West African brothers’ bumpy life smoothed by move to SCO Family of Services group home

This is the story of two brothers, a tale with a somewhat happy ending in progress. Let’s get the somewhat happy out of the way first. Mamadou Toure, 19, will start his first year tomorrow at Lincoln College of New England, in Southington, Conn. He wants to be a film maker and perhaps play professional soccer. Amara Toure, 20, is in his second year at Kingsborough Community College but is hoping to transfer soon to Brooklyn College and continue his studies. His goal is to become a physician. These are happy, hopeful times for the siblings from Conakry in Guinea, West Africa, especially given the arduous path they’ve taken to get there. Since 2009 they have called home an SCO Family of Services group home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, after being placed there by the city Administration for Children’s Services. ACS entered their lives after Mamadou spent some time living on the street and Amara had to work seven days a week in a clothing store — while still in high school — to make the rent a relative demanded to allow him sleep on his living room floor. All that was after they were brought here as toddlers, returned to Guinea to live with relatives after they had forgotten their native language (Fulani; they are Fulani-Mandingo mixed). The two were then returned here after they had forgotten how to speak English. “The easiest thing over here [in this country\] is coming here,” Mamadou said. “After you come here, that’s the hard part.” Both credit Efosa Idemudia, a SCO Family of Services program manager, with helping to stabilize their lives. Idemudia placed them in the Park Place group home where they now live. “Coming to this house was very welcoming,” Amara said. “It felt like a family, and before I didn’t have that here. They supported me, took the place of our parents.” The boys first came to New York in 1997 with their parents, mother Continue Reading

14-year-old missing from Millstone group home

A 14-year-old girl who was last seen at a group home in Millstone Township on March 1 has been missing for more than two weeks, State Police said.Jermasia Wright, whose last reported location was the Pine Drive Group home, is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, 120 pounds and has a dark-colored complexion, State Police said in a statement posted online Thursday.Wright also goes by the name "Mia Hollston," according to the statement. MISSING: 13-year-old reported missing by state child agency In an undated picture police provided, Wright has her hair in several long braids.The teen has ties to Sewell, Glassboro and Hackensack in New Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware, police said, but did not explain what those connections are. FOUND: Missing Asbury Park girl returns home safe People with information on Wright's whereabouts are asked to contact the State Police's Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2893, or the Hamilton station at 609-584-5287, according to the post. Anonymous tips are welcome. Katie Park: 908-801-4853; [email protected] Continue Reading

IC Home Builders help to fix damaged group home

CEDAR CITY – Officials from the Iron County Home Builders Association are assisting TURN Community services in rehabbing one of their group homes at 345 S. 900 West that has been sinking.TURN officials approached the organization asking for help, said Dan Dailey, president of the Iron County Homebuilders Association.“TURN came to the Home Builders Association looking for assistance to help lift the house from a settling issue,” Dailey said. “Along the lines of lifting the house, there is some more work that needed to be done in the front yard. We are doing concrete around the house and giving it a ramp, making it accessible from the driveway up to the house.”The association is also fixing settling issues inside the house and making it livable again.TURN is an organization that provides services for those with developmental issues and disabilities.The residential group home program typically serves four to eight people with disabilities, according to the TURN Community Services website.The homes are staffed 24/7 to provide needed specialized support.TURN officials said the project originated in in 1973 after a group of parents who were concerned with the lack of resources for adult children with disabilities formed their first group homes in Ogden and Bountiful.In the years since then, TURN has grown in reputation and become the “go-to agency for disabled adults who were moved from institutions and looked to join the community,” officials said.Dailey says he got connected with TURN through the Home Builders Association, but he and another area contractor are doing the work at significantly reduced costs.“We got connected through the HBA,” Dailey said. “Blake Demille of Rocky Ridge and myself are doing the work. We are getting paid to do it, but we are doing at a discount. We’re going to the HBA board to see if they can donate some to the project, but I think it was a misconception that the work Continue Reading

