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Long Island

Volunteer Nation: A tribute to Long Island nonprofits

Diana O'Neill, foreground, executive director of the Long

Diana O'Neill, foreground, executive director of the Long Island Volunteer Center, with volunteer Moesha Stewart, a Nassau Community College intern, left, and Linda Marshall, director of strategic planning, at the organization's Hempstead office.

Help. Four letters, one syllable, infinite possibilities for implementation.

Everywhere in the world people need it. Long Island is no exception, and it is home to dozens of nonprofits with important missions and unique ways of fulfilling them that benefit a range of causes — from humankind to the animal kingdom to the environment.

For 50 months, starting in January 2013 and ending in February 2017, the Volunteer Nation series featured local nonprofits, many of which you may not have heard of. That was by design, to introduce Newsday readers to the goodness in our midst that exists just under the radar. The series will continue on an occasional basis in the months ahead, but now is the time to revisit those already featured and hear about how they’ve grown and continued their efforts.

They can all use Long Islanders’ help to do that.

“All of us need to do our part,” said Diana O’Neill, executive director of the Hempstead-based Long Island Volunteer Center, a resource and referral agency that links individuals and groups to volunteer opportunities on Long Island. “Community is common unity. If we don’t step up then something’s missing from the common good. We’re here for a purpose. Even if we can’t divine it for ourselves, we can still work and figure out the big picture in smaller bits, by helping neighbors, friends, strangers.

“When you factor in the group that benefits, that’s just an exponential gift, something that allows us to be a witness to the greater good.”

A grandma’s dream come true

“The exposure Senior Dreams Come True received from the Newsday feature article [February 2014] has allowed our elder law firm, Genser Dubow Genser & Cona, to reach more seniors.

One of our favorite wishes was from Theresa Lamb of Smithtown. Mrs. Lamb read the article in Newsday and immediately decided to apply. Her wish was to see her newborn granddaughter in Florida. With no computer or cellphone, Mrs. Lamb had never even seen a picture of her.

Living on a modest fixed income meant a trip to Florida was out of the question. When Mrs. Lamb applied to Senior Dreams Come True and asked [the firm] to help her meet her new granddaughter, we were thrilled to make it happen.

Senior Dreams Come True purchased round-trip airfare to Florida for Mrs. Lamb and even got her a special escort to the gate at MacArthur Airport. The trip meant the world to her.”

Jennifer Cona, managing partner at Genser Dubow Genser & Cona in Melville

Wishes to grow on

“This article [April 2013] proved to be a pivotal turning point for us that helped build a framework on which our organization has grown. We are a small grass-roots organization, and being featured in Newsday led to many Long Islanders contacting us to express their interest in volunteering and donating toys.

In 2013, we were serving 23 shelters and helped 234 children celebrate their birthday. With the increase in toy and gift donations, we were able to expand our program to additional locations and now serve 62 shelters. In 2016 we provided birthday celebrations for more than 1,000 homeless children all over Long Island!

Each week, we hold a wrapping day where our regular volunteers come in to help prepare gifts. The majority of them found us from the article. We are often told that people saved the article in a drawer for months, knowing they wanted to help and waiting for the right time. One of our volunteers even turned into a part-time staff person and invaluable part of the Birthday Wishes family.

Not only did the article lead to an increase in interest, this interest turned into action by so many. Schools, companies, Girl Scout troops and religious organizations have held toy drives, party supply drives and assembled Birthdays in a Box for donation to our program.

They say it takes a village. In our case it takes the wonderful, caring and generous people of Long Island. We thank Newsday for helping to spread the word about Birthday Wishes so that children experiencing homelessness can feel special on their birthday!”

Jamie Rapfogel, founder of the Long Island chapter of Birthday Wishes

Philanthropic networking

“After our feature ran [March 2016], we received calls and emails from people wanting to join our cause. And the children of Camp SoulGrow were so proud to have their picture in Newsday!

One day I was contacted by a man named Jim Meyer, who was on the board of directors of the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Long Island, telling me he read our Newsday feature, loved it and was impressed with what we do at Camp SoulGrow. He wanted to nominate me for the Gilbert Tilles Award, which is given to an organization, business, foundation or special individual (or family) that exhibits the unique qualities that further the goals of philanthropy. I was honored, humbled and thrilled to be nominated.

