Welcome Parnelle!

Please join us in extending a very warm welcome to our new Senior Director of Programs, Parnelle Labonte!

Get the latest news and updates from Special Citizens in this edition of Voices & Visions.

Disability in Love (From the Desk of our CEO)

Dear Friends & Family,
I'm not sure why it's been on my mind lately, but today I wanted to share a bit of a love story with you. 

Many years ago (at a different agency) I had the pleasure of supporting and getting to know a man and a woman, who both had significant developmental disabilities and who were focused on eventually – someday – moving in together and getting married. Despite the law requiring a person-centered approach to people with developmental disabilities in our heavily regulated field, the authorities did not know how to respond to this couple's desire to be treated like anyone else would be treated in this situation.  Eventually, following unnecessary hurdles and stalling, the natural decision was reached and they were allowed to pursue their dreams of being a married couple.

I can still remember how they interacted with each other.  Despite both of them being hearing impaired, they communicated loudly through sign language in the most beautiful and loving way. It was like every gesture transcended the limits of language as we know it into a realm of communication that was solely their own. Even if they were only saying something commonplace like “pass the ketchup," or "can you please change the channel?” it's hard to describe, but it seemed like something so much more profound was always being exchanged.

I think there are many lessons that can be learned from people with developmental disabilities and the manner in which we love. In my life, I have not witnessed a more pure and real love than that which I have seen in the people I've supported over the years.  Theirs is a love not covered with masks, or burdened by unrealistic expectations and quite frankly, if I'm being honest, theirs is a love that is simply devoid of drama.

I have met a lot of professionals over the years that believe there should be a “Tinder" or a "" created for people with disabilities.  With this sentiment, I disagree.  While I concede that we do seem to live in an age where meeting people organically doesn’t seem to happen very frequently anymore, I think it is a phenomenon that thrives within the developmental disability community.  I think it's less the norm in the mainstream because we are not able to be present in the situations that we experience on a daily basis.  And, I believe that's due to the majority of us being enveloped in a phone and app culture that people with developmental disabilities are not so easily hoodwinked by.  That's mostly why I think the notion of any type of relationship app geared only toward the developmentally disabled is absurd, while also suggesting that people with disabilities somehow love differently.

Going back to the couple I first told you about; guess what?!  Today they live in their own home, share every aspect of their lives with each other and have never been more in love.  Or as it would be put in the lingo of our phone and app culture:  #RELATIONSHIPGOALS.  My closing thoughts and advice to you in the sense of this story is simply to get out there and to just love, and be loved.  If you're so lucky to have already reached this much sought after destination, hold onto it with everything you've got just like this man and woman have done.

 Jessica Zufall-Guberman

 Chief Executive Officer

From the Desk of our CEO

Dear Friends & Family,


As a professional in this field, I view the concept of inclusion for people with developmental disabilities as an evolving implementation of policies and practices that remove attitudinal and physical barriers such that optimal inclusion may fully exist and flourish.


And, on a more personal level, I simply could not imagine a life where one is precluded from participation in the everyday community activities that inspire and foster an innate sense of inclusion on every level. Whether it’s going to see a movie, visit a neighborhood street fair, attending a religious function or even a seemingly innocuous trip to the local grocery store; I believe all these varying levels of social inclusion are things that many of us take for granted on a daily basis, and yet are all vital components to leading a full and meaningful life.


Exploring my thoughts on this topic reminds of a time a few years ago when our organization was working on a developmental closure initiative.  That initiative would lead to a man becoming a new member of our Special Citizens community.  A man who had previously resided in an institution for over two decades and who was deprived of these basic tenets of an inclusive life. After his arrival, we spent the time to transition him into his new home and after a few months into his new life, he popped into my office one day and said, “I love strawberry ice cream.” I said, “Isn’t it amazing?  It is one of my favorites!” To which he replied, “I’ve never had it before.”


In that moment, I was instantly dumbfounded, but also filled with immense joy. Here was a man in his mid-forties, who had never been to an ice cream shop. The place where he lived prior to transitioning to our organization didn’t participate in community outings like this, so his knowledge and experience of different flavors of ice cream, and of life in general, were severely limited. This is just one small, but profound, example of how important community inclusion is (on all levels).


