Gary Maffei: QSAC was founded almost 35 years ago by a group of parents who didn’t have services for their own children. The mainstream's services didn’t know what autism was back then and they really weren’t able to handle children with autism. So this small group of parents in Queens created QSAC. It meandered along for about ten to fifteen years providing a small array of services. I joined in 1992. We’ve been increasing the number of clients, the services we offer, and the areas that we serve. Today we have twenty-five locations in all of New York City and Long Island with about thirty different services.
Damon L. Jacobs: What kind of services do you provide?
Gary Maffei: We have a preschool. And we have in-home education, so if a child can’t leave the home for whatever reason, we send the teacher in. We have about a dozen group homes, adult day facilities. We have after-school programs. It’s really a full array. We haven’t gotten into geriatric services yet, right now fifty is the oldest person with us, but we are looking at that as the next frontier of providing specialized services to a specialized population. We serve about one thousand people, adults and children, coping with autism today. From the two-year-old receiving early intervention to the fifty-year-old in one of our group homes.
Damon L. Jacobs: What do you find most rewarding about this?
Gary Maffei: I’ve always worked in non-profits. Prior to this I was the Executive Director of the AIDS Center of Queens County for five years. I’ve always worked with people who need help and that is the reward I get from it.
Damon L. Jacobs: What are the challenges?
Gary Maffei: The same issues that present the rewards. Dealing with this particular population is very trying. My direct staff have the patience of God. It’s very trying work to deal with someone who can’t communicate, or communicates inappropriately by hitting you.
Damon L. Jacobs: Are there clients that you have worked with since 1992?
Gary Maffei: Yes. A good group of them were in our after school program back then, and now are in our adult programs. I’ve watched them grow up from being eight-year-olds to the adults they are today.
Damon L. Jacobs: What is like for you to witness that process?
Gary Maffei: It’s very rewarding. I don’t see as much of them now. When I was first creating sites I made them “mutli-sites” where the administration and the clients were in the same building and the same space, I liked having the clients around. But that became more impractical as we got larger. I don’t see them now as much as I’d like to. We recently went out to City Field to see a Mets game, a couple of the guys I started with were there.
Damon L. Jacobs: What is the biggest misconception about people living with autism?
Gary Maffei: That they can’t function in society. But with the proper support they can. Someone with autism, in general, requires 24/7 care. You can’t say to them, “Go across the street” because they won’t look both ways first to see if a car is coming. They don’t have the cognitive ability to think, “I might get hit by a car.” Again, that is a generalization. Today it is called an “Autism Spectrum Disorder” because there are people at both ends of the spectrum. We tend to deal with people at the lower end of the spectrum.
Damon L. Jacobs: Prior to this you were involved with the AIDS Center Of Queens County. What was your role there?
Gary Maffei: I was Executive Director. I was there at the beginning when it was formed in the the late 80s by the state. I went in as a program associate and rose up.
Damon L. Jacobs: That was such a different time to be working in HIV/AIDS services.
Gary Maffei: I was there five years and I was totally burnt out. I had to leave. I had board members who died, volunteers who died, clients who died, my lover died. I was totally fried and had to get out. I actually went to Florida for six months and just vegged. When I came back I had to do something different.
Damon L. Jacobs: It seems like your work has always involved service. Why is that?
Gary Maffei: I don’t know. I started in politics, I worked for a congressman for five years. I thought that was the venue I was going to explore, but I got very disenfranchised with the nastiness of politics, with the Sarah Palins of the world. I worked with The Statue Of Liberty restoration in 1986 as a fundraiser. Then other non-profits. Most of my jobs have been in five years increments. I start somewhere and then get bored. That was my plan here. But twenty years later I’m still here, because I’ve kept building different services.
Damon L. Jacobs: You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who has his own official day. Tell me about June 19th, aka, Gary Maffei Day.
Gary Maffei: When Claire Schulman was Queens Borough President I was the chair on her task force of people with disabilities. I did that for nine years. When I was editing my tenure we had a reward ceremony for people with disabilities, and the companies that employed them. The President surprised me in 2001 by declaring June 19th Gary Maffei Day.
Damon L. Jacobs: Do you get a statue for that? Or at least a free beer?
Gary Maffei: No, I get a plaque.
Damon L. Jacobs: What do you do to celebrate Gary Maffei day?
Gary Maffei: This year I will be recovering from our annual event fundraising event, which has become problematic in this economy. It’s tough to do a big fundraiser when people are losing their jobs and expenses are getting cut back. Fundraising is very important because the government just slashed our funding. The state budget this year was just ridiculous. It’s not like they are slashing our funding one time. They are reducing our rates by $100,000, so that money is now gone. If I take $100 out of your pay check you lost $100. If I reduce your rate by $100, you’d be losing $100 every pay check. That is what they just did to us, and that is what makes these fundraisers all the more important.
Damon L. Jacobs: What keeps you going when you get frustrated and have to deal with setbacks?
Gary Maffei: I have a good staff, a good team of people around me. And my partner helps. I have been with Charliefor almost twenty years. He keeps me young.
Damon L. Jacobs: Given that you are already such an established member of our community, why join NGLCCNY?
Gary Maffei: The fundraiser we are having next week is at Slate, and we met Sam Boudloche at the Shining Stars Event last year. We met Elliot Joel Stern who did our design at the same event, as well as our photographer Gustavo Monroy. There are five or six chamber members who we are using as vendors whom we met at that event last year. You can find vendors and designers anywhere, but why not give business to our own community? That was why we joined the chamber, to find vendors who wanted to work with us and have fun with us.
Damon L. Jacobs: What advice would you give to someone in the NGLCCNY who is growing their business?
Gary Maffei: Go to the networking events, and network there. Give your business cards, get their business cards, and keep those contacts. So the day you need a lawyer or an accountant you have someone to turn to.
Damon L. Jacobs: If you could go back twenty-five years ago and give yourself a piece of helpful advice, what would that be?
Gary Maffei: Marry rich (laughs). I married for love.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to grief and loss, HIV related concerns, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email atShouldless@gmail.com. An initial free consultation is offered to NGLCCNY members, or people who are referred by NGLCCNY members.