Karaoke For The Blind? Jewish Guild For the Blind Thinks Client's Vision Problems Make Her Mentally Deficient (Part 1)
Part 1 in a series. Part 2 can be read here.
Arlene Gottfied Rachel Gonzalez, left, performing in the GuildCare Choir's final concert
Last month, the Voice reported how the Jewish Guild for the Blind cut its part-time music therapist Debbie Moran, who was earning about $5,000 a year, allegedly due to "Medicaid budget cuts" -- despite the fact that the nonprofit's CEO, Dr. Alan Morse, had recently seen an 82% pay increase from $843,000 annually to $1.5 million.
The Guild still planned to bring Moran in six times per year on special occasions, even though they were cutting the thrice weekly music therapy program. Now, the Voice has learned, because of our article, the Guild has cancelled even those special sessions (and lied to their blind, mostly elderly clients about why they were cancelled) apparently out of a mixture of spite and not wanting to lose any money if clients revolted.
Also, the Voice has learned that even though the Guild allegedly didn't have money to keep paying for music therapy, the organization does have money for karaoke...which, of course, the blind clients can't see or participate in.
"How the devil am I supposed to do karaoke? Have you forgotten that half of us are blind?" Guild client Rachel Gonzalez asked with exasperation in a recent phone interview.
Gonzalez - whom we first met when we visited the Guild's day center in Yonkers at the GuildCare Choir's last performance in February, paints a grim portrait of how the nonprofit organization has reacted to calls from clients that they spare their choir and the music therapy program.
Gonzalez is a pleasant and extremely quick-witted person to speak with. She doesn't hesitate to speak her mind, and even though she has been blind most of her adult life (she began losing her vision when she was in college), you can almost feel her sizing you up when she speaks to you. She's full of the kinds of witty quips one might expect to hear from a drag queen or a stand up comic; indeed, perhaps because of the way she's had to survive in the world, her ability to respond is razor sharp. She is an extremely perceptive woman, and there is nothing wrong with her mind.
In that way, Gonzalez represents one end of the spectrum of the work that the Guild ostensibly does. She is blind, but unlike many of her fellow clients at the Yonkers day center, she's neither elderly, nor is she plagued with any cognitive disabilities.
So to her, it was "natural" that, upon learning their choir and music therapy programs were going to be gutted, she wrote letters in protest.
"A lot of people here can't speak up for themselves here, and they don't have anyone to speak up for them," Gonzaelez tells us. "So I see it as my job to help give voice to them." This is especially important for the people with memory problems, she says, because in their state, she thinks the Guild "just hopes they will forget" when it comes to saving their music program.
Gonzalez was shocked when Guild staff strongly suggested to her that "I shouldn't write a letter."
And, when she went ahead and did anyway, she was "deeply hurt, deeply offended" when staff members told her that "they didn't think I even wrote the letter." They suggested she was a mere puppet, she says.
"That really did a number on me," she says, hardly believing that the staff members "thought that, just because I am blind, there must be something wrong with my mind," she says. "I know my own mind. I know my thoughts."
"When you're blind, you have know that you can make judgments about people, know when to trust them." After the staff insinuated "That I couldn't even write a letter, I was like, 'Do you think I even know how to use a phone?'"
"That shook me to my very core. It sent me to a very dark place. It made me trust my own judgment. Like, 'How could I be so naïve? How could I have trusted these people?'" she says sadly.
Gonzalez was also shocked to see how the music therapist, Debbie Moran, was treated by the Guild.
"I can see how they can dismiss the clients, we come and go," she says, noting that it's easy for staff to think the clients, unlike her, with memory problems will forget about being screwed out of music therapy (even though it's the very Medicaid funds the clients bring in which pay the Guild's budget).
But she was horrified that "they threw Debbie under the bus. How can you throw Debbie under the bus? She has worked here for 20 years! How can you do that to someone you've worked with for so long?" Gonzalez insists that for Moran, "It was all about saving the choir. Everything she does is for the choir."
(This was a repeating theme for us in covering this story: Moran was consistently deflecting concern about herself and only expressing concern for the choir, while the choir members deflected concern about themselves and only expressed concern for Moran. Similarly, another laid off aide, Maria Claro, wasn't worried about herself, and would not take another job at the Guild if it meant bumping someone else from their job. On the other hand Morse, the CEO presiding over the organization which affected all of these lives, never spoke to us and seems none too concerned with any of these people, but appears very concerned about keeping and increasing his salary.)
"Meanwhile," Gonzalez seethes, the people at the Guild "are defending that crook," CEO Alan Morse, and taking it out on Moran, just because, as she put it, the Voice "had unearthed all this dirt on that lying scumbag...That, to me, was deplorable."
Perhaps the Guild didn't even know who Debbie Moran was. A source tells us the reaction from a Guild executive to our cover story was, "Who is Debbie?"
Tomorrow: How the Guild Killed St. Patrick's Day Music, Seemingly Out Of Spite
Monday: Why The Guild Has No Money For Music Therapy, But Does Have Money For Karaoke Their Blind Clients Can't Use or See