Another important aspect of this concept, as it pertains to people with developmental disabilities, is that inclusion is at its most optimal level when a person with a developmental disability participates in life’s different activities with those who are without developmental disabilities. That’s why we, as providers, need to put more of a primary focus on this type of inclusion.  Not only to offer those who we support the opportunity to lead fuller lives, but to also open the eyes of the greater public to the work we are striving to do.  And to ultimately foster a sense of community and inclusion that reaches well beyond the spectrum of ice cream flavors and into the vast spectrum of life.


I always have, and always will, impress upon the people with Autism who we support, that dreaming is essential. Their dreams are real and can come to fruition with the help and support of dedicated support staff and it is our absolute pleasure to help make this happen; it’s even more of a joy to watch it happen.


I believe it is my responsibility and the responsibility of my employees to make available to everyone we support with Autism Spectrum Disorders, the opportunity and unfettered access to experience every flavor of life. It is my hope that other providers and administrators hold the same values and will work daily – like we do – to remove any and all attitudinal and physical barriers that may exist for the people we all support and ensure that they experience life to the fullest.



 Jessica Zufall-Guberman

 Chief Executive Officer

Celebrate World Autism Month!

Dear Supporter,

Join us this April for World Autism Month in celebration of Autism Acceptance! As you know, each and every day, Special Citizens works to build loving homes and create inclusive and accepting communities for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Support #AutismAcceptance by donating to Special Citizens and have a direct impact on the lives of people with autism.

Throughout April, we will be celebrating the understanding and acceptance of people with autism. Through social media, we will be promoting the work of our talented artists and skilled chess players, sharing photos from "A Day in the Life" of the men and women we support in our Day Habilitation Programs, and highlighting the creativity and beauty that we see every day in the work we do.

Join us and post your stories 
of #AutismAcceptance. Tag us @SpecialCitizens so we can promote your stories! We would love to hear your stories and share your photos and, as always, we welcome your generous donations

Thank you,
Jessica Zufall-Guberman, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer

From the Desk of our CEO

Dear Friends & Family,
There are so many things happening in the fields of Autism and Human Services. I find myself involved in conversations on a daily basis regarding topics that have or will have a tremendous impact on the people we support, our families, and our workforce.
I would like to start having these conversations with everyone; the people we support, families, advocates, professionals and stakeholders. To this end, I will be writing a bi-monthly piece, based on various trending topics not only related to people with Autism Spectrum Disorders but other developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Some of the topics that I would like to focus on are:

  • End of Life Care for People with Developmental Disabilities

  • Guardianship

  • Making the Residential Placement Decision

  • The Shift to a Managed Care System and what this means for the people we support

  • Inclusion


These topics greatly impact the work we do. I welcome suggestions as to issues you would like to discuss that I may not have included. Email your ideas to The more people we have involved and the more experience we can share with one another, the better for all.
Please look for my first piece, coming in April of 2018.
My very best for a happy and healthy start to the year!


 Jessica Zufall-Guberman

 Chief Executive Officer

Vice President, Health and Quality Services Appointed to New York City Nonprofit

Vice President, Health and Quality Services Appointed to New York City Nonprofit


Bronx, New York  --  November 10, 2017


Special Citizens, a New York City based autism advocacy non-profit, is thrilled to announce the appointment of Alex DiMaio to Vice President, Health and Quality Services.  In this new and exciting role, Alex will be overseeing all clinical and quality assurance services and supports for the organization.  Upon issuing the promotion to Mr. DiMaio, Jessica Guberman, CEO of Special Citizens, stated that “Over the past five years, we have made great strides with our clinical and quality assurance/improvement supports and I know that under Alex’s direction moving forward, our clinical functions will be even more streamlined, advanced and aligned with industry best practices and standards.”


Since joining Special Citizens, Alex has offered an incredible amount of value into the development of policy and organizational development as well as helping to shape the manner in which Special Citizens conducts its internal auditing process on all programs, which has lent itself to successful annual audits with OPWDD (Office for People with Developmental Disabilities).  In addition, Alex has played a vital role in the integration of the agency’s Aging Out initiative and transitioning young adults with autism to adult services from various different states.  Beyond his consistent contributions to the agency’s strengths and overall success, Alex is widely respected and admired by his colleagues, coworkers, and most importantly, by the numerous people who are supported by the agency.


