Independent Group Home Living (IGHL) held its Annual Spring Gala, this year in celebration of the agency’s 35th anniversary. The 2014 gala honoree was Lon T. Dolber, CEO/CIO of American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc.
Along with leading his Long Island based financial services company whose client assets exceed $18 billion, Dolber serves as a board member, active fundraiser and avid participant for World T.E.A.M. Sports, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating opportunies for individuals of all levels of abilities and disabilities through the power of sports. Mr. Dolber has personally raised more than $350,000 for the organization and American Portfolios is partnering this year with IGHL in the 2014 Coastal Team Challenge, giving 10 IGHL residents the opportunity to compete in a two-day kayak trip from Westhampton Beach to Patchogue.
Almost 1,000 supporters, staff and residents attended the gala held at the beautiful Flowerfield catering facility in St. James. This year was particularly special as Rock & Roll legend Dave Mason returned to entertain and this time he brought the whole band with him. CBS Sports and WFAN Sports Commentator Ann Liguori once again served as Mistress of Ceremonies with style, grace and humor. Paintings from the IGHL art program were on display and for sale and part of the evening’s program was devoted in recognition of wounded veterans associated with IGHL and World T.E.A.M. Sports.
Founded by Executive Director Walter Stockton in response to horrific conditions exposed by the 1972 Geraldo Rivera investigation of the Willowbrook School, for 35 years Independent Group Home Living has been the national standard for the care and empowerment of people with developmental disabilities, creating residential independence, providing occupational training, instilling self-worth, and literally changing the perception of and care for those among us that can not completely care for themselves. IGHL’s very first residents were victims of Willowbrook!
At one time the term was “mentally retarded,” both offensive and inaccurate! If you type in “definition of retarded” on Google, this is what comes up:
Less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age.
Informal offensive: very foolish or stupid. “In retrospect, it was a totally retarded idea.”
I can tell you from personal, very personal, experience that definition does not hold water. My friend Preston is developmentally disabled. Mentally can he read or write, no, but he is articulate with every dream and hope he like the rest of us have, including the optimistic hope that his beloved Mets will win the World Series this year and that he wants to go to Disneyland. He can program his phone with the loveliest voicemail messages about spring you will ever hear and knows how to leave an equally lovely message behind on your phone, polite and caring. Physically, there is literally nothing he is not capable of doing if one considers physical in terms of strength and endurance, as he would remain at a task long after I would have walked away. Socially, his circle of contacts would be the envy of any Hampton’s publicist. He has a cadre of caring and devoted friends that certainly outreaches my own and probably yours. Preston is a 4th degree Knight of Columbus, an honorary member of the Quogue Fire Department and a “lifeguard” at the Quogue Town Beach. Had he been born “normal,” Preston Jankowski could have been the Mayor of Quogue, then Town Supervisor of Southampton, if not the Governor of New York State.
How did this developmentally disabled man achieve these gifts? Simply because Preston was the “mentally retarded” boy born in 1954 to Marie and Leonard Jankowski with a sister named Phyllis in Quogue; they gave him the gift of independence in a small Hamptons’ town that wrapped their arms, as a village, around this very extraordinary individual.
All that might have ended a few years ago with the death of Preston’s parents, but thanks to IGHL as a resident of the East Moriches group home he has been able to live close to the community where he grew up and thrived near all the Quogue friends and residents that looked out for him for 57 years and still support him today. Thanks to the caring staff of professionals at IGHL, Preston maintains his dignity and sense of independence. He participates in the Flower Barn Day Program, attends the IGHL cooking classes and yes, will be one of the 10 IGHL residents in the Coastal Team Challenge.
IGHL, caring for those among us that cannot completely care for themselves, providing dignity, independence and skills to people with developmental disabilities.