In his book, father of Willowbrook State School resident reveals guilt, anger that fueled fight for reforms

I applaud this father for writing this book. This was something that probably wasn’t easy to do, but offered some closure. My older brother Robert could have been a resident there (or maybe not), if it wasn’t for the closure.

Willowbrook State School to me was sort of like doctors telling their patients to smoke cigarettes, and how they are not harmful for their bodies. All people needed to realize was that all the developmentally disabled need is LOVE. While some may be more severe than others, it all comes back to the LOVE one would have. Sure, it seems like a drain, but its part of being a parent, and the many obstacles they face.

Besides Geraldo Rivera exposing the conditions, there were the workers and volunteers who deep down inside knew that this was not a place for people. It was also a concentration camp for the mentally disabled.

My brother has been attending A Very Special Place in Staten Island, New York for quite some time. The founders Genevieve Benoit, Executive Director and Diane Buglioli, Deputy Executive Director were two young women who worked at the Willowbrook State School.

This past year, I got to learn more about them and their mission. It goes to back to 1974, when the Willowbrook State School closed. While helping the residents relocate, Genevieve and Diane were telling them that they were going to a special place. They would have their own bed, dresser, and possessions. One of the residents stopped and thought a second. No, it’s A VERY Special Place, and Genevieve and Diane knew they had a name for an organization they founded. My brother feels safe going there on a daily basis, and knows full well he will be coming home to a house with loving parents, and a younger brother and sister.

People believe it or not continue to be ignorant, nor doubt their intelligence. Robert is a very smart man, and always has a way of cheering us up when we are having a bad day. Even seeing him in his environment at A Very Special Place makes it all worthwhile.

Resources for the developmentally disabled continue to thrive. Robert was part of the first class at the Seton Foundation for Learning, a Catholic grammar school founded by the late Bishop Patrick Ahearn and parents alike.

When election time comes or budgets talks come about, they are always quick to cut the resources of people like my brother. The politicians should know that they are voters too, and have a voice just like the normal people do.

The present campus for the College of Staten Island is the actual ground of the Willowbrook State School. Some of the classrooms, were actually once used to house the developmentally disabled. I’ve learned that the College of Staten Island is working towards building a memorial towards it, and to remind those what once was present there.

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