Rob Pelaez


Nonprofit Luv Michael Makes Granola For A Good Cause

Luv Michael is a nonprofit kitchen staffed by people with special needs. 

When Dr. Lisa Liberatore’s son Michael turned 17, she and her husband shared their concerns over his career options, since their child was diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder.

After cultivating his passion for culinary exploration, the couple founded the nonprofit Luv Michael, which employs more than a dozen Long Islanders with special needs and helps them achieve their aspirations in the kitchen — all by making granola.

“We felt that it was important to look at what his skillset was,” Liberatore says. “He would always love to cut up vegetables in the kitchen of the church we volunteer at. That was basically the beginning.”

With help from a few of her friends, knowing the struggles that people with autism have in finding a job, Liberatore and her husband set out to create a company to help their son and others in similar situations. Employees work three days a week, and opportunities for internships are available for local teenagers.

“A lot of the jobs that are out there for people with autism and other special needs are way below that person’s true intelligence level,” Liberatore says. “With Luv Michael, the company is able to provide a job where people are not only accepted, but also appropriately challenged.”

The dozen employees are called “granologists” for the signature granola they create. Liberatore touts the company’s product, assuring that their granola should not be purchased out of sympathy.

“We want people to know we are a legitimate company with a delicious product available for purchase,” Liberatore says. “We have a full commercial kitchen in Tribeca that gives us an opportunity to practice retail sales.”

She notes that she wanted the employees to be able to create a product within their level of expertise and that they could enjoy tasting.

“We have the best intentions, but I want our employees to be as safe and independent as possible while working,” she says. “Also, the digestive tracts for many people with autism are incredibly sensitive, and require a specialized diet.”

To learn more about Luv Michael, visit luvmichael.com All proceeds go to supporting the organization’s mission.

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Splashes Of Hope Uplifts Sick Patients

Splashes of Hope volunteers paint a mural.

Splashes of Hope incorporates visual art into the lives of people across the country suffering from disease and illness.

The Huntington-based nonprofit was established in 1996 as a way to comfort patients during their respective treatment, healing, and recovery by providing a soothing and uplifting visual focus. Custom artwork is designed by various volunteer artists, and each piece showcases a personal touch.

“It’s such a privilege to be part of a company that brings so much palpable joy into people’s lives when they need it the most,” says Splash Ambassador Marsha Honovich. “I will always be grateful for the experiences I’ve had and will continue to have working here.”

The work that the organization does has spread to more than 40 states across America. More recently, hospitals in France, Italy, and Ukraine have headlined Splashes of Hope’s international presence.

“Most everyone knows someone else that is in need of a spiritual uplifting,” Honovich says. “The work we do is able to provide that for them.”

Paintings are done with plenty of thought and preparation behind them. After a hospital reaches out expressing the desire for a mural to be commissioned, the first step is the site visit. Professional artists visit the site to measure and assess the designated areas to be “splashed,” determining if painting can be done on removable panels or if the space itself can be painted on.  

Discussions between the artists and medical professionals involve the determination of the appropriate theme, color schemes, and tailored elements to coincide with the clients’ therapeutic distractions.

A cost-estimate proposal is the next step before painting begins. The proposal is generated by the Splashes of Hope office and submitted for approval to the painting facility. This outlines all the information collected during the site visit, as well as costs for the painting.

Once the facility has the necessary amount of funds in place, a deposit is required to begin the creative aspect. If a project does not have the correct amount of funds, the office will work with the facility to seek a possible sponsor for the project.

From there, the artists will commence painting the mural, applying many layers of protection to the surface. Once it is completed, the mural is on display for people to see, providing an appeasing and stimulating visual piece of work.

“Our volunteer artists are extremely dedicated and do an impeccable job of creating artwork,” Honovich says. “Not many organizations can accomplish what ours does. It’s not a competition, but more of a testament to how dedicated these employees are, and how much we wish to brighten someone else’s world.”

Minority Millennials: Planning Brighter Futures

Minority Millennials founder Daniel Lloyd aims to organize his generation.

When Daniel Lloyd of Wyandanch realized that many people in their 20s and 30s were largely unaware of social issues affecting them, he decided to step up and start organizing his peers.