N.Y. group home scandal is an Albany disgrace for the ages

When government wastes money or buries us in red tape, it's annoying. When government turns a blind eye to political corruption, it's infuriating. But when government fails at one of its most sacred duties - safeguarding the developmentally disabled - that's a stomach-churning outrage. Which is why the appalling conditions in state-run group homes, as searingly documented by The New York Times, rank as the worst Albany scandal in years. As the operator of 2,000 group homes, the state takes direct responsibility for the care and protection of some 10,000 New Yorkers with severe physical and mental disabilities. And as The Times story makes clear, it has badly dropped the ball. Consider the case of a supervisor of one upstate home who was literally caught with his pants down, evidently having his way with a disabled woman he was supposed to be taking care of. Even though semen was found on the victim's body, even though he was arrested and charged with rape, even though he had a record for assaulting a co-worker, the state did not even try to fire the man. Instead, The Times found, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities put him on administrative leave and - when the police investigation stalled - assigned him to work in a different group home. Think about that: State officials knew exactly what this guy was capable of, and still chose to trust him with some of New York's most vulnerable citizens. As breaches of the public trust go, that makes philandering governors and bribe-taking legislators look minor-league. Shocking as that incident was, however, it was far from isolated. The Times found that the vast majority of group home caregivers charged with serious neglect or abuse over the past three years managed to stay on the job - even when they had multiple previous offenses. Time and time again, disabled people were punched, pushed around, threatened, verbally abused and sexually abused, and the perpetrators got away with it. Continue Reading

Luis Catana Jr. finds stability in Bed-Stuy group home before college

Luis Catana Jr. leaves for Sullivan County Community College on Monday. The former Morris HS pitcher will be living about 100 miles from home, playing baseball and studying at the two-year college near the Catskills. Ask him if he's going to miss his family, and he shrugs. "Ever since I was small I wanted to go away, I wanted to experience new things because my whole life has been crazy," Catana says. "I just wanted to experience something new." Catana has been separated from his family for virtually all of his life; his existence has been nomadic, and anything but stable. It wasn't until recently, he says, that he started to feel an inkling of stability. Like any college-bound athlete, he hopes to find success on the field, but his bigger ambition is to find the means to bring his family back together. He was born in Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx and lived with his mother, Fatima De Los Santos, until he was 3. His father, Luis Catana Sr., left the family when Luis was a baby. De Los Santos had a drinking problem, and he says that the city Administration for Children's Services pronounced her unfit to raise her children. He became one of his mother's 10 children placed in foster care, first living with an aunt, Elba De Los Santos, in Jersey City, N.J., for three years. From there, he bounced around to two other foster care homes in the Bronx and a group home in Brooklyn. For the past year, Catana has been living at the group home on Malcolm X Blvd. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. There, he says, he's found a considerable measure of stability. And he didn't mind the commute. Authorities tried to place Catana in yet another group home, but he says he begged them to stay in Bed-Stuy. He liked the people who run the place, he says, and liked the kids he was living with. Most of all, he didn't want to have to move again. "I felt attached to the kids there," Catana says. "They wanted to move me but I wanted to stay there until I graduated." Catana Continue Reading

Ma fumes, cops investigate after group home resident, 24, bruised

A Crown Heights group home turned into a house of horrors for an autistic man after he was brutally beaten there last week, his mother charged. Bruises and deep lacerations cover Nicholas Marabello's battered body and the 24-year-old shakes when anyone, even his mother, tries to touch him. "He was traumatized. He was shaking," Rozanna Marabello told the Daily News in an exclusive interview. "He just says, 'Oh, no, no.'" Nicholas was living at the Brooklyn Development Center's group home, which is a branch of New York State's Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Last Saturday, an employee at the New York Ave. home called the cops after noticing the marks on Marabello's body while helping him take a shower. The injured man was taken to New York Community Hospital with a fractured rib, and is still being treated there. Although Nicholas can't identify his abuser, spokeswoman Nicole Weinstein of the Developmental Disabilities agency said a group home employee was placed on administrative leave while an internal and NYPD investigation continues. Nicholas was placed in the home - which houses nine disabled people and has 24-hour supervision - three years ago when he became too old for an upstate facility. His mother, who lives in Bensonhurst, said she was concerned that the home didn't provide adequate care for autistic patients. Unable to afford private care, Marabello let the state place her son in the facility. Still, she never expected the abuse her son experienced. "He is not the same. He's usually hyper, but now he just lays there. My son shouldn't be treated like this," said Marabello. "I think [the abuser] should be arrested." Weinstein said state officials were trying to find "the best place for Nicholas once he is out of the hospital." Lawyer Andrew Friedman, who Marabello has hired, said any money the family wins from a possible lawsuit would go toward Nicholas' care. While it is unlikely Continue Reading

