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Life’s WORC Celebrates 50 Years of Changing Lives

In 1971, a compassionate, driven woman organized a picket line to protest the deplorable living conditions for over 5,000 residents in the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, NY. At the time, Willowbrook was the nation’s largest institution serving children with development disabilities, and it had fallen into massive disrepair due to budget cuts.

That woman was Victoria Schneps Yunis. Her daughter Lara had been diagnosed with severe brain damage at an early age, and as a result she was among Willowbrook’s residents. Victoria and others advocated vigorously for the rights of the Willowbrook residents. One year later, their advocacy would result in a scathing investigative news report by television reporter Geraldo Rivera. His “Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace” report exposed the institution’s horrendous conditions, igniting widespread public outcry and ultimately forcing Willowbrook’s closure. For Victoria, this closure was just the beginning, and her efforts would result in the founding of an organization with a far-reaching impact and a far different mission for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism.

That organization would come to be known as Life’s WORC, which purchased its first group home in Little Neck, Queens, a few years later. Its first residents were former Willowbrook residents.

Throughout decades that followed, Life’s WORC expanded its reach and opened more group homes. There are now 45 beautiful residences located in Manhattan, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk. Each home is maintained to the highest safety and health standards. Life’s WORC residents benefit from a person-centered approach, providing clinical services, emotional care and other supports needed for their personal fulfillment and well-being today and into the future. To complement its Residential Services, Life’s WORC offers Behavioral Analysis Services, Community Habilitation, Customized Employment Services, Day Habilitation, School-Based Services, and Respite and Family Support Services.

In the early 2000s, Life’s WORC’s growth prompted a relocation of its headquarters to larger facilities in Garden City, NY, and its Day Habilitation program expanded to six locations. The organization’s next major milestone came in 2015 when it opened the Family Center for Autism. With its inclusive environment and robust programming, the Family Center for Autism is a social, recreational, and educational resource for individuals of all ages who can access programs ranging from art, camps, culinary, sports and fitness, to music and movement, science and technology, salon and spa, trade skills, and family respite.

Most recently, Life’s WORC added Trust Services to its comprehensive list of offerings. Working closely with attorneys, family members and benefactors, Life’s WORC’s experienced trust professionals establish and manage supplemental needs, self-settled, third-party, and surplus income trusts providing financial protection for people with intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and autism. These trust services are now meeting the needs of over 300 people with trusts valued in excess of $7 million.

Today, in its 50th Anniversary year, Life’s WORC has an annual operating budget of over $60 million and supports over 2,000 people. This budget is meticulously managed by its well-respected Board of Directors, led by Chair Lynne Koufakis, and its Chief Executive Officer Janet Koch, who previously served as Life’s WORC’s Chief Financial Officer. Victoris Schneps Yunisremains a vital advocate for Life’s WORC and those it serves, holding the distinction as Honorary Board Member. Geraldo Rivera, whose impassioned report earned him a Peabodyaward, is honored by Life’s WORC each year at its Annual Geraldo Rivera Golf Classic. To learn more about Life’s WORC and support the organization in its golden anniversary, 50.

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