'George to the Rescue' renovates Baskets of Hope's office
In the season-13 premiere of WNBC/4's community-based renovation show "George to the Rescue," contractor-host George Oliphant and his volunteers fix up the Lake Grove basement where the nonprofit organization Baskets of Hope sends supplies to parents of newborns with Down syndrome — gifts spearheaded by Brittany Schiavone, who has the condition herself. "George to the Rescue" airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
"It was a mess — it was dark, creepy," says Schiavone, who turned 33 on Monday, speaking by phone from the home she shares with mother Susan Schiavone, a former parent liaison for at-risk students for the South Huntington School District, and retired finance IT professional Rocco Schiavone. The family moved to their Lake Grove house two years ago, four years after founding the nonprofit Baskets of Hope in South Huntington in 2016.
"It was an unfinished basement," explains Oliphant, 46, in a separate call. "A concrete-slab open-floor plan, insulation in the ceilings, cold in the winter, hot in the summer. It's like any basement. But that was the space she had in which to do Baskets of Hope," which has provided some 1,700 care packages nationwide. "It's never stopped her," he notes. "A bare basement's not going to stop Brit, that's for sure. Nothing deters her from getting the job done."
Down syndrome, affecting 1 in 700 live births in the United States, is caused by an extra chromosome 21, resulting in a similar set of physical traits but wide-ranging cognitive disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Global Down Syndrome Foundation says the majority of children with Down can learn to read and write and attend high school, and some even go on to postsecondary education. Brittany Schiavone graduated from Walt Whitman High in Huntington Station, and has taken classes taught by the Greenlawn-based Positive Community Connections on the Stony Brook University campus. She works part-time at Party City in Islip.
Oliphant and his team, anchored by Chasity Centeno of Northport's Riese Design and Josh Klinger of Coram's Klinger Construction, finished the basement with Sheetrock, new lights, an HVAC system and other upgrades. "We created an office space for Brittany in which she can do her social-media stuff and communicate with families over Zoom," Oliphant says. "We also were able to create a packing area for Baskets of Hope," plus storage space for the donated books, blankets, toys and other things the baskets include.
As well, "She's a huge fan of music and dancing, so we put a bunch of speakers in there. We made it very vibrant and bright and we gave her a hangout space" for a modicum of independence from family. The renovation took from July to October, when the show did the reveal seen in the episode.
"People with Down syndrome can do anything — really, really anything," Brittany Schiavone — who has been a competitive modern dancer and makes appearances on TV-news programs — says as her mantra. And for anything they can't, sometimes "George to the Rescue" can.