Chronicles from My First Professional Development Workshop

Catherine Pergolis
Marketing and Communications Intern at United Way of Long Island
Attending Suffolk University in Boston, MA
Public Relations major with Marketing minor



On Wednesday, July 31st I had the privilege of attending the Bank of America Professional Development and Community Service Day in Melville, New York.  Also attending the event were 37 interns who participated in the Bank of America Charitable Foundation Summer Youth Employment Program, administered by United Way of Long Island.  Workshops such as career planning, resume writing, and financial literacy filled up the day’s agenda, which began at 9:00 in the morning and ended at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I had no idea that I would have a full day of interesting presentations and experiences that would teach me so much about my professional life now and in the future.

Mary Ellen King, Sr. Vice President of Global Human Resources at Bank of America, led the first workshop of the day which focused on career planning, resume writing and interview skills. Interns, including myself, were eager to hear about the key tips to getting a good job and becoming successful.  King emphasized to us that we should choose a career path they are passionate about and will outline their definition of success.

King advised interns to write a thank you note to their interviewer no later than 24 hours after they have the interview.  As a hiring manager in previous years, she explained to us that many thank you notes all look the same and if you want to stand out you need to personalize the thank you notes to make the interviewer feel a special connection.

As the workshop concluded, we were left with an interview tip: if you do not have any questions at the end of an interview, ask a question like, “What skills have made you successful in your role here?”

Our next workshop was called “The Power and Pitfalls of Social Media,” which was conducted by Karen Taylor-Bass of TaylorMade Media LLC.  We heard real life stories about social media posts that have been detrimental to people’s careers and were advised to think before posting.  Although many interns have heard this saying in the past, it was new for some of us to hear that college admissions officers look at an applicant’s social media platforms and if they find something offensive or distasteful they can easily rescind the admission offer.  Taylor-Bass explained what it means to buy your domain name and why this is so important; if you do not own your name on social media, someone else can purchase it, which can cause major problems. I was surprised that I could buy my domain name for less than $11.  I’m going to look into this!

After lunch we heard from Noelia Tissera, Vice President and Market Leader for Consumer Banking at Bank of America and Preetham Dhivakarababu, Vice President and Market Leader for Merrill Edge.  Both Tissera and Dhivakarababu spoke about how emotion and investing should not go hand in hand.  We were advised to commit to goals and time frames in order to invest properly.

The third workshop of the day was Financial Literacy and was directed by Cathy Duque, Vice President of Global Human Resources at Bank of America, and Yamiley Jabouin, Assistant Vice President of Global Banking and Markets at Bank of America.  I felt like this workshop was the most informational and encouraged us to start saving and budgeting.  Duque stated, “It’s not about how much you make, it’s about how you manage it.”  I agree with Duque and after hearing the presentation I am more interested in ways that I can cut down on spending.

Jabouin advised students to not have a credit card until they turn 21 because it is a life time relationship with the credit card company once you start.  I was grateful for this presentation because my misconceptions about money management were debunked.  Jabouin and Duque explained to us that when you receive your credit card bill you have the option to pay off the minimum balance or the entire amount.  I used to think that when you received a bill you would have to pay off the entire amount, now I understand how it actually works and why getting a credit card at a young age can have adverse effects.

Throughout the presentation there were some facts that really stood out to me.  I was stunned that 62% of Americans have less than $1000 in their savings account.  I did not realize that the majority of the United States struggles this much.  Another astonishing statistic is 63% of Americans can’t afford a $500 to $1000 repair on their car or home, leading them into debt.  After hearing these facts, it made me realize the importance of having an emergency fund for the obstacles life will throw at you.

The last portion of the day was our community service project led by Greta Guarton, Executive Director of Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. This was my favorite part of the day and it warmed my heart to give back to the community.  During this event, we created care packages for families who are homeless living on Long Island, consisting of socks, deodorant, soap, tissues, hand sanitizer, shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, chapstick, a comb and two granola bars.