In November 2016 I received the award, but the real gift was the people and resources I found through the Association of Fundraising Professionals. At Philanthropy Day in November, I never will forget how unbelievably welcoming and warm it felt to be around like-minded people, who also devote their lives to helping people’s dreams come true. All of the sudden I felt like I found what I had been dreaming and hoping for — the people to teach me how to sustain Camp SoulGrow . . . people to learn from so we can keep growing.

Not only does the Association of Fundraising Professionals offer teachers, tips and resources for growing nonprofits, they also have a network of members (which I am proudly now a member) and offer several events to brainstorm and collaborate new ideas for the fundraising world. These people are such a gift to me personally because I know I’m not alone in this fight to do good, and also such a gift to Camp SoulGrow because I am learning so much to sustain us and keep growing.

I will also be the children’s voice as the newest board member of the Suffolk County Youth Council.

For the past two and a half years I have been doing my best and working my hardest, asking people for money, which is always uncomfortable, draining, awkward and extremely difficult . . . fighting to stay afloat and raise money just to turn around and give it right back to the community times a million wrapped in love, creativity and opportunities. People said, ‘You need to charge and make money.’ And while that would certainly solve some financial stresses, it would also take the soul out of Camp SoulGrow.

We at Camp SoulGrow really just want to continue to do good works and grow . . . for all people . . . from the inside out!”

London Rosiere, founder of Camp SoulGrow

Engaging with veterans

“When Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) Long Island was featured in Volunteer Nation, we were still relatively new to most of the community. While many — in major metropolitan areas across the country, including New York City — had seen our iconic red shirts with emblazoned Eagles at local runs, Team RWB was only introduced to Long Island in 2014. The Volunteer Nation article was printed on March 29, 2015, and at the time, we had a total of 159 members (we prefer teammates). Today, we stand at 869 teammates — an increase of 710 since that time! That outpouring of support created a positive word-of-mouth that continues to this day.

Our mission is to enrich veterans’ lives by connecting them to the community through physical and social activity. The numbers are great, but what’s most important is the quality of our engagement activities. Basically, are we serving our mission? We knew that to be successful and effectively engage our rapidly growing team, we would need to expand our all-volunteer leadership team. To me, that is the most notable change from the time we were featured in Volunteer Nation: the ability to bring on amazing community leaders to support the mission.

We now have certified coaches and leaders who volunteer their time to run weekly programs in marathon training (Fran DeAngelis), veteran-focused yoga (Jen Randone), paddle board fitness (Fabrizio Bustos) and functional fitness (Mikey Piro). We also have a veteran outreach director (my wife, Leigh Auletta) and engagement director (Robert Novotny) who measure our outreach and engagement with veterans and other veteran service organizations.

Team RWB is striving to become the most professional and effective community leadership organization in the United States, something that I think is so crucial now at a time of such political divide. We are expanding the number of leaders in our community service team (Lisa Prudenti and Sara Guando) and area leader program (Will Fruin, Michelle Reising, Mike Joseph and Jaime Aubel) to create deeper and more meaningful connections in the community.

Besides my wife, Leigh, and I, all of our leaders have come to the team since the article, and I am excited about where they will lead us in the years to come!”

Nick Auletta, chapter captain of Team RWB Long Island

A memorial in the key of friendship

“The week before Thanksgiving last year my niece, Suzanne, who runs the D’Addario Foundation, received a message through our foundation website:

Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 10:47 AM

To: D’Addario Foundation (foundation@daddario.com)

Subject: Donation

If the recipient of this email could forward it to Janet D’Addario I would greatly appreciate it.

Dear Janet,

I am going to ask you to go way back in time to the mid ’70s when you played tennis at Rockville Racquet. I was the bookkeeper who shared the office with Bruce Funk. You were very kind to me at a turbulent time in my life, even giving me a pitcher that you had made in ceramics class. I still have that yellow pitcher.

Fast forward to today. You may remember Herb Gold, one of the owners of the club. Herb and his wife, Rita, passed away several years ago. They were very philanthropic during their lifetimes, supporting many educational and musical organizations. They were particularly interested in the role of music in the schools.

As a co-trustee of the Rita and Herbert Z. Gold Charitable Trust I have been researching various foundations and I feel that your foundation does the kind of work that they would have supported, particularly in reaching out to Long Island schools and in funding scholarships and grants for music students.

We would like to make a donation in the amount of $50,000 in the Golds’ memory. Since this gift would be funded the old-fashioned way, by check, I will need further instructions on how to do that.

I hope that this email puts a smile on your face the way your gift did to me back in the day. I look forward to hearing from you.

