The Viscardi Center, a nonprofit network serving Long Islanders with disabilities, has named Chris Rosa as the new head of the nearly 70-year-old organization.
Rosa, who previously worked as assistant vice chancellor for student inclusion initiatives at CUNY, will take over as president and chief executive effective Jan. 1. He will also serve as president of the Henry Viscardi School and Abilities Inc.
He succeeds John Kemp, who resigned last month after heading the Albertson-based organization for a decade, to become president and CEO of the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, which supports individuals with physical disabilities.
"The enormity of it is still very much with me," Rosa, 54, of Flushing, said in an interview Wednesday. "It’s a very, very humbling honor and opportunity for me."
Rosa is "a collaborative and visionary leader" who "brings exemplary experience in education, non-profit and advocacy," Viscardi board chairman Russ Cusick said in a statement.
As a native New Yorker with a disability, Rosa said the Viscardi Center, which has over 300 employees, has loomed large in the disability community locally and beyond since his youth. He has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy and has used a wheelchair since age 12.
"Anybody in disability rights would probably consider this one of a handful of dream jobs for the opportunity to carry on a legacy and to make a difference," Rosa said.
Amid economic uncertainty that has continued to put New Yorkers with disabilities at a disadvantage, Rosa said he and his team at Viscardi are up for the challenge but are clear-eyed about the obstacles still facing the community.
"My leadership team and the board at the Viscardi Center all feel the weight," he said. "At the same time, we all feel a sense of gratitude. We are the right organization at the right time to put people with disabilities on the path to employment."
Despite challenges – the national unemployment rate for workers with disabilities was 9% in September, double the 4.4% rate for people without disabilities – Rosa said the growth of remote work opportunities and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at many companies nationwide point to more inroads for workers with disabilities.
For example, given that many in the community struggle with accessing adequate public transportation, the growing acceptance of remote work since the pandemic began could be a major boon for jobseekers with mobility issues. It’s one of the many issues he and other advocates have been bringing attention to for years, he said.
"Two years ago, all of us were fighting for greater tolerance and appreciation for remote work and now it’s here for everyone," he said.
At CUNY, Rosa designed and led programs promoting equity and inclusion for underrepresented students in higher education, including those with disabilities, student veterans, LGBTQI members, and the undocumented.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and philosophy from Queens College and his doctorate in sociology from the CUNY Graduate Center.