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Dear Friends,

Henry David Thoreau said, “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed... Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

In reflecting on the words expressed by this noted poet and philosopher, the Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC), thanks each donor, supporter, and friend for planting seeds of hope that enable the children and adults in our care to experience the wonders of our world and to improve their quality of their lives.

The stories featured will help give you an insight on how the seeds of support to GEC are making a difference in the lives of individuals with special needs.


A Life Changing Story

story(Pictured l-r) Mrs. Espinoza, Mr. Ruvane (Special Ed Teacher), Eddy, Miss Lisa (Special Ed Teacher), Edward, and Mr. Espinoza.

In September 2018, twin brothers Edward and Eddy, both diagnosed with ASD (Austim Spectrum Disorder), began their educational journey at GEC’s Carrie Mastronardi Early Childhood Education Center. Edward joined Miss Lisa’s room and Eddy joined Mr. Ruvane’s room. Each morning, the boys love coming to school; and while they wait with their parents for their teachers to pick them up for class, the boys dance with joy donning huge smiles across their faces. Mom and dad are also elated to see their sons’ teachers, greeting them with big smiles. Their mother stated “When the boys first started school they couldn’t speak or follow instructions. Now the boys can tell me when they are hungry or thirsty. They speak in sentences and follow directions at home.” She goes on to say that in her eyes, “the boys have made tremendous progress and have shown more than an 80% improvement.”

Edward’s teacher, Miss Lisa reported that he has flourished since starting in her classroom in September. He can now sit for circle time songs and stories, rather than constantly fidgeting and getting out of his seat. He can answer a variety of “wh” questions without prompting, and follow 2-3 step directions with ease. He also knows all of his classmates’ names, as well as his teachers’ names.

The parents of Edward and Eddy are very involved and come to every school event. The twins’ mother considers the people at GEC who have greatly helped her boys as family, and as “angels” who have guided and supported her children with patience, kindness and love. In March the boys celebrated their 5th birthday with a joint celebration at the school. Lots of snacks, balloons, and cake were enjoyed by the children in the twins’ classrooms.

This June, Edward and Eddy will graduate and enter GEC’s summer program. Their mother credits the GEC for changing her family’s life. Her voice broke as she described her sadness over the boys leaving after graduation, and urges people to financially support the GEC. She would love to see the agency have a kindergarten or grade school, because she hasn’t found a school for her sons that is comparable to the GEC, and would recommend our school to all her friends. She emotionally describes how thankful she is to everyone who works at the GEC and grateful that the teachers are always communicating with her family and advising them as what they can do to help her sons. This collaboration between teachers and families is so important in meeting the needs and improving the lives of the children, and has helped her family in making Edward and Eddy’s first school experience life changing, and that has resulted in great progress being made in all areas of development.


Joseph Riley Fondly Remembers & Celebrates the Life of John Cavallo

johnJohn Cavallo and I met in 1986. I was a young teacher working part time at the Guild for Exceptional Children, and John was a gentleman residing in one of GEC’s residential programs. I was immediately impressed by his friendly, outgoing nature and a little bit awed by his determination and independence. In 1975 John had moved into GEC’s Conklin Residence, the very first group home for adults with I/DD in Brooklyn. John’s independence and creativity grew while he lived in the community residence. It soon became evident that he did not require 24-hour supervision (nor did he want it for that matter). John had a strong desire to live on his own, to be more independent, and he was determined to make that happen. In 1985, GEC opened up what was then a new model of residential living, a supportive apartment. John moved in with a roommate, a gentleman who had survived Willowbrook, and also demonstrated a need for greater independence, and a desire to live on his own. It was there that I met John. In the supportive apartment, he would have a few hours of daily staff assistance, but mostly he and his roommate would do their chores, shop for and prepare their meals, develop their social lives, and live as fully and independently as possible. John also worked. He held a variety of jobs over the years, starting with the GEC Workshop, doing assembly work in the 70’s & 80’s. He moved on to volunteering at Lutheran Hospital and cleaning houses and apartments. His work ethic and sociable nature made him a welcome addition to housekeeping staff. Finally, John held a position helping others at GEC’s own Four Seasons Day Habilitation, a program for senior citizens. John was not only a special part of the lives of the individuals he helped at the Four Seasons, he also inspired staff with his kind manner, willingness to help others, and endless repertoire of songs.

