Oct. 18, 2023 By Michael Malaszczyk
The Garden City headquarters of Life’s WORC, a nonprofit organization that has fought for the rights of special needs individuals for 50 years, was renamed the Victoria Schneps-Yunis Building on Wednesday in honor of its founder.
Schneps-Yunis is also the founding president of Schneps Media, the company that publishes Long Island Press, Dan’s Papers, amNew York Metro, the Queens Courier, Brooklyn Paper and more. She 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. The facility was shut down after Geraldo Rivera exposed the neglect at Willowbrook with a Peabody Award-winning series.
“The woman for whom this building is named is a perfect symbol of what has happened,” Rivera said. “Taking the tragedy of Lara and making Lara’s story everybody’s story. The story of love, challenge, and loss. The counterpoint to that story is the positive story. Vicki has provided an avenue I wish could be replicated in all 50 states in every country. It is the way to bring humanity and opportunity. Vicki and Life’s WORC deliver equality and opportunity and optimism. And the happy ending is as happy as it can be for any citizen, any American.”
A cornerstone of what Life’s WORC does includes the building of group homes for people with special needs. The organization has dozens of group homes that replaced the warehouse-like conditions of places like Willowbrook and assists thousands of families.
Politicians were in attendance for the event as well, including Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, whose office is directly across the street at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building.
“I will get to look out the window of my office every day and see Vicki’s name up there,” Blakeman said at the event. “Vicki Schneps is the queen of media. You all saw her entrance — we should throw rose petals next time. But I’m proud to have this institution right here in the center of Nassau County, because we have a very compassionate and kind county. We’re very proud to have Life’s WORC in Nassau County.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was also in attendance.
“Vicki really is the epitome of that idea that literally one person can help change the world,” Bellone said. “She inspired others around her, who also wanted to make sure that their loved ones had every opportunity. She inspired them to believe that there was something more, something better that they and their loved ones deserved. And she inspired a young journalist who shined the light on this story.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams was a guest of honor — and like Rivera, is a longtime friend of Schneps-Yunis.
“When I write my book, there’s going to be a chapter on what she did to get me to become the mayor,” Adams said. “How far back our relationship goes, and how many lives she has touched. Today, we’re celebrating the harvest of a seed that was planted many years ago with a documentary that was done by Geraldo Rivera and Vicki to finally plant that seed. Today we’re seeing the fruits of the harvest as we build the name of the building as it’s named after my friend.”
Schneps-Yunis recalled the journey of both Life’s WORC and Schneps Media through the decades.
“It all started actually because of Geraldo, his coverage and the difference he made, and because of my lovely, beautiful ladies who we started Life’s WORC with,” she said. “When we started our activism, we were knocking on air — until Geraldo came with his cameras. People listened and people were moved. So I said, ‘Gee, that’s the press, I think I’d like to do that one day.’ And so I started with one newspaper in my living room. And, of course, today we own 92 newspapers.”
She also recalled the story of her daughter, Lara.
“Lara was my firstborn child,” she said. “She was my gift from God. She turned out to be a gift to the world. She led me here, where we are today. She appeared helpless, because she was brain damaged when she was born, and was a 3 month old developmentally her whole life. So she appeared to be helpless. But her existence helped thousands of people have a better life.”
Schneps-Yunis also acknowledged the work of her children, who were in attendance, and her late former husband Murray Schneps, an attorney who was a driving force behind the class-action federal lawsuit that closed Willowbrook and reformed mental health care.
“You are the fruits of our labor, the fruits of our journey,” she said to her children. “And I couldn’t be here without your love and your warmth and support. But Murray was a warrior. And he saw that Willowbrook could never be right. I was an advocate. And you know, we needed both of us and we were a dynamite couple where he fought in the courts. And it was the Willowbrook consent decree that we won.”
The ceremony was closed out with a toast to Schneps-Yunis by Lynne Koufakis, board chair of Life’s WORC.
“We just want to keep going forward,” Koufakis said. ”As Vicki said before, there’s so much that needs to be done. And all of you here today. We know you’re all here for the same reasons, and we just have to keep working together. And I know we’ll make it better.”
Donations to Life’s WORC can be made here.