Appearing on "Celebrity Apprentice" is harder than boxing but golf is even tougher, said Geraldo Rivera, who hopes his sojourn keeps raising money for Long Island's developmentally disabled.
The television journalist's team won the first round Sunday, which means that a nonprofit agency Rivera is playing for, Life's WORC, will get $280,000. Rivera raised money previously for Life's WORC by boxing with Wall Streeters.
The West Babylon native said Thursday the television show took more time than he anticipated, which made juggling his jobs at Fox News and WABC radio more difficult. "It's very arduous, there's a lot of back-stabbing and deceit and confrontation, and I guess it's just like real life," he said of Donald Trump's reality TV show.
Rivera's four-decade-long commitment to the charity sprang from his 1970s exposes on the treatment of the mentally handicapped housed in institutions, especially at Staten Island's now-closed Willowbrook State School. The stories helped persuade the nation to move people who are disabled to smaller group homes.
Eight individuals from Willowbrook are among the 220 who live in Life's WORC group homes, said Janet Koch, the agency's executive director. "Once you are in Life's WORC, we serve you, this is your home," Koch said.
Mary Rafferty, senior director of the nonprofit's residential services, said: "They have relationships with their families and friends . . . They have an enviable life."
Rivera's winnings on the show will help Life's WORC navigate state budget cuts and its next big expansion, a $1.6 million transformation of a former law office next to its Garden City headquarters into a center for autistic children and their parents and other family members, Koch said.
"It's clear that this is a population that is exploding, or at least recognition of their existence is exploding, and they need services," Rivera said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder and that it is more prevalent in boys.
"If you are a severely autistic 35-year-old, and your parents die, what happens to you, where do you go, how do you support yourself; do you have the tools to carry on independently, or are you going to end up homeless or arrested in jail for no reason other than you had this condition?" he asked.
Though being on the TV show was tough, "golf is the hardest of all, I hate it, and I am the worst golfer in America with a tournament named after me," said Rivera, 71, who last year hosted the 27th Annual Geraldo Rivera Golf Classic.