Yolanda Robano-Gross: Chief Executive Officer of Options for Community Living
I had the pleasure to interview Yolanda Robano-Gross LMSW, MHA, Chief Executive Officer of Options for Community Living, Inc. Yolanda joined Options as Chief Executive Officer in 2014 with more than twenty years of prior executive-level experience within the health care industry. She is responsible for oversight of all agency affairs and reports to the Board of Directors. Responsibilities include fiscal management of an annual budget of over $24 million, personnel management, program development, and fundraising. She earned her Master’s in Health Care Administration from Hofstra University, Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University, and her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Marist College. She holds a certificate in Executive Education, Non-Profit Leadership from The Fordham Center for Non-Profit Leaders. She is a dynamic leader who has such a robust passion for serving the community of Long Island.
“I’m a social worker by profession and that’s where my heart still lies. I enjoy participating in various committees and boards such as the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, Women Economic Developers of Long Island, and Association for Community Living. In my community, I am the Vice President of the 5 Towns Kiwanis. Personally, I am the single mom of an awesome 21-year-old daughter, engaged to a great guy, and enjoy the theater, books, and the beach.”
There are many organizations on Long Island committed to the greater good of the community. “Yes, indeed! Options for Community Living, Inc. is committed to helping Long Island’s most vulnerable families and individuals live healthier, more stable, and productive lives. We assist those we serve through housing, care coordination, case management, financial assistance programs, and resource connections. Our staff is dedicated at every level. They are truly invested in those we serve and take the victories of our clients as their own. We love nothing more than seeing our individuals achieve their goals. Each step towards independence is something we all take great pride in.”
You serve many different individuals and families with such great outcomes. “Yes, we’re fortunate to have many but love to speak of these. We had a family of 3 (mom and 2 teenagers) that had been in a shelter for 5 years, and that was with mom working full time. When they moved into one of our apartments, the son was amazed saying, “This is my door, and I can shut it?” and “This is MY key, and I can lock the door?” A door and a key. We all take those things for granted, but not this young man. I have another gentleman who calls me every year on the anniversary of his sobriety to thank me and to ensure that I thank his case manager and other team members. He tells me that having stable housing is what allows him to remain sober. There’s no better reward than a phone call like that.”
“For those recovering from mental illness, we have a continuum of housing opportunities from supervised community residences which are staffed 24/7 to affordable supportive housing which is independent housing in the community where our staff visit the tenants to ensure their health, stability, and wellbeing. We have additional supportive housing options for people with other disabilities and chronic health conditions including HIV/AIDS. In most cases we own the homes, but we also utilize rentals and in other cases we provide a rent subsidy, and the tenants hold the lease. In all cases, tenant rents are affordable to our low-income tenants—typically 30% of income. With an affordable rent, and support from our staff, people can take care of themselves and their families.”
Recently, there has been an extensive rise in mental health, homelessness, and other cases.
“Yes, COVID hit local communities very hard. Severe illness and unplanned job loss left many with feelings of depression and isolation. Those who were able to maintain their housing status were not able to do so with the loss of steady work. We began receiving phone calls requesting help from people that never had to ask for help before. That, in itself, can exacerbate feelings of helplessness and anxiety. Options, and many of our sister agencies, stepped in to assist those in need. When you’ve experienced a traumatic experience like this, it can be hard to garner enough strength to get your legs back under you and begin again. That’s where organizations like Options for Community Living step in. We’re all about helping individuals and families to gain and maintain their maximum level of independence. And as far as the healthcare challenge, I know the saying “it takes a village” has become cliché, but it’s true. As long as the individual agrees, our team at Options works alongside medical providers, psychologists, family members, and anyone else that they would like to include in their circle. We all know the importance of support in our own lives and our individuals are no different. The more supported a person feels, the better their chances for success.”
How long do these individuals typically stay in the programs or do they age out after a certain time? “This depends on the type of service and the needs of the individual. For example, individuals living in supervised housing should be there for a maximum of 2 years. It’s a steppingstone. While those living in supportive housing can, and have, lived out their lives with us. It’s all about serving the needs of the person at that point and time in their life.”
For those of us who don’t suffer with mental or physical challenges, it is sometimes difficult to understand what a person is going through or how to handle them. “It’s actually pretty simple. Be respectful. Treat someone how you’d like to be treated. Smile, make eye contact. A kind word can go a long way when someone is having a bad day. Educate yourself. It’s ok not to know something. It’s not ok to continue on that path. If you don’t have the knowledge, call someone like me, attend a seminar, or ask the person themselves. But do not make assumptions and do not presume you know why anyone is in the situation they are in, because more often than not, you’ll be incorrect.”
“The people that we serve are just that. People. Some of them are in tough circumstances, oftentimes through no fault of their own. No one chooses to be sick. No one chooses to be homeless. With statistics such as 1 in 4 individuals have a mental health diagnosis and that many Long Islanders are 4-6 paychecks away from homelessness, your readers should understand that situations can change in the blink of an eye. Not long ago, I was visiting a formerly homeless client in the hospital and her friend who is currently homeless was visiting. I shook his hand in greeting and he looked surprised. My initial reaction was that he was concerned about COVID but when I asked, he responded with “Ma’am, do you know how long it’s been since someone shook my hand?” Treating people with compassion, dignity, and respect costs nothing, but is worth millions to those who receive it. “
On October 20th, 2023, Options will be hosting Painting with a Purpose. This is a night to show off your artistic talents while mingling with friends and raising money for a great cause! (Options!) Tickets are $55 each and include painting materials, light refreshments, and guided instruction. As always, there will be great prizes raffled off. Login to our website www.optionscl.org or reach out to Jessica Klein at email@example.com or 631-361-9020, ext. 1163 to purchase your tickets!
On April 13, 2024, Options will be hosting our 2nd annual Murder Mystery event at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh. The theme is Murder at the 80’s rock concert, so break out your neon and your best Flock of Seagulls hair styles and see if you can guess who the murderer is. Tickets will be on sale soon.
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