Upon accepting the new agency post, Alex stated “I am thankful for this great responsibility bestowed upon me.  In this new role I will continue to honor the mission of the agency; and in continued collaboration with the many talented and dedicated employees – across all departments – I am confident that Special Citizens Futures Unlimited will continue its exceptional work of providing outstanding services to the many men and women supported throughout the agency.”  Mr. DiMaio will officially assume his new role on Monday, November 13, 2017.


Any inquiries or requests for additional information can be sent to

Special Citizens to Hold Autism Acceptance Fundraiser on November 3, 2017 with Comedy Performance by Kirk Smith, Mike Gaffney, and Joe Fernandes

Bronx, New York

October 3, 2017


Special Citizens, a New York nonprofit organization that has supported adults and children with autism for over forty years, will host its annual Autism Acceptance Fundraiser on Friday, November 3, 2017 at 6:30 pm at St. John’s University at 51 Astor Place in downtown New York City.


The event will be an engaging evening bringing together Special Citizens’ friends, families, and supporters, to mark another year of tremendous growth and personal achievements for the men and women supported by the agency. Guests are invited to enjoy refreshments, comedy entertainment, and conversation with Special Citizens' staff and board members, as the organization honors distinguished guests and award recipients, Lisa Pesante, Bronx Administrator at the NYS Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, and Perry Cyprus, founder and CEO of Diet Delights; both long-time supporters of Special Citizens and advocates for people with autism.


The evening will also feature a comedy performance that will celebrate advocacy, service, and care in support of people with autism. Comedians Kirk Smith, Mike Gaffney, and Joe Fernandes will touch on themes that highlight the importance of autism acceptance.


“This fundraiser allows us to celebrate the work of two amazing advocates in the field of developmental disabilities while bringing together three incredible performers that will be sure to keep our guests laughing all night. This is a night to celebrate and memorialize Special Citizens accomplishments and the wonderful people it supports while raising acceptance of autism at the same time,” says Jessica Zufall-Guberman, Chief Executive Officer at Special Citizens.


Kirk Smith is a comedian/actor/writer. He has performed in over 100 different venues on five continents.  Smith is the author of the bestselling book, Rice Krispies with Ketchup: A Comedian's Journey with an Autistic Son, and the co-anchor of Autastic, a podcast ranked on iTunes.


Smith’s book, Rice Krispies with Ketchup, is an honest, painful and heartwarming account of a family's daily struggle with loving and caring for a special needs child. Through laughter and tears, Smith finds a way to come to peace with his son´s limitations, motivates his readers to live life fully and provides what families in similar situations need: HOPE.


Smith, who is excited about taking part in this event, “It is important that we begin to accept and embrace individuals with autism on a more equal level. I support Special Citizens and their mission to educate people and to encourage Autism Acceptance."


Mike Gaffney has been performing for over a decade. He has appeared on The Artie Lange Show on Direct TV, as well as on the first season of Gotham Comedy Live on AXS TV and was a semi-finalist on season 8 of Last Comic Standing on NBC. Executive Producer Wanda Sykes was so impressed with Mike, she used his clip to promote Last Comic Standing on the Ellen Show on NBC, as well as The View on ABC.


When Joe Fernandes is not escaping reality by hanging with his Welsh Corgi on hiking trails, he can be found in comedy clubs making fun of his unrelenting confusion with life. From stories of his struggles growing up to his adult struggles of being married with stepkids, Joe’s open book approach to comedy has an honest point of view that any audience can relate to. He has been invited to perform at the NY Comedy Festival & Gilda’s Laugh Fest.


About Special Citizens: Since 1976, Special Citizens Futures Unlimited has provided comprehensive, individualized and integrated services to adults and children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in New York. Each year, our dedicated staff of over 200 professionals provides services to over 350 people in New York City, the Bronx and Westchester. At the core of our work at Special Citizens is a commitment to person-centered planning, which empowers each person with the tools to build a life of independence, inclusion, and individuality.


The Autism Acceptance Fundraiser will take place on Friday, November 3rd, 2017 at 51 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003 from 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm with a cocktail hour starting at 6:30 pm; program to begin at 7:00 pm. For more information on purchasing tickets, contact Alexandra St. Charles 212-643-2663 Ext: 222 or For more information about Special Citizens, please visit

Happy 5th Year Anniversary to our CEO!!

