100 Years of HeartShare: A Century of Caring (with slideshow)

For the past 100 years, HeartShare Human Services of New York – a nonprofit human services agency dedicated to improving the lives of people in need of special services and support – has been committed to serving the needs of abused and neglected children, families in crisis, youth in need of safe havens and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

To celebrate the organization’s centennial anniversary, HeartShare hosted a block party July 12 on the MetroTech Commons in Downtown Brooklyn. It’s fitting that the 100th anniversary was celebrated the exact day – July 12 – that the organization incorporated in 1914.

“It’s really an exciting time for us because not many organizations can boast that they’ve lasted that long, especially in the social services world,” said Bill Guarinello, president and CEO of HeartShare. “We’ve been able to adapt and readjust to all the different variables that have happened throughout the years. We have reinvented ourselves to respond to the changing needs of society.”


Originally named the Catholic Guardian Society of Brooklyn and Queens, the organization first served over 5,000 orphaned and destitute teens transitioning from orphanages and institutions to life on their own. Under the law and in society, these teens were offered no protection, so the Catholic Guardian Society helped them find housing and jobs.

Once residential group homes began replacing institutions in the 1960s, the organization adapted by becoming certified by the N.Y.C. Bureau of Child Welfare to provide foster care services for youth ages 16 years and older. In the early 1970s, the organization opened its first family service center and prevention program – South Brooklyn Prevention – to counsel families in crisis to keep them united and prevent their children from being placed in foster care. In 1975, the first group home, the Clinton Residence, was opened for eight boys with developmental disabilities. Additionally, responding to the plight of children worldwide, the organization established a Refugee Assistance Foster Care Program in 1978 for unaccompanied immigrant minors from Vietnam, Cambodia and Haiti, which resulted in an increase in foster homes in the Diocese of Brooklyn and on Long Island.

When medical research showed in the early 1980s that early intervention for children diagnosed with developmental disabilities greatly enhances their chances for more appropriate development, the organization opened its First Step Early Childhood Program for children ages two through five – one of the first programs of its kind in New York City.

The rest of the 1980s saw the introduction of Respite/Recreation Programs, the first Adult Day Treatment Center – the Eileen and William Lavin Day Treatment Center in Williamsburg – and the first two Supported Apartments for those with higher functioning abilities.

In 1992, the organization officially changed its name to HeartShare Human Services of New York to reflect its expanding and diverse programming throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Through all the expansion, however, HeartShare always remained consistent with its mission to nurture and support, with dignity and respect, children, adults and families in order to expand opportunities and enhance lives.

“We’ve always remained true to our mission and values, which are at the core of our programs and are the reason why our employees are passionate about the work they do,” said Guarinello, who has been with the organization since 1970, taking over his current role HeartShare in 1993.

After successfully implementing a Scattered Site Housing Program and Case Management Programs for people with HIV/AIDS in 1993, HeartShare opened its first Beacon Program at P.S. 329 in Coney Island to provide a safe after-school environment for the community. That same year, HeartShare launched a partnership with National Grid (then Brooklyn Union Gas) to provide energy assistance for low-income families in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Upon entering the 21st century, HeartShare Wellness, Ltd., an affiliate program of HeartShare, opened in Downtown Brooklyn to provide holistic, diagnostic, medical and well-being health services provided by a staff trained specifically to address conditions unique to the special needs population. Additionally, The HeartShare School, for children ages five through 21 on the autism spectrum, became the first private school-age program of its kind in Brooklyn in 2007.

In 2011, HeartShare opened two residences in Williamsburg adjacent to the education center – the Craig and Susan Eaton Residence for girls and the Joseph and Laura Caruana Residence for boys – seeking to provide full-service programs for children on the autism spectrum. “When we look back at this, we’re just very proud that we’ve had the stamina and a really good staff over the years that has been the basis of why we are just as good 100 years later,” Guarinello said.

Guarinello said that HeartShare has been preparing the past two years for a transition in the developmental disabilities world to a new system of managed care. But just like in the past, HeartShare is not frightened by the change and will rely on its adaptability to face any impending challenges.

“We here at HeartShare always make sure that before change happens, we hit the ground running,” Guarinello said. “How we prepare ourselves for the future is the same way we’ve always done it. We always try to stay on the cutting edge.”

A new venture for the next 100 years of HeartShare is the organization’s affiliation with St. Vincent’s Services, one of the oldest child care agencies in Brooklyn committed to serving needy children and their families. As of March, 2014, the affiliate is known as HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services (HSVS). HSVS will provide all foster care, adoption, prevention and youth programs, while HeartShare will provide all developmental disabilities services.

“This is a major accomplishment in the children’s services world because it’s putting two agencies together that had the forethought to make sure they could survive,” Guarinello said. “St. Vincent’s is a 145-year-old agency. By having it under the HeartShare umbrella now, we can only do bigger and better things.”

Guarinello said that as HeartShare continues its journey into another century, he expects the organization will keep its person-centered approach in all of its ventures. Today, almost 29,000 children, adults and families rely on the HeartShare network of services.“I really look forward to the next 100 years of this organization being as successful and being as responsive to the needs of the community,” said Guarinello, who is proud to be leading an organization that has hit this milestone.

For more information on HeartShare and its centennial anniversary, visit the organization’s website: www.heartshare.org.

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