Guarton explained that there are 4,000 individuals who are homeless in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  Along with the toiletries, each of us added notecards with hopeful messages to the bag of goods. In total, 204 bags were made by the end of the event.  I am so fortunate to have so much and I enjoyed creating care packages to help those in need.  Homelessness is something that no one should have to experience and I was grateful to be a part of the mission to end homelessness on Long Island.

Once the bags were finished, Bob Isaksen, Long Island President of Bank of America, spoke to us describing how we are the future.  Isaksen explained that first impressions mean everything on an interview and he was glad we heard tips on how to interview properly. In addition to Isaksen, we also heard remarks from Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Executive and Dana Boylan, Executive Director of Nassau County Office of Youth Services.  Bellone stated “How can we create and environment [on Long Island] where you can be successful?” Boylan stated that she is very committed to summer youth employment and emphasized, “Youth development is community development.”  Clearly Isaksen, Bellone and Boylan are three very passionate people about bettering the opportunities for youth so we can become successful and self-sufficient individuals.

All ten guest speakers really showed us that success is possible if you have the drive and the right mindset.  It was a fantastic day and I am so glad that I was able to receive so much information.

What’s a Home Energy Audit?

Since I began working at United Way of Long Island in November 2018, the terms “healthy home” and “energy audit” have been heard more than a handful of times. Then I found out about the “blower door.” That’s when I knew I needed in! As a new homeowner, I was extra intrigued by what knowledge an energy audit might equip me with…so I signed up for an energy audit through United Way of Long Island. Here’s the scoop on a home energy audit complete with pictures.

An energy audit provides homeowners with information about how energy efficient your home is and provides recommendations for how to help your home perform better. So, for example, if you have a drafty house (like mine!), want to know if you have safe carbon monoxide levels or if your boiler room is receiving proper air flow to functioning efficiently, an energy audit can help you. The process takes approximately 2 hours and is completely painless.

Meet Bob from American AWS! Bob led the energy audit. Upon arrival he completed a full house walk-through to understand the layout of the house and take an initial assessment. Afterward, he crawled through the attic spaces to inspect air flow and insulation, then performed a blower test on the front door to evaluate any air leaks in the house. Finally, Bob spent some time in the boiler/water heater room to measure flue gases in the boiler duct and complete a gas leakage test.

Bob inspects an outdoor air duct. Can you smell the fresh linens?

Bob inspects the garage and describes the attic space (you can crawl into the garage attic through the wood panel on the ceiling). I learned that our living room, which sits against the garage wall is probably drafty because of the attic air flow and insulation.

Bob uses a laser to measure the volume of the house, which will help him to determine what the air leakage rate should be in the house. This step is critical before the blower door test.


Bob installed a blower door, which depressurized the house to test air leakage. I couldn’t get the results immediately, but they will be sent to me in a written report in 1-2 weeks. My cat, on the other hand, concluded that the blower door is not her friend, but the tools sure smell nice…




In the boiler room, Bob inspected vents leading to the outdoors. He checked carbon monoxide and other gas levels in the flue (the silver tube connected to the boiler) to ensure there is enough oxygen in the boiler room for the boiler and water heater to run efficiently. Bob also tested for any gas leaks. Lucky for me, no gas leaks – phew!




A common health issue in Long Island homes is that bathroom vents are hooked up to attics as opposed to the outdoors, which doesn’t allow for optimal air flow. Be certain to check your bathroom’s venting system if you have one.

So what’s my conclusion? I recommend this process to everyone, especially new homeowners. It was easy and informative. Knowledge is power…

Thanks Bob!

