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LI builder earns award from White House

Gary Zaccaro, a contractor with Ambassador Home Improvement,

Gary Zaccaro, a contractor with Ambassador Home Improvement, works on remodeling the basement of John Sopack in order to create a germ-free environment. (Feb. 3, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

A Massapequa builder's effort to help an ill stranger make his home safe has earned an award from the White House.

Gary Zaccaro, a contractor who remodeled a basement as a recovery space for a Massapequa Park man undergoing leukemia treatments will receive the gold-level President's Volunteer Service Award, according to the Long Island Volunteer Center, which helps designate recipients. The center describes the honor as "the most prestigious volunteer award associated with the White House."

Zaccaro, 46, this month finished work on the home of John Sopack, 36, after spending four weeks and $35,000 in materials and labor to create a germ-resistant space.

"He's an unsung hero," Diana O'Neill, executive director of the Hempstead-based volunteer center, said of Zaccaro. "This kind of humanitarian spirit has to be recognized, applauded and looked up to as a model of active citizenship."

Zaccaro is to receive an engraved pin, letter from President Barack Obama and award certificate this week.

He is the first award recipient of the volunteer center's fiscal year, which began Sept. 1.

"When you do something like this, you don't think about stuff like that [awards], you think about the family, how to help them," Zaccaro said Wednesday.

Zaccaro, founder of Ambassador Home Improvement and also vice president of Drug Free Massapequa, said he is moved by other potential volunteers who have reached out to him to ask how they can help with future projects.

The president's award, he said, "makes me want to continue helping even more people."

Sopack in recent weeks underwent chemotherapy treatments and a stem cell transplant. He is currently resting at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, said family friend Tia Beaumont of Bethpage.

"I cannot think of a more deserving person for such an award," she said of Zaccaro.

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