Willowbrook State School was supposed to be a place to help children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. More than 40 years ago, Geraldo Rivera revealed the horrors taking place inside, and it was eventually closed in 1987.
"No one should be treated like that, animals shouldn't be treated like that," said Elly Rufer, the head of NYC FAIR, which stands for Family Advocacy Information Resource.
NYC FAIR is an organization that informs family members about services and support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For Rufer, the cause was born of a personal need, when she started advocating for her daughter.
“I realized I had no idea what was going on and my daughter was IDD, she needed services and I didn't know how to get them," explained Rufer, “so I became aware of how things were going on and how those services were delivered, funded and all that."
Rufer said parental involvement with NYC FAIR is still a work in progress, but everything moving to a virtual platform like Zoom has helped.
NYC FAIR was part of a recent rally commemorating the anniversary of the closing of Willowbrook. They also are urging more state support for people with disabilities.
"The more they defund the 'Person Centered Planning' pieces of housing — which is exactly where they're cutting right now — the larger the site will be and it will go back to state operated things,” sais Rufer, “because it will put the providers out of business.”
NYC FAIR has been encouraging family and friends to press state and local politicians with a photo and hashtag campaign through social media.
"They need to be safe... you can't cut staffing,” urged Rufer. “They need to be occupied, you can't cut their programs.”
NYC FAIR has a “socially distanced” rally planned for Nov. 17 outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Manhattan office.
You can visit the NYC FAIR website and Facebook page to learn more about the organization, what they do and how you can help.