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United Helpers: remember Willowbrook

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OGDENSBURG — Never forget Willowbrook.

That was the message conveyed over and over again Friday at United Helpers Mosaic, 100 Ford St. There, a “Remembering Willowbrook” exhibit opened, courtesy of the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

The exhibit will remain in place this week.

The former Willowbrook Developmental Center on Staten Island closed in 1987. In 1972, it gained national infamy for the horrific living conditions of its residents.

The result was sweeping reforms in the care of the severely disabled, from deinstitutionalization to individualized care.

“We’ve all experienced a lot of changes,” United Helpers CEO Stephen E. Knight said. “Willowbrook burned into our minds. We have to make sure that we don’t backtrack.”

“It’s important that we remember Willowbrook,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, a guest speaker.

Nancy E. Rehse remembers Willowbrook and is working to make sure history does not repeat itself.

Ms. Rehse, a United Helpers board member from Potsdam, in 1995 founded LEAP — Living Exploring All Possibilities — a “little agency” devoted to helping the disabled.

Her son, Jason Chorba, is 40 “and gorgeous” — and intellectually disabled, but doing well.

“He lives in a lovely house in the country near Potsdam,” Ms. Rehse said.

“He is happy, healthy, busy and extraordinarily well cared for,” she said. “My Jason and his friends are counting on us to pay attention and make sure Willowbrook never happens again.”

Mosaic offers homes and services for people with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries, providing six intermediate-care facilities, four individualized residential alternatives, day habilitation and service coordination.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Mosaic will showcase its first art show. The show features pieces created by Mosaic residents.

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