Wendy’s Memories of Opengate

Wendy and her family

It was Friday, July 3, 1970 when Wendy came to Opengate as a young woman of 19, a date she has committed to memory. The agency was founded the previous year by a group of parents wanting better resources for their adult children. There were not many options for adults as they aged out of the system which provided for their needs as children. 

Growing up, Wendy, like most children with disabilities, did not have access to a public education, but she attended special classes throughout her childhood which helped her deal with emotional and behavioral conditions. She is cognizant of these issues and describes how her programs at Opengate have helped overcome them. She has learned how to control anger, reduce her stress, and improve socially.

“Social” is a fitting description of Wendy.  She loves to greet new people when they come to Opengate to make them feel more comfortable in their new surroundings and know that they have made a new friend. She takes pride in leading tours of Opengate and the beautiful surroundings. 

Her brother reports that “Wendy is a part of the community and knows everyone! She feels comfortable and says a friendly hello to everyone she sees.” She is naturally outgoing and he remarks that she feels accepted and secure in the knowledge that she can just “be Wendy.”

Wendy attended the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS) annual statewide conference where self-advocating people with disabilities come together to learn, network, and become motivated with new ideas. She mentions that at the last conference she learned more about replacing anger by looking at the positive side of her life, and was able to network with others who taught her about stress reduction and listening skills.

Opengate offers many activities for residents, both onsite and within the community. Wendy participates in Tai Chi and Laughing Yoga classes which she explains as providing healing energy, body movement, and, most important, a lot of fun! She enjoys anything that involves physical activity and has exercise equipment available to use as she likes. Her favorite physical recreation is swimming and she has memories of many outings to various pools. She also participates in other social activities such as movies and shopping.

Along with other residents, Wendy takes part in Shabbat observances (at Opengate’s Bernstein House) lighting candles, setting the table, and sharing prayers. Wendy fondly remembers being a part of the gardening program which grows organic vegetables and flowers. The harvests were used for meals as well as for sale to community members. Wendy says that she has a natural green thumb!

Wendy’s father’s memories of her as a child were of her living in her own little world with difficulty communicating. When she came to Opengate in 1970, it was a small agency that offered more personal, direct contact with residents from a highly trained staff. He notes classes at that time were more geared towards vocational studies preparing residents for jobs they could perform. He says Wendy eventually came out of her little world to discover she could reach out to others, talk more, and enjoy activities. Wendy’s experience has been close to perfect at Opengate.

Wendy and her family chat with CEO, Brian Hulten

One of the challenges presented to Wendy was the death of her mother which created problems for her socially. She speaks lovingly about her mother, but also recognizes the impact her step-mother has made in her life as well as her father’s. Her step-mother takes an active role in the family and is especially impressed with the level of care Wendy receives at Opengate. She appreciates the two-way communications and finds comfort in the knowledge that all of Wendy’s needs are met.

Wendy has seen many changes over the years since 1970; Opengate growing from one house and school to new homes within the community, better programs, and more social activities. Although her father and step-mother visit Wendy as often as possible, her brother will be moving and not able to see her as often. However, each of them is comforted by the fact that Wendy has created deep bonds and considers Opengate and her fellow residents her “second family.”

Wendy has another date in her memory, July 6, 1969 as the date that Opengate was founded 50 years ago. She, as well as everyone at Opengate, is looking forward to the future. Chief Operating Officer, Deborah Mayo says, “It will just get better and better with more beautiful community homes, dedicated staff members, and resources. It will be an incredible journey.”

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Meet Victoria Ribon

Victoria Ribon joins the Opengate executive staff with a newly created title, Chief Human Capital Officer, formerly known as Chief Human Resources Officer.  In this capacity, Victoria oversees the day-to-day functions of the Human Capital Optimization and Workforce Development Teams, previously known as Human Resources and Training Departments.  She also serves as the Affirmative Action/Diversity officer and the liaison between employees and the Executive management team.

Prior to Opengate, Victoria was the Director of Human Resources and Executive member for Integrity House, a not-for-profit agency that provides detox, short and long-term residential  substance abuse dependency and rehabilitation services located in Newark, NJ and which provides services throughout the state.

In October of 2018 she accepted the opportunity to join the executive staff at Opengate. Victoria says, “I wanted to be part of an agency that provides compassionate care, concern, and effective services to the population we support.”  

Her immediate goals are “…to serve as an advisor and counsel Managers to create and maintain cross-departmental relationships to enable success.” Victoria has ensured Opengate is represented in several recent hiring events to recruit the best possible candidates for available positions within the agency.