So three years ago the entrepreneur founded the nonprofit Minority Millennials, Inc. a grassroots organization that advocates for millennials — those between ages 24 and 38 — who are people of color on Long Island. The group’s initiatives include voter enrollment drives, polling, and career mentoring.

“We are looking to get more representation for the future,” Lloyd says. “It’s all about changing the narrative in a grand sense.”

Minority Millennials has around 20 volunteers who aim to train future leaders and develop initiatives to build wealth, home ownership, and political equity.

While the organization is currently focused on aiding the segment of the millennial generation who are minorities, Lloyd says that there are also programs in place to help engage minorities who are part of Generation Z — those 24 and younger.

Among the areas Lloyd hopes to affect change in is the core issue of affordable housing, the lack of which on LI has contributed to the region’s brain drain as young people continue to move away to places with a lower cost of living.

“There are a lot of nuances when it comes to mixed-use housing,” Lloyd says. “While it works for some people, there are other programs that I feel could be implemented throughout Long Island that would appeal to millennials, developers, and residents in the affected areas.”

He noted the Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, and Transit-oriented. (SMART) housing program that the city of Austin, Texas created to assist students who are either receiving financial aid or who are paying for school through student loans.

“The SMART housing program provides a change to the narrative of affordable and progressive housing for a younger community,” Lloyd said. “We don’t want to transform all of Long Island into Queens, and this program ensures that the structures accommodate the basic needs of a millennial generation while providing a fresh living environment.”

To learn more, get involved, or provide a donation, visit minoritymillennials.org 

Garden City Student Launches Cleaner Oceans Institute

Sanaalee Troupe, a sophomore at Garden City’s Waldorf School, was inspired to do her part to fight climate change after an illuminating conversation with her parents earlier this year.

“They sat me down and we spoke about topics such as water contamination and the like,”  says Troupe. “This conversation served as a real eye-opener for me; it really created a burning passion for climate advocacy. And it made me realize in order to change the world, we would have to implement the change we would like to see.”

So she founded the Cleaner Oceans Institute, an environmental advocacy organization comprised of young adults not unlike herself. Beginning with an Instagram account, Troupe created informational content aimed at particular environmental crises, catching the attention of other students vying to be involved. 

Today, Cleaner Oceans Institute has a website and a team of 42 volunteers worldwide. In her role as founder and executive director, Troupe’s gaze is squarely focused on raising support on Long Island.

“I create articles and put information on our website,” she says. “I additionally get in contact with other students from Long Island and New York City to join or attend events, where we will go to schools in New York City and speak about climate change and environmental sciences.”

Events have included participating in the September 20 New York City climate strikes and most recently a series of cleanups held as Jones Beach over a week. Inviting a host of environmentalists, Cleaner Oceans Institute and the volunteers used the opportunity to rid the beach of plastic and any other contaminants. 

“Team members provided bags, gloves, and other materials,” she says. “Then we separate into groups. Some people will sweep the sand, others water, whatever they are comfortable with. Our goal is to divide and conquer.”

With an environmental summit planned for March, and an affordable sustainable clothing line in the works, Troupe shows no signs of slowing down.

“It’s just a really great way for people who want to get into the environmental field to be involved with a community,” she says. “We do local events, where we introduce the team and get to know more about each other. We are trying to create a community and a family.”

Toys For Tots: Giving Kids Hope

Toys For Tots in in its 72nd year.

As the holidays approach, the local chapter of the U.S. Marines-run nonprofit Toys for Tots gears up for another season of gathering donated gifts to give to less fortunate children across Long Island.

Last year more than 220,000 toys were distributed to 110,000 children in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to Garden City Toys for Tots.

“One of my best memories is when I was up in North Shore Hospital delivering toys to the pediatric unit,” retired Marine Major Chuck Kilbride, Long Island’s representative for the past 30 years, told the Levittown Tribune. “There was a little girl who had just gotten her third bone marrow transplant. She looked up at one of the Marines that was with us and told him he was her hero. The Marine took off his medals, pinned them on the little girl and told her, ‘No, you are my hero.’”

