Students Who Make Us Smile

In it’s 8th year, United Way of Long Island’s annual Stuff-A-Bus program partnered with four Long Island bus transportation companies (Suffolk Transportation Service, Educational Bus Transportation, Huntington Coach Corporation, East End Bus Lines) to collect and deliver a record 150,000 school supplies from companies, organizations and individuals across Long Island to more than 6,000 local elementary school students.

The Stuff-A-Bus program provides students from low-income families with new school supplies, preparing them for their academic studies, building their self-esteem, and setting them up for success. Supplies include backpacks, lunch boxes, notebooks, pencils, crayons and scissors – items that young children require in order to excel in their studies.

Supplies were delivered to eight school districts: Copiague, Wyandanch, South Huntington, Central Islip, Brentwood, Freeport, South Country and William Floyd.

Administration, teachers, and students from Lauretta Park Elementary School in Brentwood took the time to write thank you notes, expressing their gratitude for these supplies. You can view these letters, and drawings below. These letters don’t belong to only United Way – they are meant for everyone who donated and collected supplies that allow these children to write and draw these letters.

Running a Marathon for her Family

Deena Only.jpgDeena Menendez of Hauppauge is beginning to undertake the long and rigorous training schedule that will eventually bring her to the New York City Marathon this November. The 26.2 grueling miles will be a quest for personal achievement, but more important to Deena is the cause she will be running for.

Deena, who is a claims adjuster for GEICO in Woodbury, will be joined by runners from other corporations who support United Way of Long Island to form Team Mission United.

The Team will run while raising funds and public awareness for Mission United, which serves active military and veterans across Long Island.

For Deena running for Mission United is a labor of love. Her husband Ed, who served during both Desert Storm and Desert Shield, is an Air Force veteran. Her association with the military does not end there.

Deena’s 26-year-old son Scott served in the US Army. Her oldest son Sean, who is 28, is currently in the Coast Guard serving in Astoria, Oregon and youngest son Shane at 20 is a Marine in San Diego.

Deena is involved in a leadership role with GEICO for their United Way of Long Island Annual Workplace Campaign.  When hearing about the opportunity, her past supervisor, who knew she both ran and had a military background, approached her about being nominated to represent GEICO on Team Mission United.

Deena was honored, saying that, “Joining the Team is the least I can do to help raise money for what active military and veterans have done for us.”

Deena also takes pride in representing GEICO. As a military mom and wife, she has long seen how GEICO supports Mission United and veteran’s causes. Deena has been impressed by GEICO’s philanthropic spirit since she joined the company. She recalled that “From the moment I walked into GEICO 13 years ago I was impressed and inspired how they offer a helping hand to not only those in need but also to our associates. One of GEICO’s undertakings is to help place and find jobs for veterans within the company.”

John Pham, GEICO Regional Vice President and Chair-Elect of United Way of Long Island is pleased that Deena is competing for Mission United. He commented, “Deena is running for all of us here at GEICO. She represents our own commitment to both supporting and hiring veterans. Mission United is near and dear to the hearts of so many of our associates who support the program. To have a valued associate from a military family run to represents GEICO shows our firm commitment to those who have served.”20160817_074312

Deena’s first distance run came this past winter when she entered the Disney Half Marathon in Florida during a family vacation. To keep it all in the family husband Ed joined in as well as their 15-year-old daughter Starlette.  The family got interested in running when Starlette, who has Downs Syndrome, joined a running club that trains at Hauppauge High School.

Deena is already gearing up for the Marathon. She is currently running 2 miles a day, will up that to 10 miles by June and then do a 23 mile run in October before she starts to taper down prior to the race.

Deena is anxious to meet her teammates and talk about running and raising money for Mission United. Although GEICO is offering Deena support, she wants to go above and beyond and raise all the money she can.

Although running in the New York City Marathon has been on Deena’s bucket list, doing it for her family is a major motivation. Deena said that  “Raising money for Mission United to me is supporting what my children and husband have done for the country. I want to give back to them and everyone who has served in the military.”

By the way, Deena and Ed have a fifth child, daughter Siobhan. Currently, she has no military aspirations. Deena reflected that “I have an Air Force Husband and boys who have served in the Army, Coast Guard, and Marines. The only branch that is missing is the Navy!”