Former Willowbrook State School residents die in fire at group home

Four developmentally disabled adults were killed Saturday and a fifth was injured when a fast-moving fire raged through their state-run group home in the Adirondacks. The New York Civil Liberties Union said two of the dead and the injured woman are former residents of the infamous Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. "These are people who are vulnerable and dependent on their caretakers in this facility," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman, who called on the state to immediately investigate the tragedy. Anthony Vitti, 52, and Gloria Bonilla, 43, died in the fire, which began at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Elaine Edwards, 71, was airlifted to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica. The three were former Willowbrook residents. Theresa Williams, 60, and Corey Desotelle, 32, also died. The NYCLU monitors all of the former Willowbrook residents as part of the 1972 landmark class-action suit against the state that shut down the notorious school due to inhumane conditions. The residents were scattered to smaller homes across the state. Five of the nine people living in the Riverview IRA home in Wells were former Willowbrook residents. State officials say two staff members were on duty and tried to evacuate the nine residents. Vitti and Williams died during the fire, Bonilla and Desotelle died en route to a hospital in Albany. Edwards was treated for hypothermia. The other four were examined and released from local hospitals. They are now temporarily in another group home. The two staffers are also being treated for injuries. Gov. Paterson released a statement Saturday saying that the state police and the local fire department are investigating. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

‘Willowbrook Class’ members killed in fire at group home; were part of infamous suit vs. S.I. school

Four residents of a state-run group home for the mentally retarded - including two who were part of the infamous Willowbrook lawsuit - were killed in a fire Saturday.The blaze started around 5:30 a.m. in the Riverview group home in the Adirondack town of Wells, 56 miles northwest of Albany, Gov. Paterson said.There were nine residents and two staffers home when the smoke detector went off. One employee started evacuating the residents but not everyone escaped.Two perished at the scene and two died after being airlifted to a hospital. Two other residents were hospitalized.The cause of the fire was under investigation. The home was run by the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.The New York Civil Liberties Union said five residents - including two who died - were part of the so-called Willowbrook Class.They were plaintiffs in a 1972 class-action suit over inhumane conditions at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, which was shuttered in 1987.The NYCLU called for an immediate probe into conditions at the Riverview home, claiming a sprinkler system was knocked out immediately - possibly because a generator was too small."The state had a solemn obligation to support and protect the residents of this group home," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said. "It is now incumbent upon the state to find out whether it lived up to that tremendous responsibility." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Arrest in group home rape

A worker at an upper West Side group home for the mentally ill has been charged with raping a 47-year-old male resident in a shower stall.Damon Jones, 37, of W. 135th St., was also charged with attacking a colleague who responded to the victim's screams just before midnight Friday. "We're not talking and we have no comment," a worker at the W. 92nd St. brownstone said Sunday night. A neighbor at Jones' apartment building was not surprised by the news. "He's a pervert," the neighbor said. "He's been accused of this kind of stuff before."   Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

British mom gets sick during N.Y. trip, her kids end up in group home

Two teenage girls from the British countryside were searched, photographed and dumped in a group home when their mom got sick during a Christmas week shopping trip in New York City. Child welfare officials grabbed Gemma Bray, 15, and her sister, Katie, 13, and held them for more than 24 hours at a Manhattan shelter for children and teens, while their ailing mother scrambled frantically to find them. "It was like being in a little cage," Katie told British reporters. "It was quite scary at first," added her older sister. Adding insult to injury, Yvonne Bray, 38, has received a letter from the Administration for Children's Services saying she is under investigation for possible child neglect. The girls became known as the "orphan kids," in their rustic hometown of Appledore in Devon after the story hit British newspapers. A spokeswoman for ACS said authorities helped a family in need and returned the girls to Yvonne Bray as soon as she was well enough to care for them. "Children's Services assisted a mother whose children could not remain safe by themselves," the spokeswoman said. The letter Yvonne Bray received was a form letter and she will get another one closing the case, the spokeswoman said. The family's New York misadventure began when the mother became sick with pneumonia on the second night of their stay at the LaGuardia Marriott. Her daughters rode with her in the ambulance to Elmhurst Medical Center, which was a world away from the quiet clinics they are used to in England. "It was awful. I was in the emergency room for 12 hours without so much as a drink," Yvonne Bray told the Daily News. She admits allowing an ACS worker to take the two girls, but she believed they would be staying with a nice family for the night. Instead, the girls were taken to the facility on First Ave. in Manhattan, where they were given uniforms and had to pose for mug shots. The girls didn't know what to say when authorities Continue Reading