OCTOBER 2018 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 23
Since being founded in
1977, the nonprofit Family
Residences and Essential
Enterprises, Inc. (FREE) has
been helping local residents with
intellectual and developmental
disabilities, mental illness, and
traumatic brain injuries realize
their full potential through a
variety of services that include employment
We recently spoke with Stephanie Lewis,
FREE’s assistant vice president of vocational
services, about its plans for National Disability
Employment Awareness Month, the
organization’s 41st anniversary celebration,
and its mission.
Q: What plans does FREE have to celebrate
National Disability Employment Awareness
Month in October?
Stephanie Lewis: Every year, we participate
in the annual celebration held at the Heritage
Club at Bethpage in Farmingdale. This time,
it will be held October 5.
Q: What’s it like to be celebrating your
SL: We are honored and privileged to
be celebrating our 41st anniversary. The
Celebration of Life Gala is our signature
fundraising event and we are so grateful to
those who support our mission. This special
evening pays tribute to exceptional leaders and
humanitarian partners who are dedicated to
the support and services FREE provides and
have made outstanding contributions to our
community. The gala will be held October 18
at The Mansion at Oyster Bay in Woodbury.
FREE gives Long Islanders with disabilities a hand
Q: What is the goal of FREE’s
SL: To support all individuals
with disabilities to achieve
lives through employment.
FREE’s employment programs
provide services to people ranging
from those who are just starting
the employment process, to those who are
already placed and in need of support to
help them maintain employment. In our
Pathways to Employment program, we
provide vocational assessment and work
readiness services through a series of miniinternship
experiences for each individual.
Once a person is ready for job development
and placement services, they are referred to
our Supported Employment Programs, so
they can receive one-on-one support.
Q: When did FREE start and who founded it?
SL: FREE was founded in 1977 by a group
of parents and advocates in response to the
need for community residential alternatives
to institutionalization. FREE supports more
than 4,000 individuals with intellectual/
developmental disabilities, mental illness,
and traumatic brain injury. FREE provides a
diverse array of support and services including
housing, recovery services, transition to work,
employment, day, community and family
services, respite, crisis services, education and
afterschool support, specialty health services,
Q: What is the mission of your organization?
SL: To help individuals of all abilities realize
their full potential.
Q: What is your favorite part of what you do?
SL: It is most rewarding to support people
with special needs to achieve their vocational
goals. Most of the people in my programs
never even thought about employment, let
alone included it in their personal goals.
When they finally do achieve success, they
and their families are so excited and fulfilled,
and it’s incredibly rewarding to be even the
smallest part of their journeys.
Q: How did you get started in this field?
SL: Most of my prior direct-service work
was with children with special needs, and
my goal was to support their achievement
of self-determined lives. After working in
the field for a short amount of time, I saw
that I was able to help individuals achieve
their dreams in a unique and special way,
and I immediately became committed to
supporting employment services.
Q: What is the biggest challenge of your job?
SL: Advocating for new employment
opportunities within the community. It
typically takes some time and education
to help employers understand the genuine
rewards available to them if they hire
individuals with disabilities within their
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Daniel works at
in Brentwood, a
Family Residences and
and the Sisters of St.
Joseph. He participates
in a wide variety of
the year including
preparing beds, build
sow seeds, and set
mowing, tilling the land,
and harvesting the
Tim works in the hospitality industry
in the community at Residence
Inn Marriott, Central Islip.