Maybe someday.

Support Deena, and the entire Mission United Team today! 

Bellport Students Spend the Summer with YouthBuild

For seven weeks during July and August, YouthBuild Long Island hosted fifteen students from the Bellport area for a special summer initiative, held at the Boys and Girls Club of the Bellport Area. These students, aged 17-24, participated in fun, engaging and enriching activities, including exposure to opportunities that they would not have ordinarily had the opportunity experience.

Throughout the week, the days differed as the students learned about different ways they can set themselves up for success, both professionally and personally. Their schedule included Career Readiness and Leadership Development workshops, Career Exploration tours, and internships with local business partners.

img952136Through Career Readiness instruction, students learned about significant factors that can influence their future in the workforce, including social media (the pros and dangers), communications, interview skills, healthy conflict and how to deal with it in the workplace and job search strategies.

Leadership Development afforded students the opportunity to speak on issues affecting their lives that often don’t have an appropriate forum. Discussions range from communication (passive, assertive and aggressive), violence in the community, life circumstances that often get in the way of our success, and of course, personal development.DSCN0686.JPG

Each Wednesday, students traveled off-site to businesses to learn about the many different career paths available to them. These excursions included Covanta, which works with companies to find sustainable solutions to their waste management challenges, Hampton Inn, where the students learned about the intricacies of running a hotel, B/E Aerospace, Job Corps in Edison, New Jersey, Riverhead Building Supply, and a special behind-the-scenes tour of Fox News in Manhattan.

Students also took part in a one-day solar panel training from GRID Alternatives and applied these newly-learned skills during a two-day work project in Riverhead where students worked alongside the YouthBuild and GRID’s construction staff installing solar panels on a home.

20160824_124717.jpgThroughout the summer, students had the opportunity to hear from a variety of guest speakers including:

Steve Weinstein, Access Careers Institute spoke to the students about the various careers in the medical and healthcare industry and current market trends.

Kyle Caravousanos. Bethpage Federal Credit Union spoke to students about saving and checking accounts, student loans, credit score, and managing finances in a responsible manner.

Although seven weeks might not seem very long, students discovered that they were capable of success and took steps to better their lives.

Dashawn of Bellport made a positive impression on his employer at Carmen’s Canoe and Kayak and was offered a permanent position.

Osei learned about higher education opportunities and will be attending the University of Buffalo in the fall. He said “I liked the work tours, that he appreciated the behind-the- scenes operations of big businesses, the experience, for him was very insightful. It made me want to go back to school and obtain my degree.”

13975459_10154261954266655_8521912847544736160_oWhen asked about what they enjoyed about the program, Terrance from Center Moriches
said, “I liked everything, the trips, learning how to do the solar paneling, the entire experience. Especially how to communicate better because I like to hold things in and YouthBuild taught me how to express myself in a healthy, assertive way. In fact, I learned a lot of little things that can help me with my success.”

Kimberly from Stonybrook, said, “It was good, I enjoyed everything; the trips, what I learned…that there is a lot of opportunities for young people. Prior to this, I felt like those of us who may feel hopeless because of where we come from, had very little opportunity to succeed. This experience showed me that opportunities are there for those of us that struggle with our situations.”

This summer program opened many doors for these young people – a few of whom will be joining YouthBuild for the full program this fall. We look forward to seeing them apply what they learned this summer into their life as they continue their positive progress!

Studying the Arts Abroad

After studying abroad in Florence, DREAMS for Youth Scholarship recipient Marie St-Cyr shares her thoughts on the experience, made possible by an enrichment scholarship.

What is the educational experience abroad like? How does it compare to that at home?

The educational experience abroad is very different from the one back at my home college. At the Lorenzo De Medici the teachers help us learn about the way we approach art instead of just creating it. The process behind the artwork is more important than the technicality. I feel that I have definitely grown a lot by attending this school. In one semester, I have produced triple the amount of artwork here than I usually do back at FIT. Although the workload is a lot, I am enjoying it. Compared to FIT, here at Lorenzo de Medici, I am given more freedom to pursue what I want to do. The teachers also help guide me in the right direction. For the second half of the semester, all of the students have to work on their own independent project, which I really like because it allows me to pursue something that I am really interested in. The classes here are also very small, only 9 students or less, compared to FIT where there would be 21 students in a painting class. Overall, I have gained quite a bit of knowledge from studying abroad that augments my education at the Fashion Institute of Technology back home.