Dear Special Citizens Supporters:


It’s hard to believe that five years have already passed since I joined this remarkable organization.  Even harder to believe are the numerous accomplishments that we’ve been able to achieve together and the many milestones we’ve marked along the way.  Whether it’s the opening of a new home and increasing our network of support, or the beginning of a new initiative that seeks to broaden our reach and expand upon our mission, each step that we’ve taken together has served to teach and inspire me.


Looking back on my first days, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but what I found was beyond any of my wildest expectations.  One of the first things I can recall is being motivated and energized by our truly incredible and hardworking staff, who manage our homes and who ensure that our day programs run smoothly while offering life changing support to each and every person we support.  And 1,826 days later, that is one thing that has remained a constant.  While every day hasn’t always been easy, the inspiration that I’m able to draw from our staff and the critical work that we do together is what lies at the heart of why I’m so incredibly proud to lead this amazing organization.


With the support of Special Citizens leadership and all of our staff, we have worked together to accomplish some pretty incredible things. I hope you’re as excited as I am by the challenges and the unlimited potential for success and meaningful impact that these projects/initiatives both possess and embody.


As I continue to take this time to reflect on the last five years and look ahead to all that lies ahead, I want to thank each and every one of you that has been a part of the experience; because without you, none of it would have been possible.  And as we move onward to greater heights and toward even more benchmarks of success, I look forward to continuing my journey with you.



Jessica Zufall-Guberman, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer

Special Citizens Futures Unlimited Receives New Yankee Stadium Grant for 2nd Consecutive Year

For the second consecutive year, Special Citizens Futures Unlimited was awarded a $1,500 grant from the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund, Inc. The purpose of this fund is to improve the quality of life in the Bronx by addressing civic, socioeconomic and/educational needs in addition to and providing social, arts-related, health, cultural, and recreational opportunities.


Special Citizens received this grant in 2016, thanks to the help of Tatiana O’Connor, Community Habilitation Supervisor. This grant will go towards recreational activities for all Special Citizens program participants.


“I am very excited and grateful that our program was awarded this grant again. This means more opportunities for the people we support and more integration activities will be available to them,” said O’Connor. 


Last year, with the help of Crystal DeLeon, Community Habilitation Coordinator, O’Connor was able to organize two events. “We organized a Summer Social and Holiday Luncheon in collaboration with the Pre-vocational program. These two events allowed for the individuals we support to socialize and meet other peers from the same program for the very first time,” said O’Connor. 


O’Connor described what they would like to do with this year’s award. She stated, “Now that spring is here and summer is around the corner, we would like to organize an outdoor event and take advantage of the beautiful weather.”


Adults with developmental disabilities often have difficulty finding social and recreational activities to participate in within their community. Awards like this one help to offset that trend and offer the individuals supported by Special Citizens the chance to engage with the greater world around them.


When asked about the importance of receiving an award from The New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund, O’Connor stated, “These funds result in opportunities for the people we support, especially for those who can not afford to do activities that will enhance their socialization and recreational aspects of their life.” 


She added, “Awarded funds can expose these deserving men and women to new and exciting experiences, alleviate stress, and promote happier and healthier lifestyles, while aiding them in achieving higher aspirations and gaining confidence in order to promote independence.” 

New York Based Nonprofit Welcomes New Chief Financial Officer

Special Citizens Futures Unlimited, Inc. is pleased to announce the appointment of Mark Campione as the new Chief Financial Officer. Special Citizens is a New York-based nonprofit organization that has been supporting adults and children with Autism for over forty years.

Campione has been the Chief Financial Officer for various Human service agencies and has accrued 20 years of experience providing executive and financial leadership to community-based non-profits serving those with disabilities and disadvantages. He is experienced in all New York State Medicaid reimbursement models, Revenue Cycle Management and well versed in current NYS DSRIP initiatives.

Mark’s background encompasses all New York State offices servicing the disabled including Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Children and Family Services. Mark has worked closely with the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Housing and Urban Development, NYS 4410 SED Preschools and many Private and NYS grant programs.

“I am excited to join Special Citizens,” says, Campione. “I look forward to working with the team and help push Special Citizens forward to meet the needs of the individuals we serve,” he added. Campione received his BA in accounting from Queens College.

“I am thrilled to have Mark join the Special Citizens’ team and I am confident he will be a tremendous asset to the work we do on a daily basis,” says, Jessica Zufall-Guberman, Chief Executive Officer of Special Citizens.

For more information about Special Citizens, please visit us at or

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© 2017 Special Citizens Futures  Unlimited, Inc.