The word “rise” can be defined as an upward movement or an increase from one position to a higher one. At RISE Life Services, led by Executive Director Charles Evdos, the organization takes on the true meaning of the word: elevating the lives of the people they serve.
RISE Life Services is a Riverhead-based nonprofit organization serving those with developmental and physical disabilities. The organization focuses primarily on the East End communities, and provides more than 150 Long Islanders with group home services, two food pantries, and soon, an outpatient center.
More than three decades ago, RISE Life Services was founded to fill a void in services to the disabled communities. RISE sought a different approach by providing services in areas where local and state programs were limited. By focusing on helping this community thrive and live a fulfilling life, the organization has emerged as an industry leader in providing services that can help change lives for the better.
Charles Evdos is the leader of this organization and focuses on equipping it best for generations to come. Hs professional story begins as copy boy for the New York Daily News, where he rose through the ranks to become a reporter, then an editor, and concluded a 12-year career at New York’s picture newspaper as business manager.
But, after more than a decade in journalism, he sought to renew his life’s work by helping others.
“I always knew that I wanted to help others,” says Evdos. “So I said, ‘When I retire from here, I’m going back to work.’ My career has been built on empowering others and making a difference in their own lives.”
After leaving the News, Evdos transitioned his professional skills and personability into helping organizations fundraise. His unique background includes an accounting degree and also owning his own business. In 1981, he began a career in the nonprofit world, where he says he was immediately “hooked.” He excelled in his ability to bring critical funding into the organizations he supported, which made him a sought-after asset in the world of charity and philanthropy.
Now, in the leadership role at RISE Life Services, he continues to shine. Recently, he threw one of the first post-Covid-19 fundraising galas, a historic occasion which brought people from across Long Island to the table to support RISE Life Services’ core mission of helping others.
“Each person has a different life story, and no matter your focus in the nonprofit sector, the need is there, so philanthropy, advocacy, and service providing are ways where you can make a difference in peoples’ lives, and see an immediate return in the community you serve,” Evdos says.
Beneath his leadership RISE Life Services is expanding in size and scope of service. One that is of particular emphasis is the Day Program Without Walls.
The Day Program Without Walls, part of the organization’s Main Street Connection, began a little more than three years ago with just two participants. Now it services more than 35 individuals, offering them a myriad of activities in a day program. The goal was to provide a unique and bold strategy, empowering individuals to build upon their current skill set and participate in the essence of the East End communities.
After expanding in 2020, the program has the Northville Sensory Gardens, which have aided in the program’s growth and popularity. A barn is being renovated at the site, which is expected to even further revolutionize the services that can be provided to the individuals and has even brought buy-ins from local public schools through first-of-its-kind partnerships.
Hampton Bays High School and RISE Life Services came together to embark on a new partnership, where the special education program at the local school district can visit the gardens, plant and seed, keep the grounds, and even care for the animals.
“We couldn’t be more proud of this program and its continued growth. We believe it to be life-changing and empowering to our individuals who are building upon their skill set in the interest of living the fullest of lives,” Evdos says.
An additional service provided by the organization is an Individualized Residential Alternative Program, which was launched in 1994. In conjunction with, and licensed by, the New York Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, RISE currently operates 12 residences, each geared to the individual needs of their residents.
Individuals in RISE’s IRA Program are those with developmental disabilities who are able to function in the severe-to-moderate range. Each location has between two and five housemates, many of whom attend the day program, but many others work five times a week. The hallmark of the Individualized Residential Alternative plan, Evdos says, is its people-centered approach, where the individual is the primary decision maker, with assistance and guidance from advocates, service coordinators, families, professionals, and other positive life influencers.
“Our mission here is to create an environment where our individuals’ abilities, rather than their deficiencies, are highlighted, empowering our individuals to find ambition, strength, and become fully engaged in community life. We highlight the value of independence, interdependence, and inclusion, and we have seen amazing success in the process, thanks to our incredibly dedicated staff of professionals,” Evdos added.
RISE Life Services, though, is always innovating, which is what further advances its reputation both regionally and nationally as an industrywide leader. While services provided by RISE are intended to help the individuals they serve, there is also a greater sense of purpose associated with the program. This is nowhere more evident than in in the organization’s food pantries’ second location, launched in May in Hampton Bays.
As Evdos and RISE Life Services know, food insecurity is an underreported issue on Long Island. With the onset of the pandemic leading to greater unemployment, business loss, and financial distress across the nation, RISE Life Services found a way to fill the void.
Through a partnership with Island Harvest, RISE Life Services operates a food pantry where participants in their day program service stock the pantries. The locations are in downtown walkable regions where people in need can shop with ease, and the individuals of RISE Life Services gather with staff and volunteers from local service organizations to distribute necessities to local needy individuals.
Some estimates show that in some areas of the East End of Long Island, food insecurity and demand at food pantries has grown by at least 100 percent.
Although the opening of its Hampton Bays location was stymied by the global pandemic, its doors officially opened in May, with the help of supporters Town of Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, and Town of Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. Now, the enthusiastic participants in the program stock inventory, clean surfaces, help prepare care packages, and even deliver the necessities to those individuals who are homebound.
The Riverhead location, located at 901 E. Main St., Riverhead, is open on Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the new Hampton Bays location at 185 Montauk Hwy. is open every Thursday, from 10 a.m. through 1:30 p.m. The effort, led by the Main Street Connection Day Program, has brought supplemental nutrients to thousands of locals in need.
“Our RISE Life Services community is committed to giving back to our community as well as the individuals we serve. These pantries are a way to do just that, helping those in need, while maintaining our core, fundamental mission of empowering our individuals to do good and thrive,” Evdos says of the program.
But — and perhaps most importantly — the strength of RISE Life Services is in its dedicated professionals who have embraced the importance of the work they do, changing lives in the process.
RISE employs several hundred employees, who live live on Long Island, so they share a vested interest in seeing this community thrive, both at RISE and beyond.
“Each and every day, our employees and staff show the goodness of humanity, the kindness of people, and how a shared goal can unite people. We are nothing without our amazing leadership team, the heads of our programs, and each and every person that we proudly employ. Without their support, dedication, and limitless embrace of our fundamental principles here at RISE Life Services, our individuals would not make such amazing strides.
“We owe them a debt of gratitude, and this team here is the epitome of the expression: ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,’” Evdos added.
To learn more about RISE Life Services or to support its mission, visit RiseLifeServices.org.