Socially, John was always very active. He loved performing with the Narrows Community Theater, Our Lady of Angels, and with the Bay Ridge Senior Citizen Center. John also loved to sketch. His artwork has become legendary at GEC. I had the good fortune of working with the GEC Supportive Apartment program throughout the 1990’s, and John and I became fast friends. Sharing some community theater experiences, we would swap stories about shows we had done, enjoy meals with friends, and do a little traveling.

John was well known throughout the Bay Ridge community. Whenever you were walking in the neighborhood with John, he would always run into friends who would stop to say hello and catch up on the latest Bay Ridge news. John had many friends from all walks of life.

John passed away in November, at the age of 79. It was a very sad time for all who knew and loved him, and for everyone here at GEC. After his passing, John’s family sent a note to us, expressing sincere gratitude for the opportunity & support that GEC provided, helping John to grow, and to live his own life. His sister went on to write that John had a full, happy, and active life, something that went beyond the expectations of his family, and she expressed her gratitude to GEC for helping to make that happen. "I am always surprised by this sort of gratitude. I feel that we are the lucky ones to have had this friendly, talented, and loving man in our lives. I am grateful to have known John. He inspired me with his creativity, independence, and cheerful good nature. He will always be an important part of the GEC legacy, and will always live large in the memories I have of my own life here at GEC."


Meet Brian: A man with a purpose!

brianBrian has been a program participant in GEC’s Without Walls program (WOW) for over 15 years. He feels that joining the WOW program has truly changed his life for the better. Brian stated, ”The WOW program has helped me to travel independently. It also taught me how to get a real job.”

Individuals are offered options in the program schedule which allow them to access their communities, and learn skills with the support of the staff.  GEC works collaboratively with a number of organizations, stores, restaurants, senior centers, schools, churches, etc., to provide meaningful experiences for those who elect to spend their time at community work sites.

In the WOW program, individuals spend the majority of their week at community worksites. This program helps individuals develop job training skills, amongst other activities, with the goal of obtaining employment opportunities in the community.

Brian indicated, “My favorite work sites are the Norwegian Home, where I help organize paperwork, and help to transport residents, and the Five Below store and participating in Rec days.” His main goal is to be an asset at any job he works at.

“I am very friendly and I work very hard. I love my program, my friends and my staff,” Brian said with pride.


The GEC needs your support...

Even though GEC receives funding from Medicaid and State Education, many of our programs are drastically underfunded. We greatly rely upon the generosity of our friends in the private and public sector to help provide needed funding that will enable children and adults with special needs to lead full, satisfying lives.

Providing for the increasing needs of our individuals who have physical disabilities and are advancing in age, is of great concern.  GEC strives to ensure that all of the individuals we serve will have everything they need so that they can gracefully age in place, remaining in their home or day program, among friends and staff who have become a second family to them. There are plans in progress to renovate the main building that houses the Mastronardi Day Habilitation Program, as well as the Martini Residence and Olga’s House, in order to make these locations safer and more accessible. The GEC cannot achieve this goal independently; we need your help to make these needed renovations possible.

The children and adults that are part of the GEC family are warm, wonderful people who deserve as much as anyone the opportunity to learn, grow, and be themselves in a nurturing and empowering environment. This is what we do here at GEC, and what we would like to continue to do in the decades ahead.

The support you give “today” will make a difference in the promise of “tomorrow” for the children and adults in our care. You can help the GEC plant seeds for a hopeful future for those who greatly depend on our services.

With appreciation, 


Joseph L. Riley
Executive Director/CEO


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