THE RITA & HERBERT Z. GOLD CHARITABLE TRUST

Paula K. Milone, Trustee

My wife, Janet, befriended Paula at the Rockville Racquet Club in Rockville Centre. For perspective purposes, we were living in West Hempstead at the time and our company, D’Addario & Company Inc., had fewer than 50 employees. (The company now employs about 850 workers on Long Island.)

Paula, now a trustee of the Golds’ charitable trust, saw the Volunteer Nation story in Newsday [June 2016] and then did some research on the D’Addario Foundation. She sent this beautiful email and eventually a $50,000 check to support the work we are doing to promote music education on Long Island and throughout the world.

It was such a lovely Thanksgiving gift for our entire family, particularly my wife, Janet, who had obviously made a long-lasting impression on Paula decades ago and was the director of the D’Addario Foundation in its formative years, from 1981 to 1994. It was such a wonderful story for us to share before our Thanksgiving dinner with our entire family.

It was also a reminder of how important it is for the fortunate ones to take pause and help those who have not been quite as lucky. If Newsday had not run the Volunteer Nation article about our foundation’s music program in Copiague, Paula would probably not have been able to make the connection that led to this extremely generous gift.”

Jim D’Addario, CEO and chairman of D’Addario & Co.

Good soul, good soles

“A local Long Island sporting goods store had seen our story [January 2015] and wanted to help Shoes for All with a generous donation of new sneakers. With this one act of kindness we were able to provide our struggling veterans with new sneakers at the Stand Down in Hempstead. The overwhelming joy and gratitude expressed by our veterans receiving the new sneakers brought tears to our eyes. We at SFA knew that our mission was not only to provide loving, worn shoes, but new shoes to the veterans and working poor.

Since this event we started raising money by our Annual Comedy Event, monthly sponsorships and Our Day Without Shoes Walk so that we can provide our working poor families and deserving struggling vets with new shoes.”

Dr. Mary Carlson, podiatrist and founder of Shoes for All

The gift of hope for animals and people

“On April 19, Pet Peeves will celebrate its 16th anniversary as ‘the voice of LI pets.’ One woman’s comment after Pet Peeves was featured in the Volunteer Nation series [November 2013] made me stop and think. She was a volunteer rescuing and rehabilitating abused and severely neglected horses. She approached me at a luncheon and said simply, ‘Your Newsday article gave me hope.’

Hope is a powerful word, and coming from a volunteer who sees the reality of despair in the eyes of abused animals every day gave it new meaning. Hope inspires and encourages all of us. It gives us the energy needed to continue our fight and enables us to save lives, reduce suffering and bring positive change.

The Volunteer Nation article brought new pet therapy, humane education and rescue groups to us. Ideas were exchanged and grants were provided for important programs, clinics and rescue.

To date, Pet Peeves has raised and distributed more than $1 million in grants. We now fund wildlife and equine rescue, and a significant percentage of our funding is earmarked for free and low-cost spay/neuter clinics in an effort to reduce the staggering number of homeless and feral cats on Long Island.

Volunteering for any cause is selfishly heartwarming, and yet it requires a skill set unlike any paid job or career.

When we attempt to speak for or represent the voiceless — whether they be animals, the elderly or children — we take on a serious moral responsibility. But it’s one that rewards us with that all-important gift of hope.”

Janine Dion, founder of Pet Peeves

Solidarity to feed the hungry

“It was nearly three years ago [April 2014] when Newsday’s Volunteer Nation featured Community Solidarity (formerly called Food Not Bombs). That year we shared a little less than 1.9 million pounds of groceries with our struggling neighbors across Long Island. Since then we’ve more than doubled the size of our organization and the people we help each week.

In May 2015, we were in the middle of a $60,000 crowdfunding campaign to purchase a new truck to help our hunger-relief efforts.

A few months later we reached our goal and got the truck we needed. In 2016, that truck helped us rescue more than 4.1 million pounds of organic groceries that we shared with tens of thousands of hungry Long Islanders. We were also able to share more than $10 million of assistance to our neighbors in need, providing financial wiggle room for thousands of seniors and struggling families.

Of most importance, we’ve created a sustainable community that will continue to grow in the years to come. There are more than 182,000 people who go hungry on Long Island every day. Our goal is to use a mixture of dedicated volunteers and artificial intelligence to end that problem by 2030. It’s doable, and we thank Newsday’s Volunteer Nation for helping us get the word out.”

Jon Stepanian, co-founder of Community Solidarity (formerly Food Not Bombs)

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