended.

Throughout these past three decades, Lowell gained self-confidence, and has become quite knowledgeable in horticulture. He is better able to adjust to new situations and people. He enjoys visiting the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and working in the community garden at Owl’s Head Park.

Lowell loves to care and water plants, drawing pictures of nature, and making everyone he meets feel special, especially senior citizens. Lowell will pick flowers from our wildflower garden and bring them to our seniors at the Four Seasons program. Shelley stated, “Lowell gives back to us much more than what we have given him.”

Building the Future

The GEC is embarking on three major building projects to provide for the increasing needs of our individuals with developmental disabilities, especially as they advance in age. These needs will address changes to the physical plant to help increase safety, mobility and overall quality of life. Many individuals have ambulation challenges, use walkers, canes, and some utilization wheelchairs.

Here are some improvements planned:

GEC’s Main Building - The building has not been renovated since 1974. The major objective of the project is to relocate our Mastronardi Day Program from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor.

  • Program relocation to the 1st floor, individuals will no longer have to use the stairs, or the elevator to attend the program. Relocation will also improve the evacuation time in case of an emergency.
  • Bathrooms will be renovated to provide needed space to accommodate individuals with physical challenges.
  • Although, presently functional, the fire alarm system installed in the 1970’s, cannot be modified and/or expanded to meet current safety requirements and needs replacement
  • Update sprinkler system and HVAC unit

GEC’s Residences - Two residences are scheduled for renovations. The main objectives of these projects are to increase accessibility and enhance safety.

  • At one building there are 3 floors. An installation of an elevator will help increase accessibility to all levels of the building for residents with ambulation challenges. 
  • Installation of a sprinkler system , fire alarm system and carbon monoxide detector
  • Provide accessible bathrooms
  • Installation of a centralized air conditioning system

IMG_3020-1-new.jpgFuture Renovations - GEC’s Third Avenue Buildings

  • Reconfiguration of existing space to make it less crowded
  • Remodeling of bathrooms, hallways, steps and all doors for full accessibility
  • Roof and parapet repairs to address moisture problems
  • Remodeling of second floor apartments to better meet the needs of those in our care
  • Exploration of renovations to allow additional second floor apartments

The GEC could not have existed these 60 years without the generosity, concern, and support of our donors and friends. With government budget cuts on the rise, the need for philanthropy has greatly increased.

I am sending this letter to ask for your kind support, and contribution to GEC’s Building Fund. With your help we can provide the funding needed for these major renovation projects. Each dollar you contribute will make a significant difference in the quality of life for individuals with special needs and will allow people to age safely and with grace in their residential homes.

Allow me to thank you in advance for your generosity in helping to continue our mission for another 60 years and more!

With appreciation, 


Paul Cassone
Executive Director/CEO


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Donations in the form of: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, securities or real estate can offer the contributor a substantial tax benefit. Please consult with your tax advisor for current IRS rules and regulations.

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Planned gifts such as: gift annuities, deferred payment annuities and remainder annuity trust can offer the donor numerous tax benefits. The Development Department can provide information that would allow you and your tax consultant to choose a plan that meets your financial needs.

Wills & Bequests

The most important reason to have a will is to ensure that you are the one who decides how your estate will be divided. By remembering the GEC in your will, you will help perpetuate a legacy of care that has existed since 1958. If you already have a will, a codicil can be added. Please consult with your attorney.

Matching Gifts

To double or perhaps triple your donation, please inquire if your employer has a matching gift program. Please include with your donation, the matching gift form. The Development Department will complete the form and return it to your employer for processing.

If you have any questions, please contact the Development Department at 718-833-6633 x 228.