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The memory of the infamous Willowbrook State School will not be forgotten with the opening of the Willowbrook Mile on the grounds of what is today the College of Staten Island and various agencies that still serve people with developmental disabilities. Our crew was on-hand to cover the opening of this memorial self-guided walk with Geraldo Rivera, who was preeminent among the reporters who broke the story, and others who made this day possible.
See our full coverage, including photographs at: Willowbrook Mile Ribbon Cutting.
Geraldo Rivera helped cut the ribbon to Willowbrook Walk, a mile-long path to honor people who suffered at Willowbrook State School, today, September 14.
The reporter who exposed the horror of Willowbrook was joined by William Fritz and Michael Kress of the College of Staten Island (CSI); Diane Buglioli, Co-Chair of the event and Deputy Executive Director of A Very Special Place; NYS Assemblyman Michael Cusick; and many others, including Bernard Carabello, a former resident of Willowbrook State School who now works a patient advocate for the NYS Office of People With Developmental Disabilities.
“I came to this place as a local reporter for Channel 7, Eyewitness News,” Rivera told
reporter Joseph Padalino. “I had some doctors who told me I had to come and see how bad conditions were here. They got me a key so I could get in and film the conditions, which I did.”
“The problem wasn’t that people didn’t care.” Rivera continued. “The problem was that the whole notion that you could mass-produce care for the developmentally disabled the way you mass produce cars was very deeply flawed. It was doomed to fail. It was very archaic and it was primitive and thank God it’s now part of distant history.”
“I’d been at Willowbrook for 18 years!” Carabello told reporter Dolores Palermo. He said it was “bad, bad. The worst place I ever lived. Geraldo came and asked for me at Willowbrook. And that’s how I got out. He got me out. Now I work for OPWDD. I’m an advocate. I advocate for people who can’t talk for themselves.”
“I’m just so proud to be a part of this,” Cusick told reporter Gregory Perosi. “…because this will show the history of Willowbrook and what it has become.”
Mr. Padalino observed that if not for people like Rivera, “I would have been in Willowbrook, but I wasn’t. Thank you very much, Mr. Rivera.”
The Willowbrook MIle is a self-guided tour of the former campus of the State School. It spans the campus of the College of Staten Island and New York State properties that still house services for people with disabilities. Stations on the walk include a commemorative Memorial Garden Plaque, Building 29 which housed more than 100 residents, The Willowbrook Archives and Special Collections at CSI, the Institute for Basic Research, and the Elizabeth Connelly Center.
For more information on the Willowbrook Mile and to download their brochure, visit there website at http://willowbrookmile.csi.cuny.edu/about-willowbrook-mile.
– This article was written by the Life-Wire News Service staff, with specific contributions by Anthony DiFato, Anthony Buscarello, Jonathan Chernok, Anthony Kefalinos, Joseph Jones, Dolores Palermo, Joseph Padalino, and Gregory Perosi with Kathryn Carse and Edward Gregory.
The Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Council’s Annual Community Breakfast: “Keeping the Promise: It Matters to Us” was held February 26, 2016 at The Vanderbilt in South Beach. NYS Senator Diane Savino and NYS Assembly Representative Nicole Malliotakis heard the concerns of advocates for and families of people with disabilities.
Life-Wire News Service’s Meredith Arout photographed the event and filed the following video report.
Next, we will post the keynote presentation at the SIDDC Breakfast: Murray Schneps, author of “I See Your Face Before Me,” a personal account of his experience of having a child enrolled in Willowbrook State School, discusses his concern that New York State may return to the institutional system.