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A Mother Gives Back

$100K donation for Life’s WORC

In recognition of the superior care her daughter Marjorie Levine received, the late Elsie Levine, formerly of Great Neck, has bequeathed $100,000 to Life’s WORC. The recently deceased Levine was an ardent advocate for those suffering from developmental disabilities. According to her daughter Cathy Levine, Elsie Levine turned her grief and pain into action and this gift demonstrates the gratitude and peace of mind Life’s WORC provided for her entire family.

“My mother had overwhelmingly positive feelings about the care my sister received through Life’s WORC,” added Cathy Levine. “Life’s WORC represented the dawn of giving those with special needs a life and an opportunity to reach their potential.”

Life’s WORC, headquartered in Garden City, was established 44 years ago as a non-profit organization to improve the lives of special needs people by providing services that facilitate an independent and productive life experience. They developed a network of 36 group residences (and 14 treatment programs) throughout Nassau County, eastern Queens and western Suffolk.

In many ways the Levine family witnessed the evolution of the treatment of those born with developmental disabilities. The public was outraged when the atrocities of Willowbrook, a state-supported institution for children with intellectual disabilities, were uncovered, but for the Levine family it was personal. Typical of women in her generation, Elsie Levine, who gave birth in 1947 to Marjorie who was severely disabled, was provided with limited options and a bleak prognosis for her child. Doctors urged Levine to place her daughter in Willowbrook on Staten Island. It was common during that era for the disabled to be warehoused in government institutions like Willowbrook.

Marjorie was placed in Willowbrook at 18 months old. Marjorie’s sister, Cathy Levine, recalls her mother saying that “Marjorie stopped smiling at Willowbrook.” “Back then, my parents knew of no alternatives to hospitalization for children like Marjorie with severe developmental disabilities.” shared Cathy Levine. “Most people had very little knowledge about mental retardation, developmental disabilities and related conditions. And there was little advocacy.”

Ultimately Marjorie was placed in another institution, and fortunately missed the worst years at Willowbrook. In 1993 Marjorie became a resident, where she still lives today, of the Antonelli Home in Albertson, which is owned and operated by Life’s WORC. Marjorie’s placement was a blessing for the Levine family. The Levines’ story demonstrates the vast progress made in the field of mental retardation, where care and training has been vastly improved over the past 50 years.

“It meant so much for my mother to make the short trip from Great Neck to Albertson regularly for visits with Marjorie and the other Antonelli House residents,” said Cathy Levine. “My mother never felt more confident that Marjorie was given the best care available by a loving staff with a life filled with activities.”

According to Matthew Zebatto, assistant executive director of Development & Public Affairs for Life’s WORC, Elsie Levine’s donation is indicative of the quality of life provided for Marjorie at Life’s WORC.

“This gift represents a substantial portion of Mrs. Levine’s estate, which speaks volumes of their appreciation,” added Zebatto. “This is a very loud statement regarding the quality and support Marjorie continues to receive through Life’s WORC. This money will be used to help offset significant reductions by New York State in funding Life’s WORC, as part of cutbacks that have been made against most non-profit developmental disabilities agencies.”

On July 11, Cathy Levine will present her mother’s gift of $100,000; she will visit Life’s WORC in Garden City and the Antonelli Home. It’s no doubt that Elsie Levine will be there in spirit. Elsie Levine earned a Master’s in Special Education and became a tireless volunteer who never stopped searching for a better life for her daughter. Perhaps the most telling symbol of her success is Marjorie’s happiness at Life’s WORC where she was able to smile once again. Through this gift, she continues to give back.