From social worker to president and CEO, Bill Guarinello has been in close contact with hundreds of children, adults and families who have been in HeartShare’s care.
But there’s one person that stands out to him.
“When I started as a social worker, there was a baby who came into foster care. Michael had fetal alcohol syndrome and it was clear that he would need a lifetime of care,” recalls Guarinello.
“When I developed our Developmental Disabilities Services, I knew that this would be the perfect fit for Michael. Today, he still lives at a HeartShare group home. This is the longest-standing relationship I’ve had with someone in our programs. I’ve known him for forty-five years. I’m like his father.”
Bill Guarinello has served the child welfare agency for over 45 dedicated years, since when it was still known as the Catholic Guardian Society of Brooklyn and Queens. Under his leadership, it has grown to a $150 million agency with over 100 program locations, serving vulnerable individuals in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and in 60 of the 62 New York counties.
His career started in 1970, as a social worker with the Catholic Guardian. He stood out and received more responsibilities through his pure tenacity on the job. He was told to open a program in Red Hook, aimed at preventing the placement of children into foster care – without a budget.
“We need a phone and a space for nothing,” his supervisor told him.
After two months of scouting and planning, he returned with just that – an office space and a phone line collocated with another non-profit.
When the 1972 Willowbrook State School exposé occurred, he felt he had to do something, so he asked his predecessor, executive director Dr. Catherine White, if he could investigate.
“Go and help,” she told him.
A one-man team, he rescued abused special needs people from Willowbrook and opened the Catholic Guardian Society’s first group home for people with developmental disabilities. He was instrumental in building that division of the agency, which is still a primary focus of what HeartShare does today.
He oversaw the development of programs serving this vulnerable population, including additional residences, early childhood centers, an evaluation center, adult day programs and family support programs.
In 1985, Bill was named Executive Director of the Catholic Guardian Society. A few short years later, in 1993, he was named President and CEO.
Under his leadership, HeartShare not only celebrated its centennial anniversary, but also continues to thrive in an extremely competitive market by meeting the needs of the New York community.
“We not only are looking back at over a century of history, but also at the extraordinary growth we’ve experienced,” he said. With his “ahead of the curve” management style, HeartShare established its three affiliates – HeartShare Wellness in 2000, The HeartShare School in 2007 and HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services in 2014, which resulted in the organization growing to an one with nearly 250 years of experience and the third largest child welfare agency in New York City. From anticipating the managed care trend to harnessing the support of high-profile public figures and celebrities, HeartShare’s continued success is undoubtedly associated with its President’s innovation.
Despite 45 years of service to an organization that he very much built with his own two hands, Guarinello credits his success to his team.
“My team shares ideas and listening to that is key,” he explains. He emphasizes a team approach, including encouraging employee growth.
In addition to this openness and flexibility, his leadership style is based on a deep knowledge of program operations and charisma that keeps the organization connected and engaged in the industry, but also a knowledge informed by frontline experience.
“When I was a social worker, I saw that people working in the field often felt disengaged,” he points out. “I promised myself that if I ever moved up, I would make sure that employees are heard. I know we’re a very big agency today, but I do like to treat this like a family.”
Guarinello has become a well-respected non-profit leader, human services practitioner, and community activist. From his family life to his early parish involvement, he acknowledges that his upbringing clearly influenced his connection to an organization that uplifts and improves the lives of people in need.
“I’m able to live the Church’s mission of charity and compassion every day,” he notes.
Dyker Heights Roots
Growing up, he always was an active member of his local and parish communities. His mother raised him to respect others. She modeled this ethos by always offering a lending hand whenever she could. As a part of St. Bernadette’s parish, Dyker Heights, he had his early beginnings working with youth. He coached baseball, basketball and football teams, as well as served as director of the athletic association.
Today, he also serves as chairman of Brooklyn Community Board 11; president of the Fort Hamilton Citizens Action Committee, which links the civilian and military communities; and chairs Brooklyn Remembers that built and maintains the Pier 69 Beacon Memorial to Brooklyn’s 9/11 victims.
Among his extensive community involvement, he has served on the boards of the Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies, the Boy Scouts of America, the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council and as president of the Visitation Academy Fathers’ Club.
Even with this extensive list of HeartShare’s accomplishments, Guarinello says, “There are still more things I want to accomplish.”
He holds a B.S. in Psychology from St. Francis College and an M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. He completed the MBA-level Executive Management Program from Columbia University. Bill and his wife, Donna, live in Brooklyn and are the proud parents of Alison Marino and grandparents of Gianna Nicole.