Four years ago, during a life-planning meeting with staff from AHRC Nassau, an organization that supports people with developmental disabilities, MaryAnn Dellova was discussing what her daughter, Jennifer, needed; a welcoming place where she could connect with plants and animals, explore her interests, meet new people and build a community.
And four years later, this vision would become a reality through the opening of the Thomas S. Gulotta Wheatley Farms & Arts Center, which is located right next to AHRC’s Brookville Campus.
“We heard her,” AHRC Nassau CEO Stanfort J. Perry said. “And we also found that she was far from alone. This insight led us along an entirely new path in development opportunities for learning and job training.”
AHRC Nassau created a warm welcome for the center through a ribbon cutting that took place on Aug. 25. Supporters and those involved with AHRC Nassau learned about the process of opening Wheatley Farms, as well as what it will bring to the community, before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Afterwards, those who came to the event were treated to a tour of the property.
The vision of Wheatley Farms is a place where people of all abilities could come together and be included and accepted.
“This is how our agency started and how we’re planning to move forward,” Perry said. “The founding family of AHRC Nassau made this property their home in 1958 so that their children could learn, grow and thrive.”
Today, what is now Wheatley Farms has undergone its first phase of renovations, and soon will host opportunities for courses in animal welfare, hydroponics and harvesting, along with arts and mixed media. Volunteers will be central to the offerings at Wheatley Farms, and a simple community-based advisory board will use their expertise to shape the opportunities and community that Wheatley Farms will have to offer.
But programs at Wheatley Farms are not just open to those involved with AHRC Nassau, it is open for the community. Community members will be able to enjoy programs like Yoga on the Lawn, Horseback Riding, Podcasting, Farm to Table Cooking and Pottery.
Future plans for the property include a full renovation of the Farmhouse, which will include a mixed-media room and a yoga and dance studio.
“These spaces will lead to the discovery of new interests, lively hidden talents…,” Perry said. “Wheatley Farms and Arts Center will offer meaningful employment and job training opportunities. The center will employ people with and without disabilities in the running of the farm. People will be supported to be successful in acquiring marketable skills and pursuing competitive employment on Long Island.”
As the president of the AHRC Nassau Board of Directors, the mother of a developmentally disabled child, a longtime volunteer and an attorney who specializes in special needs, Sandra M. Gumerove knows how important it is to create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.
The history of AHRC centers on meeting the evolving needs of people with developmental disabilities and their families,” Gumerove said. “It’s a history that promotes equity, access and inclusion. That’s the promise of this center. And I’ll tell you what my dream is. My dream is that we meet the promise of equity, access and inclusion and that we can all walk down the street with each other and nobody notices.”
Another dream among the team at AHRC Nassau was to find a special way to remember the late, former Nassau County Executive Thomas S. Gulotta. The center has been dedicated to him.
“Tom’s character and integrity were embedded in every attraction in our organization in the course of his 25 years in public service,” Gumerove said. “His time as Nassau County executive from 1987 to 2001 coincided with… unprecedented growth for our agency.”
And his service expanded beyond his time in office. He had reached out to AHRC Nassau to see if there was a place he could help.
“For the next 15 years, Tom would serve as a member of the AHRC Foundation Board,” Gumerove said. “He had perfect attendance and was always ready to help.”
Gulotta was the reason AHRC Nassau was able to acquire a generator, at a time that those were sold out at pretty much all stores, after Hurricane Sandy. Getting a generator enabled the medically fragile clients of AHRC to stay safe and receive care they needed during the power outages.
Gulota’s son, Christopher, spoke to the crowd after Gumerove invited him up.
“Those of you who knew my father closely knew he always joked about his name proudly displayed indefinitely…,” Christopher said. “I’m sure he would be extremely happy… We know Tom truly believed in the mission of the AHRC Nassau organization and he wanted to do everything he could to help in any way possible, including being in office and the board of directors [for AHRC Nassau]. We all know that he will always be proud to be part of the AHRC family.”
After the ribbon cutting, volunteers brought attendees of the event on a tour around the property to learn about what the Thomas S. Gulotta Wheatley Farms & Arts Center had to offer.
In the greenhouse, there is a hydroponics tower, which allows for the growing of plants with water instead of soil. Next to the greenhouse there is a garden. Food and flowers will be plenty on the property. Much of that food will be donated to local food pantries, and the greenhouse will also be selling produce baskets and centerpieces. People who utilize AHRC’s programs are welcome to grow their skills in gardening as they help maintain the garden and greenhouse with volunteers.
There are also buildings on-site that will host various programs for people of all abilities, such as art classes. And on the property there will be a community duck pond and Zen Garden that will be available for everyone to use.
Farm animals also live on the property, such as goats and a pig,
Visit www.ahrc.org/wheatleyfarms to learn more about the Thomas S. Gulotta Wheatley Farms & Arts Center.