Are there other students from the states and other parts of the world involved with the program?

There are about seven other students from my major that are also participating in the program, but overall there are about 300 students from FIT that are involved with the program. There are also many other students from around the world that are involved with the program, mainly from England.

Have you made new friends and learned anything new about life from being abroad?

I have made a lot of new friends during my stay in Italy. Many of my classmates from FIT that are also involved with the program, I have become close friends with them. I am also happy that I became close with my housemates, especially my roommate Clara, who is also from FIT. While traveling across Europe I have met a lot of amazing people who made me laugh and helped me navigate my way around Europe. I have learned a lot about life from being abroad. It was very interesting to see how friendly and laid back many of the people in Europe were. While on tour in Denmark, a tour guide told us that in that country, many take time out to “relax and make sure that they hurry less as they and work toward satisfaction”. I have decided to make my new motto for life. I have learned to be more relaxed and to embrace change! I have definitely grown from being abroad.

Where you able to visit other countries in Europe?

During Spring Break, my room-mate and I were able to backpack through 14 countries staying at local hostels that charge as little as $10.00 per night. It was great to see not only the artwork but also many points of interest that I had only read about.

Student Reflection – Bank of America Professional Development and Community Service Day

By Toni Hughes

Hughes, ToniThursday, July 21, 2016 was the second year that I attended Bank of America’s Professional Development and Community Service Day. Forty young people from all over Long Island came together for this eventful day of professional development, financial literacy, social media etiquette and community service. I had a lot of fun at this same event last year, but this year I found myself more invested in and intrigued by the topics, as I found myself with more responsibilities.

The day began at 9:00a.m with the most genius combination of activities ever, eating and playing. As you were handed a nametag and raffle ticket you were presented with a wonderful table full of bagels, juices, water, coffee, butters, jams, and
cream cheeses. During breakfast a classic game of “People Bingo,” a game in which we all had to introduce ourselves to each other in order to find someone who matched our bingo squares and complete our bingo sheets was played. During the game I met a lot of interesting people, one person’s name was Jay and she knew how to Tango, which was both interesting and groupuseful because that was one of my last missing squares. I also met Kristian, who truly loved his college, Johnson and Wales, and his major, Culinary Arts. We spoke about when I was going on college tours how I visited Johnson and Wales and I thought that it was
absolutely spectacular with its delicious food cooked by students like him. What can I say, I was blinded by my love of food. At the end of the game, two prizes were given to two randomly chosen young people who had competed the entire bingo sheet.

Throughout the day a number of candid photos were taken along with one large photo opportunity alongside Bank of America Executive staff. We were also introduced to a variety of leaders throughout the day. These were the kind of people that you wanted to get a business card from, as they could be a helpful future contact. All of the day’s wonderfully kind and informative people of Bank of America included Lorraine Aycock, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Business & Community Engagement, Mary Ellen King, Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources, Bob Isaksen, the Long Island Market President, Cathy Duque, Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources, and James Lubin, a Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch. Two of the presenters who were not a part of Bank of America, were Alicia Ray, a Digital Media Professional & Graphic Design Professor, and Sandra Mahoney, Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Long Island.


Mary Ellen King,Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources, teaching the students valuable interview skills

After breakfast, there was a welcome from Lorraine Aycock and Sandra Mahoney. They explained what would happen throughout the day, introduced all of the leaders in the room, and then had students introduce ourselves to the room. These always awkward but usually incredibly funny introductions were followed by a PowerPoint presentation that was put together by Mary Ellen King on career planning, resume writing, and interviewing skills. With this presentation, we were taught how to properly prepare for and act at an interview, from fleshing out our resume to shaking hands and even to sending a thank you card or e-mail to our interviewer the day after the interview. Mrs. King was so invested in assuring that everyone understood the importance of a good handshake and greeting during an interview with a possible employer that she went around the entire room and ensured that she got to shake every students’ hand. At the conclusion of the PowerPoint program Mr. Bob Isaksen took over.