Toys for Tots is a nationwide initiative that was the brainchild of a Marine Corps Reserve Major in 1947. Now in its 72nd year, it has about 800 chapters nationwide.

The organization asks for newly wrapped, unopened toys to be donated from October to early December so they are properly distributed along the Island. The organization’s mission is to assist the U.S. Marine Corps in uplifting disadvantaged children at Christmas. The aim is to give these youngsters the hope they need to become responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.

Along with the other men and women who have continued to serve the country by spearheading local branches of the foundation, Kilbride ensures that kids get the toys that they truly require. When visiting the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County several years ago, Kilbride remarked on the fact that the children present require certain toys for their needs.

“We had the opportunity to donate $25,000 worth of toys to help these physically
disabled kids,” he said. “We at the marine core love to put a smile on a kid’s face.”

Donation boxes will be placed in high-traffic public places through the holidays. For more information, visit garden-city-ny.toysfortots.org

Nancy Marx Wellness Center Helps Survivors Overcome

Randy Hight runs the Nancy Marx Cancer Wellness Center.

The Nancy Marx Cancer Wellness Center at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in East Hills has been aiding those suffering from cancer since 2005.  

The subject of cancer is a delicate topic, but the center’s staff goes to lengths to ensure people have the proper mental and physical resources needed.

“We try to reduce as many barriers as we can,” says Randy Hight, the center’s director. “It’s the main reason why so many of our programs and opportunities involve no cost, so that anyone who needs help can receive it.”

Most of the programs the center offers to the public are free, such as writing and meditation classes, individual counseling, tailored discussion groups, and various exercise classes. It also provides services such as informational referrals and child care options, to keep the focus on combating cancer.

“Cancer is a challenging disease,” Hight says. “With the support of a collective community and dedicated staff, there should always be reasons for people to have hope.”

Hight, a certified oncology social worker, helps survivors and their families by collaborating with medical professionals and other social workers to ensure that referrals and programs provide people with the best solution. 

“Each family is unique in their own way,” she says. “Just because two people have the same diagnosis does not mean that their situations are parallel. People cope and react to information very differently.”

Word has spread, so that she sees people, Jewish or not, come from across New York State. 

“Depending on what somebody’s current state of cancer is,” Hight says, “I can make referrals to specific facilities closer to them, or ones that may be further, but can more effectively bring them into a state of remission. It’s something we pride ourselves on. Constant contact before, during, and after the process makes it less scary for them, and is more reassuring for us as well.”

Nancy Marx Cancer Wellness Center will hold its  Stronger Than Cancer 5K fundraiser at the Sid Jacobson JCC at 300 Forest Dr. in East Hills. For more information, visit sjjcc.org. The run starts at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13.

Book Fairies Marks 2 Millionth Book Donation

The Book Fairies celebrated donating their two millionth book at their Freeport headquarters on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.

Amy Zaslansky held a book drive to donate paperbacks to a Hempstead schoolteacher’s class in 2012. The overwhelming response she received inspired what she called an “Aha! moment.”

The mother of three from Bellmore then founded Book Fairies, a Freeport-based nonprofit that collects reading materials for those in need. What started as one person driving around in a van across Long Island to collect donations has now turned into a mission to fight illiteracy  throughout the New York Metro area. The group donated its two millionth book during a drive on Sunday.

“There is a cycle of poverty that stems from illiteracy.” says Zaslansky, noting that 70 percent of prison inmates can’t read above a third-grade level and 90 percent of welfare recipients are high school dropouts. “We want to break that cycle and have students be achieving to the best of their ability academically. The statistics are so intensely startling and jaw-dropping.”

The group has donated books to libraries, schools, community organizations, homeless shelters, children’s hospitals, and elsewhere.

She and her team of charitable teens with developmental disabilities sort the donations. But Zaslansky and her team understand that receiving the donated books is only part of the equation.

“One of our main goals is to have people know which books to donate,” she says. “We don’t mean to seem picky, but we know that the best books are those with high interest level to make children actually want to read more and be a stepping stone in their education”.

