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Welcome to the first monthly eNewsletter for Citizens Options Unlimited!

Citizens Options Unlimited (Citizens) provides supports and services to over 1,300 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities across Long Island. With a staff of nearly 900 full- and part-time employees, we provide self-direction and fiscal intermediary/broker services, family supports and education, respite/recreation and residential services. The organization is recognized as one of only four Compass agencies in New York State by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and holds Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation With Distinction through CQL |The Council on Quality and Leadership.  

We look forward to sharing this and future publications highlighting our community and meaningful moments of advocacy, accomplishment, and action.

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Bonnie’s Employment Success: How the Seaford Residence Rallied Around Her

Residential Highlight


Bonnie Lerhinan knew what she wanted – a job that would bring her joy and a paycheck.

This accomplishment took a little over four years, a network of coordinated supports and services to get there, but today she is right where she wants to be.

Bonnie is 36 years old and resides in Citizens Options Unlimited’s Seaford home.

Bonnie is also employed as a Panera Bread store associate in its Massapequa store. She handles dining room maintenance, dishwashing, minor food prep, and customer service. Her favorite task at work is organizing and stocking the beverage station.

It all started in the fall of 2019 when Bonnie decided she wanted a job. With the help of her Seaford team and family, Bonnie advocated for her future and set out to achieve it. 

Only 34% of adults with I/DD aged 21–64 are employed, according to research commissioned by Special Olympics, conducted by the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and administered by Gallup.

When asked what her favorite part about working is, Bonnie beamed.

“Money,” she said, matter-of-factly. Having money is an expression of Bonnie’s independence. Her favorite things to spend money on are potato chips and soda, and the occasional stuffed animal. She also recently bought a birthday gift for her cousin’s 1-year-old daughter. 

“It’s a belated birthday gift but I picked out a baby blanket at Kohl’s the other day,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie’s pathway to increased financial independence began when the Citizens team, including a care manager, first sat with Bonnie and her uncle, Keith Brigandi, who’s her legal guardian. Together, they created a Personal Outcome Measure (POM) that would let her residential team know that she wanted to read and work.

POM is a person-centered discovery tool to explore the presence, importance, and achievement of personally defined outcomes, along with the supports that help people reach their individual goals, according to The Council on Quality and Leadership.

“She really wanted to read, not just for her job, but so she can do more things like when I come take her out to dinner she can read the menu,” Keith said.

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Matt Hofele's Journey to Albany

Self-Advocates Making a Statement

Wearing a grey suit and dark-rimmed glasses, Matt Hofele practiced his speech in a Holiday Inn hotel room in downtown Albany.

The 36-year-old, who lives in a Citizens Options Unlimited group home in Greenlawn, was preparing to speak to the nearly 300 people rallying inside the state capitol building.

On March 23, Matt joined charities, provider agencies, and direct support professionals (DSPs) in rallying for more funding for intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) services to be included in the New York State 2023–2024 Fiscal Year Executive Budget.


The state is waiting for Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the budget into effect, having missed the April 1st deadline for the second year in a row.

Underfunding leaves agencies grappling to provide services.

“Speaking up for my needs and the needs of others is an important part of who I am,” Matt said at the rally, organized by the New York Disability Advocates (NYDA). “My challenges are not unique. What I mean by that is that many other people supported across the state need their staff too.”

Leaders in the I/DD community are saying an 8.5% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is needed in the budget to combat a combination of the current state of inflation in this country and a decade of underfunding disability services.

Agencies across the state are also calling for a Direct Service Wage Enhancement to be included to combat the severe staffing crisis in the field, especially impacting DSPs. Nonprofit disability service agencies across New York have one in five DSP positions vacant. Retention in this field is also extremely low with employee turnover rates of 36.3%, meaning nearly one out of every three staff hired will end up leaving the field, according to the OPWDD.

“I hope this rally will make policymakers value our humanity and care for us as much as our staff do,” Matt said.

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In addition to reading our newsletter, please help us create a more equitable future by sending a letter of support to legislators through our one-click campaign below.

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Finding Gloria’s North Star: The Power of Music and Virtual Connections

Respite/Recreation Highlight

Smiling wide and clapping her hands, Gloria Snyder eagerly awaited her turn in Virtual Connections. The program starts out the same each time: from 4–5 p.m., each attendee takes a turn performing a song as part of their daily concert. 

Gloria’s favorite portion of Virtual Connections has always been music. In fact, music has been at the root of Gloria’s happiness for as long as her mother, Mary Campbell, can remember. Mary referred to music as “Gloria’s North Star.”

“The group is supportive, and they cheer each other on. They all decided to take Gloria along for the ride with them,” Mary said.

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Employee Spotlight

Hero Recognition Dinner 3/22/2023


Citizens Options Unlimited hosted a Hero Recognition Dinner, catered by Wheatley Farms, to honor staff for their life-saving efforts this past year. Theresa Pandullo was recognized for successfully performing the Heimlich and saving the life of a person supported. She has worked with the agency for 16 years as a cook/DSP in the Shoreham ICF Gardenview building. Congratulations Theresa and the everyday heroes who make our organization exceptional!


Employee of the Quarter Event 4/4/2023


Three cheers for Citizens’ five “Employees of the Quarter:” Vicki Hawley, Self-Direction Fiscal Intermediary Coordinator; Shaquasha Irby from Rainbow IRA; Connie Buckhannon from the Helen Kaplan ICF; Martha Masone from the Shoreham ICF; and Nick Weber from the Shoreham ICF. These honorees were nominated by their supervisors for professional excellence during the fourth quarter of 2022.

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Community Highlights

Town of Hempstead Rally 3/21


Shout out to Citizen’s self-advocate Noah Probert who rallied outside Hempstead Town Hall for New York legislators to support increased funding for disability services, including an 8.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA), in Governor Kathy Hochul's 2024 Executive Budget. Probert was interviewed by CBS News’ Carolyn Gussoff.

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Our brand-new Medford IRA opened in January 2023

Welcome Kevin Hoey & Daniel Safian!


We just moved two men into their brand-new home in Medford! The newly renovated property is equipped with a wheelchair ramp and a spacious backyard full of possibilities. The two-story home will eventually become a house of six by the end of the year. Let’s all give them a warm welcome to the Citizens Options Unlimited family!


Levittown District Transition Fair 3/20

Self-Direction Assistant Director Michele Laspina, Fiscal Intermediary Coordinator Vicky Hawley, and Program Coordinator Maura Boden attended the Levittown District Transition Fair held at Levittown Memorial Education Center. The goal of the event was to share the supports and services available to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who are transitioning out of school-age programs. 

New York Riptide Lacrosse Game 3/25

riptide game

Kevin McLaughlin, Philip Napolitano, Richard Simkovich, and Noah Probert attended the NY Riptide Vs. Georgia Swarm lacrosse game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Tickets were graciously donated by Elon Tuckman, Community Relations Coordinator with the New York Riptide. 


LIU Inclusion Dance 3/23

Long Island University and the NSSLHA (National Speech Language Hearing Association) hosted an inclusive dance for college students and people supported by Citizens Options Unlimited. The event was organized by Paul MacMillan, Assistant Director of Respite/Recreation, and LIU Professor Kathleen Feeley. 

189 Wheatley Road
Brookville, NY 11545 - 2699
P. 516-626-1000 | F: 516-626-1493 | Email us at 
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