Bob Isaksen, Long Island President of Bank of America, speaking to students

Bob Isaksen asked some of the students what they were interested in doing in the future and how their current summer jobs through the Bank of America’s Youth Employment Program could help them. He also asked how many students wanted to stay on Long Island and how many wanted to either go into New York City or leave the state/country completely. Barely anyone raised their hands to stay on Long Island, but I was one of these few. Most of the young people wanted to go into New York City and there were two or three who wanted to leave the state or country. I told Mr. Isaksen how I want to be a high school psychologist and that this summer job is helpful to me by connecting me with people who could be helpful contacts in the future. Kristian stated how he wants to open up a restaurant to teach teenagers how to cook, which would be like an afterschool extracurricular. After Mr. Isaksen spoke to us, there was a photo opportunity and everyone went to the lobby to take a group photo with both Bob Isaksen and Lorraine Aycock.



Financial Adviser James Lubin, and Senior Vice President Cathy Duque

After the large group photo was taken the day’s Financial Literacy program began. Now this was probably the most useful part of the day for me. Cathy Duque and James Lubin ran the program and taught all us young people about credit cards, debit cards, credit scores, and budgeting. Mr. Lubin started the presentation and asked how many of us students budgeted and believed ourselves to be good at it. Barely anyone raised their hands. He then gave us advice on how to save money and asked how many of us knew our credit score. This time a few people raised their hands but not many more than the last time. Mr. Lubin then followed up by explaining the different levels of credit scores, ranging from exceptional to poor. I now know that an exceptional score ranges from 800-850, a very good score is around 740-799, good is 670-739, fair is 580-669, and poor is anywhere from 300-579. I also went home after this day and checked my own credit score. I’m currently waiting for the results.


studentsAfter Mr. Lubin talked to us, Mrs. Duque did her part in explaining the difference between credit and debit cards, along with explaining in very simple terms how credit card companies are built to make themselves money. She pretty much stated that people have to take out credit cards in order to better their credit scores, meaning that they have to get into debt at some point in their lives, which can be a setup for failure if you’re not careful. She also told us to always read the fine print on credit card contracts and to be careful of cards that say they have 0% interest because those usually have outrageous interest rates after a certain time period, such as a year. At the end of this half of the day, the presenters asked if any of us had any questions about finances to which a lot of students had questions ranging from how to save up money for college to how to get a loan to open up a business in the future.

Once the financial literacy portion of the day was over my next favorite part of the day came, more food! At noon, lunch was served. Lunch consisted of salads, sandwiches, sodas, and water. YUM!


Alicia Sherwood-Ray, digital media professional & graphic design professor, showing the impact of social media

At the end of the lunch period, a display on how social media can both positively and negatively affect one’s life was shown by Alicia Ray. Mrs. Ray taught us how easily one can ruin their entire life by a decision they decide to share on social media because nothing on the internet is truly private, hidden, or deleted. It’s scary to say but there is such a thing as “Big Brother” because bots, the cloud, and stations monitor everything. Snapchat is not really secure, everyone! Like I said, nothing truly disappears. She had everyone Google themselves, as she had done in the past, and look at what came up. She also informed us of different websites employers use to weed out and learn about possible and current employees. One website that was particularly interesting to me was I searched myself on both Google and Nothing came up for me on Google, but for Pipl I did find my YouTube account along with my Pinterest, which I never made private. You can bet that I privatized my Pinterest account after I found it, and if there was a way to make my YouTube account private I would do that too.


Now, even though when I Googled my name I found nothing when I Googled my name and the town where I live I found a whole Google page on myself, sheesh. Luckily, all of the pages are of good things, such as the different plays and musicals I was in, my swimming times, and being on the news for having twelve-years of perfect attendance. Mrs. Ray told everyone that even though there is no way to really delete any of the bad things you do online, one of the simplest/most effective ways to streamline information about ourselves is to make our social media pages private and to think twice about what we post before we post it. She also gave us a loophole, create a lot of positive content, such as opening up a blog and creating other pages with information about ourselves, in order to try to push some of our less proud days further and further back on Google pages. There’s your sly tip of the day, you’re welcome!