On a personal note, Victoria is the oldest of four daughters raised by a single mother after her father passed away. As a single parent herself, she shares her life with two young teenagers, Olivia and Brianna. Her daughters join her passion for fitness and in her free time she can be found observing their participation in competitive dance and/or sports, or simply spending healthy quality time at the gym.

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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Michael’s Story

Throughout our 50th year anniversary year, we will be celebrating some highlights and memories of individuals, staff, and families of Opengate. We hope you enjoy reading them!

In 1960, Michael was born as a child with “special needs.” Little was known about how to best raise children with disabilities at that time, with very few resources or support groups available to the children and their families. In Michael’s case, and most others, a public education was denied.

As a young child, Michael was accepted into a nursery program which, as a start, was somewhat helpful. He then spent a short time in a private school, but it was not a good experience for him. He later attended the Manhattan School, which was founded by a group of prominent parents who had “special needs children,” and he appeared to perform much better there. However, he aged out of that school at 17 and went on to a sheltered workshop, where he was bullied and very unhappy.


But, that’s where going between some positive and some very negative experiences ended. Michael’s mother says, For our family a wonderful thing happened, Michael was fortunate enough to be accepted and admitted to Opengate. He came to Opengate as a young man who was tense and nervous with very little confidence in himself.

Over the years at Opengate, and by actively participating in their programs, Michael developed and matured a great deal. He gained his self-confidence and learned skills such as shopping, helping with chores, and being comfortable in social situations. He now finds it a pleasure to be involved in his residence at Bernstein House as well as in the community.

“Michael considers Opengate his home and is comfortable visiting me and then returning to Bernstein House. My thanks to Opengate and it’s wonderful staff headed by Brian Hulten.” – Michael’s mother

Along with programs offered at Opengate, Michael also attends the Life Plan Program at Keon where he enjoys being out in the community and doing volunteer work.

We have come a long way in the development and acceptance of people with disabilities since Michael was young. Inclusion in communities, employment and volunteer opportunities, and the expansion of their unique skills has created a whole new world that in years past individuals never had the chance to experience. Thanks to top agencies like Opengate, the door is open to improve the quality of life for all.

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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Employee of the Month, April 2019

Congratulations to Sonia Parkinson for being selected the Employee of the Month

Every month Opengate staff members are asked to nominate and select someone as the Employee of the Month based on the person’s merit. In April, colleagues voted to award the honor to Sonia Parkinson.

Sonia is being recognized by her peers for being an outstanding team member who always places the well-being of the individuals she cares for first and foremost. Employed with Opengate since 2011, Sonia is assigned to the Lehr House where it’s reported that she goes out of her way to advocate for the individuals. She also makes sure they get to any of their appointments on time.

As an example of her commitment, Sonia escorted an individual to a medical appointment and subsequently to the emergency room. While she was at the emergency room, she was notified that someone from Lehr House called out, leaving a shift uncovered. She immediately volunteered to work the shift. When she returned to campus after the medical appointment and emergency room visit, she went home, then returned for the 10pm shift.

Sonia’s team members feel this type of dedication is going beyond the call of duty in a day’s work!

Congratulations to Sonia Parkinson from the staff of Opengate for being nominated and elected Employee of the Month by your fellow employees.

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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Meet Kristen Elkins

Kristen Elkins began her career as a Direct Support Professional working as a teacher’s aide at a special education preschool during summer breaks from college. She subsequently earned degrees in both Psychology and Criminal Justice with a Forensic Psychology specialization from St. John’s University.

After graduation from college, Kristen was employed as a Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional at United Cerebral Palsy of New York City, where she spent 11 years in positions of increasing responsibility. She last held the position of Director of Compliance and Quality Improvement at the agency.

Kristen relocated to the Hudson Valley from Brooklyn where she was referred to Opengate by a former colleague. She immediately felt the position with Opengate was a perfect fit for her.

Coming to Opengate with 15 years in the field, Kristen currently holds the title of Chief Compliance Officer where she oversees compliance with federal and state regulations, the incident management process, and internal policies and procedures. She also develops and maintains training curricula and coordinates the internal audit process. Kristen recently earned Certification in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) from the Compliance Certification Board.

My goal is to make compliance fun! I want to empower employees with knowledge, and to support programs to achieve innovative, person centered programming.

As an avid long distance runner, Kristen has completed 13 marathons and 5 ultramarathons (a distance longer than 26.2 miles), and recently participated in the Boston Marathon. She loves to travel and calls herself an adrenaline junkie! Travel highlights include shark diving in Honduras, the running of the bulls in Pamplona, bungee jumping in Costa Rica, trekking in Peru and rappelling down waterfalls in Ecuador.

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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