Though their popularity may be diminishing with the uproar in technological advances over the past 15 years, books are far more vital than many people realize. While a healthy supply of books for a school or residency doesn’t seem like a luxury, the cost of new books for elementary schools with low funding makes a severe impact. 

“What people don’t understand,” says Zaslansky, “is that the cost of a new book is quite expensive. Filling up shelves of them for different grades is extremely tough for schools whose budget does not incorporate the necessary funds for education.”

To learn more, visit thebookfairies.org


Adventureland’s Helping Hands Foundation Turns Rides Into Charity Drives

The Helping Hands Foundation gives scholarships to Long Island students.

For Jeanine Gentile and the staff she works with at Adventureland Amusement Park, the rides and food are just a part of what makes Long Island’s favorite family destination so special.

The park’s owners founded the nonprofit Helping Hands Foundation in 2013 as a way for the Adventureland team to give back to their patrons, have communities come together, and have LI reach its full potential. 

Jeanine has been working full time at Adventureland for more than 10 years, but the Gentile name was present in the theme park long before her arrival. Her grandfather, Tony, purchased the park in 1987, and spent more than 25 years making improvements to not only Adventureland, but to the entire Island.

“He [Tony] was a loving and caring individual,” says Jeanine of her late grandfather, “It was his love for the people who came in and enjoyed our park that made us want to name our scholarship after him.”

The Tony Gentile Memorial Scholarship started out by providing five students with $1,000 scholarships in 2013, and is now able to award a cumulative $40,000 worth of college tuition.  As impressive as that six-year growth is, the scholarship is only a piece in the charitable puzzle.

Some other upcoming events include the Back to School supply drive, taking place on Friday, August 16. The event corresponds with National Roller Coaster Day, and those who donate new school supplies will be rewarded with a free ride on two of the park’s best rides. 

September 6 will be the biggest event of the calendar year, the V.I.P. Friends & Family Fundraiser, where unlimited food and rides will be available for those helping the foundation to reach their goal of $200,000 for the Tony Gentile Memorial Scholarship.

“I love all the events we do,” says Jeanine. “But when we partner with the Ronald McDonald House for our Toy Delivery Day, and get to physically see the faces of the families we’re helping, it makes it all worth it.”

For more information, visit helpinghandsli.org or call 631-694-6868.


Maggie’s Mission: A Promise Kept

Maggie Schmidt

Behind every child diagnosed with pediatric cancer, there is a family fighting an arduous battle. In the case of Maggie Schmidt of Greenlawn, that battle became an enduring mission.

In October of 2016, the then-16-year-old girl met her life-altering diagnosis of malignant rhabdoid tumors (MRT), a rare and aggressive cancer that occurs mostly in infants and toddlers. When she consistently complained of increasing pain, her family knew something was very wrong.

“Maggie had a very high tolerance for pain,” says Maggie’s mother, Donna DeSousa-Schmidt. “It was all very hard — the speed at which the illness struck and the complete lack of availability of life-saving treatments.”

As the cancer resisted treatment and overtook her once healthy body, it did not diminish her spirit. One of Maggie’s final wishes to her family was having her spirit live on through helping others.

And so began Maggie’s Mission. The nonprofit foundation’s goal is to fund life-saving research and aid families that have been affected, while also raising awareness.

“Research for cures for pediatric cancers is completely underfunded,” DeSousa-Schmidt says, specifically indicating that less than 4 percent of federal funds go toward finding cures for childhood cancers and even less for the type of sarcoma Maggie had.  

From events such as Maggie‘s Challenge, held in schools during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, to a one-mile New Year’s Day race, a high school concert, and an Angelversary Gala, people have come together to not only celebrate Maggie’s life, but to honor and help those in similar situations.

Since Maggie’s battle with MRT ended on June 1, 2017, her foundation has raised nearly $700,000. Some of that funding has gone directly into MRT research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, while more than $50,000 has been donated to helping families financially. 

​“Typically one parent must stop working to care for the sick child, so not only is there a huge emotional toll but also a tremendous financial strain,” says DeSousa-Schmidt. “We’ve all come together to fulfill Maggie’s wish.”

To learn more about the mission, visit maggiesmission.org