PR Manager Dana Lope of the Mary Brennan INN

The last activity of the day was a community service project with Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN), an organization that helps those in need, such as those who are homeless, or just in dire need get daily necessities, such as food, showers, or clothing. The representative for the organization told us about a man who was a three-time medalist at the Olympics and was one of the people that the organization helped.


She told us that the INN does not ask questions about how someone got into their particular situation, but that when this man willingly told his story it reminded her that everyone has a backstory. Once the speech about how this community service project would help those in need concluded everyone, youth and adults alike, were asked, to prepare sandwiches. In total, there were 1,500 sandwiches made, some were turkey and cheese, others were bologna, and the last kind were cheese. Helping others always made me feel good, so when I learned that all of the prepared sandwiches would be distributed the next day, a Friday, as the INN is not open on the weekends, and that the sandwiches I made would assist in getting these people through that timeframe I felt both proud and humbled.

During the concluding remarks, where Sandra Mahoney spoke, she thanked everyone for attending this important event and invited us all to come back next year. She also pulled out the winning raffle ticket of the day from the morning that all students were entered in. A young man won and seemed very happy to receive his basket full of movie snacks, four movie tickets, and some more goodies to enjoy at a cinematic wonder. Everyone was allowed to take a Bank of America notebook and pen along with a Bank of America folder that held useful information about budgeting and a printed version of Mrs. King’s career planning presentation as a parting gift.

To me the entire day, from beginning to end, was a wonderful learning experience and a great day for everyone, myself included, to make business connections, as I have been saying this entire writing. With this said, a few people asked for business cards at the end of the program, so I think that it was a success.



An Iron Worker With A Heart of Gold

Anthony Royster PictureAnthony Royster is on top of the world – literally as an iron worker stationed on the Verrazano Bridge, and figuratively with a happy and loving family at home – but it wasn’t always this way.

Anthony grew up in a single-parent home in Wyandanch, with an older sister and two younger brothers where physical and mental abuse was commonplace. Without positive role models in his life, he searched for an escape, but was led down the wrong path where he was later arrested and incarcerated.

Upon his release, Anthony realized he needed to turn his life around. He had heard about United Way of Long Island’s YouthBuild program from a cousin who had participated and successfully graduated, and the timing couldn’t have been better. In an effort to build a better life for himself, as well as his soon-to-be-born daughter, he decided to take a positive step and enroll. “I wanted to do something with myself, and become the man I always knew I should be,” Anthony explained.

With a new found sense of self and determination, Anthony completed the program in December of 2014, and graduated in June of 2015 when he earned his GED. It took four attempts to reach this milestone goal, but his experience in YouthBuild taught him the importance of perseverance, and he never gave up.

As a single father raising his young daughter, Anthony moved to North Carolina in April of 2015 and worked alongside his grandfather at a cab stand. This opportunity, along with his learnings from YouthBuild, put into practice the value of hard work and what comes with having a steady and reliable job. He moved back to New York that September, when he learned about United Way partner organization Opportunities Long Island, an intensive pre-apprenticeship training program that provides direct-entry into the local union. He completed his training program and graduated in April, quickly securing a new career working as an iron worker apprentice for Local 361 Union Structural Iron workers on the Verrazano Bridge.

These days, Anthony’s life is full of promise. He comes home each day to his wife Nadia, her daughter Laila and his daughter Mia who are both two years old and the best of friends. He has ambitions to further his education, own his own business and buy a home for his family.

“I am a man now, before I was a young boy looking out for only myself,” he says. “YouthBuild helped me get out of my comfort zone and I am a better man, a better husband, a better father looking to help my community in the best way possible. I’m still growing and have things I need to work on, but I’d like to speak to the students and people who are struggling around me and tell them that nothing is handed to you. You have to put in the extra effort, you have to want to change the cycle of negativity.”

It’s important to Anthony that he be the role model he never had as a young man. He adds “Be patient – patience saves you. Reach out to positive people, YouthBuild is full of positive individuals and they are all role models. Change is your responsibility – make your mother proud, your little siblings proud, your kids proud. When you get knocked down, all you can do is get back up and keep going.”

