Monica Zenyuh – Founder, Adopt a School

monica-zenyuhWe never tire of hearing “Sandy stories” about Long Islanders who have gone above and beyond to help others when the storm struck.  These stories make us feel good and reaffirm our faith in mankind.

Since 1996, Monica Zenyuh of Northport has been teaching in the Harborfields Central School district. Besides being a teacher, wife and mother of two children ages 6 and 8, Monica also plays soccer with the Long Island Ladies Soccer League and coaches her daughter’s soccer team. She’s also an adjunct professor at Hofstra University.

Like most mothers, Monica has a lot on her plate and thought there wasn’t any time for another commitment.

After the storm, like countless others, her neighborhood was without power for more than a week.

Once the electricity was restored, Monica sent a mass email to her friends on and off Long Island letting them know that her family had come through the storm unscathed. Then she related stories of what was happening here, especially on the South Shore.

When she checked her email the next day, she was surprised at the number of replies she received.

“My inbox was jammed with emails from people wanting to help,” Monica says. “The response was huge.”

Inspired by their reaction, Monica saw an opportunity for her and her colleagues to help the hardest hit schools by collecting donations for needed supplies.With the support of her husband, Christopher, Monica  emailed the school superintendents from Long Beach, Oceanside and Rockaway and told them about her Adopt a School campaign.

When Harborfields schools remained closed for another week, Monica had more time to coordinate the project, creating an Adopt a School letterhead and spreading the word to a broader network.

“People started telling me what they needed,” she says. “I became a liaison with school social workers and began raising money and collecting supplies.”

Gift cards, box-top donations, clothing, cash, school supplies and books came streaming in and were inventoried for distribution.

“It took on a life of its own,” she says.

With her mathematical acumen, Monica created a spreadsheet of donors and helpers so she could match them with the recipients’ requests.

Her Adopt a School spreadsheet revealed much more than the amount of supplies collected. It showed Brownie troops helping other Brownies, pre-schools supporting other pre-schools, athletes aiding other athletes, and musicians lending other musicians a helping hand.

“Everyone knows someone,” Monica says. “That was the neat part about it.”

As Monica was making connections around the Island, Harborfields Middle School principal Joanne Giordano asked Monica if she could promote her program on Long Island’s vast school Listserv as well as on Facebook.

As the word spread, other schools from as far away as Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut contacted Monica offering to help. Using her spreadsheets, Monica was quickly able to match donors with recipients. Then she had to figure out the logistics of getting the supplies to Long Island while gasoline was still in short supply and many roads were impassable, making the trip a challenge,  but not one that Monica couldn’t handle.

“We brought all their donations home,” she says proudly.

When Long Beach schools said they had enough supplies, the Adopt a School group found other areas in need.

Monica would spend between four to five hours every evening matching donors and recipients. Dozens of requests for supplies were still coming in every day.

After hearing that some students from Lindenhurst needed money to pay for a school trip, she put the word out, and funds were quickly raised.

When Monica learned that New York City had a database similar to hers, she found a match between the Harborfields school district and PS 52 on Staten Island and coordinated the Adopt a School program between Long Island and Staten Island.

Even now, months after the storm, requests for help are still being fulfilled by Adopt a School and despite its growth and her intention to keep it active year round, Monica says it will remain strictly grassroots.

“Everyone just wanted to help people and to know where their donations were going,” she says. “People trusted me to help.”

And so the effort continues.

“It’s not over if there’s something you need,” she says. Now that Long Island’s school budgets have been voted on and finalized, Monica will begin to contact schools to see what their needs are.

The program  was a huge success and impacted thousands of Long Islanders, but as a teacher, Monica also wanted student donors and recipients to learn from the experience.

“I wanted it [Adopt A School] to be educational,” she says. Students were asked to do some research on the school that they adopted and in turn, students who received the donations learned about their benefactor.

“We found out who the school mascots were,” she says. “We had the kids send stacks of cards and letters, and our kids connected with the other kids.  Some are still pen pals.”

By Monica’s estimate, the Adopt a School program has provided supplies to more than 20 schools with the assistance from more than 40 different clubs and organizations.

In the weeks immediately after the storm, when the need to match donors and recipients was critical, Monica remembers how it felt to find herself organizing a massive relief effort out of her own home. She had volunteered for numerous fundraisers in the past but never considered the possibility of being at the helm of such a large undertaking herself.

“I had always marveled at how  other people do this,” she says, “and when I was in the middle of it, I realized, ‘I am doing it!’”

For more information about Adopt a School, to donate or if you need assistance, email: [email protected].

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