Guardians of Rescue volunteer finds fulfillment

Joanne Contegiacomo, 41, a schoolteacher who lives in

Joanne Contegiacomo, 41, a schoolteacher who lives in Hicksville, is director of community relations for Guardians of Rescue. Here she plays with two puppies at Save-A-Pet animal rescue and adoption shelter in Port Jefferson Station on March 16, 2014. (Credit: Heather Walsh)

Joanne Contegiacomo's commitment to Guardians of Rescue's mission began the first moment she saw the group in action a few weeks after superstorm Sandy.

After the storm devastated the region in October 2012, Contegiacomo saw volunteers helping families who refused to leave their damaged homes and neighborhoods because they couldn't find their pets.

"Watching the members of Guardians of Rescue just being there and listening to these families who had lost everything and how genuinely compassionate they were, I felt like I was home," she said.

Even though many resorted to living in tents, Contegiacomo said residents were afraid that if they went elsewhere they would never see their beloved dogs and cats again.

Contegiacomo connected with Guardians of Rescue when she and her neighbors held a fundraiser in Bellmore to raise money for Sandy victims and animals. A friend referred her to Guardians' founder Robert Misseri during her search for an animal organization to receive half the proceeds, and Misseri invited Contegiacomo to the Staten Island outreach event.

"I didn't realize until that day that there was something missing in my life, and I found it through Guardians of Rescue," said Contegiacomo, 41, a schoolteacher who lives in Hicksville. "They've really become like my extended family. Knowing you can rely on a group of people who were strangers 15 months ago is really rare, and I'm honored to be able to be with them."

Contegiacomo, who is now director of community relations for the nonprofit, said volunteering for Guardians of Rescue is fulfilling in a unique and powerful way.

"When I work with my students, even our short-term goals take a long time for the kids to accomplish," said Contegiacomo, a special-education teacher at Quality Services for the Autism Community in Douglaston. "But when you save the dogs, you save them today -- right at this moment."


SIGN ME UP

For more information on Guardians of Rescue, email info@guardiansof rescue.org, visit guardiansofrescue.org to fill out a volunteer application or call 888-287-3864. The organization is seeking animal-loving volunteers with all skills -- graphic designers, dog walkers, groomers, fundraisers, website creators and people who can help at off-site events. The next fundraiser is the Fur Ball on April 3 at Flowerfield in St. James to benefit Save-A-Pet, housing all the Guardians of Rescue animals.

Pets for Vets rescues shelter dogs and trains them to become companions for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Its Long Island/NYC chapter is based in West Hempstead.

Contact: 347-762-0280; pets-for-vets.com; petsforvetsnycli@gmail.com

Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, founded in 1995 and based in Islandia, helps treat the effects of trauma on vets through equine-assisted psychotherapy. "Herd dynamics can help clients understand their own lives," said Lisa A. Gatti, founder and executive director. "This helps military clients quickly translate emotional insights into life-changing action." Riding is not part of the therapy.

Contact: 631-348-1389; pal-o-mine.org; tours are available on-site.

For more volunteer information and opportunities, contact the Long Island Volunteer Center at 516-564-5482; longislandvolunteercenter.org.

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