Anthony may work with iron and steel, but with his heart of gold the possibilities are endless.

Starting Anew at Age 82!

DSC_0220.JPGThe phrase “A strong work ethic” is a fitting description for Korean Era veteran David Himmelheber, but doesn’t quite do his drive justice. He has worked hard his whole life and is not looking to stop anytime soon, especially after graduating from VetsBuild and beginning a new career at the age of 82.

David had a good upbringing; the middle of seven children, he was born in Clarksville, Indiana. He observed how hard his dad worked during The Great Depression and World War II in order to succeed and provide for his family. His father’s work ethic has made everlasting lasting impression on David and the way he lives his life.

During World War II, the Himmelheber’s moved to Bloomington, Indiana. David’s dad, a radio buff who built one of the first Crystal Radios, was invited to teach electronics and radio to teenage kids who dropped out of high school.

Eventually David’s dad started to work on radio equipment for war planes. This is when David acquired his love for the military and flight, and at 16, he joined the Local Civil Air Patrol. As an 18-year old in high school, he joined a new Indiana National Guard Unit being organized by local World War II veterans (Company B, 138th Heavy Tank Battalion). After just one year, he was promoted to Staff Sargent (E-5) as a Tank Commander.

In 1950 he enrolled at Western Kentucky University, but in 1952, just one year into his college education, he dropped out to join the U.S. Navy Pilot training program during the Korean War. Eventually he ended up on the flight deck of the ill-fated USS Bennington.

At about 6:01 a.m. on May 26, 1954, while cruising about 60 miles off eastern Long Island, disaster struck. During a pre-dawn launch of all aircrafts, the hydraulic fluid in the catapult control room began leaking fluid in mist form, which was then detonated in the “nonsmoking zone” by a cigarette-smoking sailor. This set off a series of over 20 secondary explosions in the front part of the warship which killed 104 crew men and badly injured 210 others.

Himmelheber escaped serious injury and was able to assist those who were not so lucky. For his actions he was awarded the Naval Commendation Medal for Valor.

The aircraft carrier eventually limped into New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn for repair. During this time of reconstruction, David and his fellow shipmates often journeyed into Manhattan to attended USO dances. This is where he met his wife of 60 years. They were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and settled on Long Island.

David started his working career as an engineer aid and then as a cost accountant at Sperry Gyroscope in New Hype Park. He graduated from St. John’s University in 1960, part of  the first graduating class from the new Queens campus. Following his graduation, David  set his sights on a Wall Street career, and what a career it was.

David first started working for others, then he spent almost 20 years at his own research firm; totaling 35 years as a successful stock analyst.

When the market began to decline as a result of 9/11, the demand for stock research began to drop, and for the first time in his life, David was out of work.

Not being one to sit around for long, he started to work selling Verizon FIOS, where he quickly became one of their top sales people. After five years, he moved on to work for construction material sales and then one day he saw an interesting ad in his local Pennysaver.

“I saw an ad about a program from United Way of Long Island called VetsBuild for military veterans where, if accepted, I could learn about green construction that could perhaps lead to a new career at 82,” recalled Himmelheber.DSC_0229.JPG

Accepted into the program, David thrived among his younger counterparts. He said, “I have always been inquisitive and outgoing. I did the entire program including the hands-on construction skills. The instructors were great, and before I knew it, I had the tools for a new career. VetsBuild gives veterans the chance to learn a new job or convert from conventional construction to green building. It’s a great program.”

At the VetsBuild graduation, he met Robert Schwartz of AMERICAN A.W.S. in Holbrook. The company performs home energy audits to save homeowners money and convert to cleaner forms of power. The two quickly connected and Himmelheber joined their team.

At 85, he is not slowing down. David said, “I work full time with new customers, assisting in their audits, explaining the findings and helping them acquire new cleaner energy alternatives at lower cost.”

With a wife and four grown children, Himmelheber lives in Commack and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. With a house to maintain and bills to pay he is happy to still be an active part of Long Island workforce. Putting it all into perspective, David said with a laugh, “I need the money and I like the work. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

Quite a story!