Gov. Kathy Hochul made the trip to Garden City to honor Victoria Schneps-Yunis, founder of Life’s WORC and Schneps Media, at Life’s WORC’s headquarters, which was recently renamed the Victoria Schneps-Yunis Building.
Schneps-Yunis founded Life’s WORC in 1971 after finding out of the deteriorating conditions at the former Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, where her daughter Lara Schneps had been. In her opening remarks, Schneps-Yunis recalled Lara’s story.
“I thought I was going to have this lovely little life as a teacher, which I loved doing, and a lawyer husband and a white picket fence,” Schneps-Yunis said. “And then Lara was born. And after she turned blue in the nursery, we took the trip to every doctor, every city in the region, to find out she’ll always be a 3 month old, that she will always need to total care. And he found a place of hope actually on Staten Island called Willowbrook. With great hope, we brought her there for the therapy she was going to get every day. But sadly within a year of Lara being there, Governor Rockefeller slashed the budget, and the people who gave that loving care were fired because the budget was slashed.”
She had initially founded Life’s WORC as a group to support people at Willowbrook, but after the budget cuts, the group picketed. Her husband Murray Schneps then led the charge to file a federal class action lawsuit, which they won. Willowbrook was shut down, opening the door for better facilities and treatments.
Schneps-Yunis thanked Hochul for attending, and said that her efforts as governor are needed in the causes that Life’s WORC fights for.
“I thank you and your entire family for dedicating themselves to supporting cause of getting truth out,” Hochul said. “I had these social justice Catholic parents, meaning they had us involved in every cause there was. We’re talking about civil rights and women’s rights. But another area they saw a need was a Willowbrook-type building closing in our community. They were trying to find sponsor families to help these people who have been dropped. We were brought in as a host family, when I was 13 or 14. It had a profound impact on me because my parents wanted us to see that there are people living among us who are not given the same opportunities in life. So it helped instill in me now as even governor to reflect on that, that we’re all here to help all God’s children.”
Other politicians were in attendance, including New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove).
“Vicki, this is always a constant thank you for all the years I have known and worked with you,” Lavine said. “We are all God’s children. Each and every one of us is our sister’s keeper and our brother’s keeper. That’s a philosophy that you find among the good people on both sides of the legislative. It’s a great honor to be here today to celebrate this momentous occasion. And Vicki, you are tireless. You are you are the definition of a fighter.”
Lavine was joined by his colleague in the New York State Assembly, Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright.
“I like to call her the queen of media and the godmother of the disability rights,” Seawright said. “And thanks to this new office, we will not bear witness to snake pits like Willowbrook ever again.”
Outgoing Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who was term-limited for this year’s election cycle, was also in attendance and praised Schneps-Yunis’s efforts through the years as a newspaper publisher and activist.
“You’re always focused on what is needed and what is necessary for the the people here that that you’ve observed your entire life,” Bellone said. “You at a very young age, changed the entire paradigm of how this works. And in so doing changed the lives of countless people, and honestly changed the character of of the state and the nation in doing so is an incredible thing. And your name on a building is just the least of the recognition for what you have done.”
Rabbi Marc Schneier, senior rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue, closed out the ceremony.
“Vicki Schneps is a fixture of circumstances, not a victim of circumstance,” Schneier said. “Where others were discouraged, you were full of hope. And where others saw a lost causes, you had vision of a future. We thank God for keeping us alive or sustain us, and for enabling us to celebrate this magnificence and joyous occasion, the true testaments of my beloved cherish and dear friend, Vicki Schneps.”