Each week some of Opengate’s individuals participate in sorting and packaging surplus medical supplies for the Afya Foundation located in Yonkers, NY. Afya Foundation regularly donates and ships supplies to African countries and badly damaged areas of the world due to natural disasters.
Opengate individuals received certificates of recognition and achievement for their work from Afya Foundation, the Mayor of the city of Yonkers, as well as NY State Senator Andrea Stuart Cousins. They are part of a team of hundreds of volunteers from the community who assist the organization.
The US Healthcare system discards over 7000 tons of usable medical supplies every year. Since 2008, AFYA has rescued over $26 Million worth of these supplies from landfills. (Afya Foundation website)
By donating their time and effort, all of the individuals have not only made a difference for Afya Foundation, but have learned valuable skills and lessons in volunteering.
We are very proud of every single person’s contribution to Afya Foundation and the impact they have made on the global community. Congratulations to each of them!
Peter Blechman was employed with Opengate as a Behavior Analyst from 1986 to 2004. One of the most gratifying programs he was involved in creating during this time was the theater group, The Heart & Soul Players, who rehearsed and performed on the grounds. Peter relates that since his time with Opengate he has yet to see anything comparable to this group who were dedicated to putting on a good show and having fun doing it.
The group didn’t dress up in costumes or memorize lines. Everyone sat at a table and performers were given specific parts to read from a script. Hilarie played Hilarie, Debbie played Debbie, Caren was Caren, and Natalie of course, was Natalie. And yes, Laura was the dragon and she loved playing the dragon! The Heart & Soul Players gave performances for local community events, other agencies serving people with developmental disabilities, and a few end-of-the-year Opengate celebrations with families in attendance.
“I think the fact that the residents were playing themselves in the play was a lot of fun and even at times poignant. Actually, getting this large a group together to perform was often an adventure. There was always the show within the show.”
Participation in The Heart & Soul Players was optional and every performer had to earn their way in. If someone wasn’t ready to be a part of the ensemble that day, they always had permission to take a breather. On the other hand, if they had problematic behavior, they knew they could not attend that particular show. It was a great way to keep the focus on positive conduct knowing the show must go on, and that they were truly missed.
Peter reports that there was a lot of excitement and enjoyment for the residents, especially having sodas following each performance. The finest memory was when each player was introduced and took their bow after the show to thunderous applause. Other residents who were a part of The Heart & Soul Players are fondly remembered along with those mentioned above: Marc, Michael, Josh, Leslie, Ted, Lakisha, Marina, Ralph, John, Kathy, Scott, Deidre, Jerry, and Ed.
“From time to time when I meet an Opengate resident who performed in the community, after our greetings, we will reminisce about our time in the theater together.”
Currently, Peter Blechman is in private practice as a behavioral consultant. He works with the public schools in Westchester and with adults after hours. He is an adjunct instructor at Manhattanville College in the BCBA program and continues to incorporate theater into his work with youth and adults.
In his spare time, Peter has written and performed in one act plays at the Garrison 20/20 festival held at the Garrison Depot Theater. Along with his brother, Rob, he has written “Texas Vengeance,” and if the play is accepted, Peter and Rob will act in the roles of two brothers and the play will be directed by his son, Phil.
At our annual Awards Day luncheon, Opengate also celebrated our 50th Anniversary with our staff, residents and their families. Each of our individuals was presented a certificate for their achievements.
Everyone enjoyed gathering together for a beautiful meal, music, dancing, and sharing memories of the last 50 years along with individual achievements.
It a pleasure to revisit and reflect on the past, to measure where we are today, and to plan for where we are directed for 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.”
For the next 50 years Opengate promises further positive change and we are encouraged that we can count on our families to again forge through transformation by providing assistance.
It’s only with your support that we can ensure a brighter future for all we serve.
With the programs and services we have developed over 50 years, we are now able to see practical and productive improvements on a daily basis.
For all of us at Opengate, this is a sign of our success.
Our history is rich from the beginning when a handful of devoted parents came together with the collective vision to establish a place where their adult children could live, learn new skills, and become active in the community.
“It will be a home away from home where our children can live a useful life long after we are gone.”
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.
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.”
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.