To schedule your free energy audit, visit

To learn about United Way of Long Island’s Healthy Homes work, including energy audits, visit

A Letter of Gratitude

For 10 weeks in the spring, United Way of Long Island held a green construction course funded by the New York State Department of Labor for 25 students to learn the foundation of efficient building. One of those students, Eddie, wrote the following letter to express his gratitude for this life-changing opportunity after earning a new career with IBEW Local 25: 

DSC_0424Dear United Way of Long Island,

I was in a point in my life where I wasn’t too sure of what I wanted to do, after leaving my past job where there wasn’t much room for growth or development, it wasn’t for me. I felt like I needed to work on me, be more self empowered and figure out what I really wanted to do. While being unemployed, things started to get rough… low funds, doing job applications not getting any calls back. Then I had suffered an injury which gave me a  lack of confidence and made me less eager to succeed. I felt drained.

I would frequently visit the Department Of Labor office to look for job postings or any school programs that were coming up. While looking, a woman who worked there directed me towards this class, I started to review the list of what the class offered. The DOL class stood out to me, I felt like I could learn a lot and learn the basics on many different topics, which would help me find a direction of what I wanted to do.

Later, I was told the class was full, but I couldn’t accept that. That day I went down to the United Way office, I  insisted that I wanted to be apart of the class and I also expressed all the tools the class had that would help me succeed. I was highly impressed that Rick the program director was able to find a way to get me in, that made my day.

I didn’t think a lot of people who attended the class realized how much we were going to get from this program and the fact it was paid for by the New York State Department of Labor. By the second week I was highly fascinated, I saw that we were learning something serious so I made sure I would do well if I wanted to excel. Also what I liked about the class was that it introduced me to Volunteer opportunities which I always wanted to contribute to.

Close to the end of class we all took our BPI certification test, I was able to obtain the highest score in the class!! I felt really good, like I accomplished something major. Made me believe if I put my mind to something, I can achieve it.

After class, I fixed my resume and went on interviews and I was able to volunteer for the first time which I enjoyed. I filled out applications. I got calls back from engineering jobs, based on what I had learned from class. I never thought something like that would happen, it changed my mindset completely. I was fascinated with how many different types of engineering jobs, and union jobs all that I probably would’ve never had clear knowledge about if it wasn’t for the class.

Less then a week after graduation, I was able to secure a job I would’ve never thought I’d get so quickly. The course built up my confidence, feeling like I could go for positions I didn’t think I was qualified for but got calls for interviews.

I want to say that Steve did a great job of instructing the class, and from the beginning he challenged me to keep going , to think differently, and not give up. He provided me with the direction I needed to find the information that I wanted. I guess he saw something in me that I could really succeed, and I’m so grateful for that and grateful that Rick was able to get me in the class.


Finding a Passion for Psychology

United Way of Long Island’s DREAMS for Youth Scholarship Program provides scholarships to deserving students so that they may achieve their academic dreams of continuing their education. Here is a reflection from scholarship recipient Oscar of Brentwood, who is studying at Suffolk Community College with assistance from a Camilla G. Belser Memorial Scholarship.

Hello, my name is Oscar and I had the honor of being selected as a recipient of the Camilla Belser Scholarship. This scholarship has not only helped me financially, but has also allowed me to focus on my school work. As a first generation student, I did not know what to expect when I enrolled in college, and at first I was hesitant to enroll in a community college. But, being a student at Suffolk Community College has been a great experience which has exceeded my expectations.

As an honor program student at Suffolk, I have taken part in a rigorous academic environment but I would not have it any other way because this has exposed me to life-changing ideas, and I have met exceptional individuals who I am proud to call my friends.

My professors have also been great individuals who have enabled me to find my true passion. I have also taken part in various clubs such as the Honors Club, which allows me to continue giving back to my community.

When I first entered college, I was undecided about my major, but now as I enter my second year, I have declared a major in psychology. I have been accepted into the joint admission psychology program at Stony Brook University, where I plan to continue my studies after I receive my associates degree at Suffolk.

I am very grateful for the opportunity you have given me with this scholarship, and I know the only way to show you my gratitude is to continue my studies and continue achieving academic excellence. That is why I am happy to tell you that despite the academic challenges I have faced during my first year, I have been able to achieve a 3.8 GPA and a place on the dean’s list.

I am confident that with your financial support I will be able to excel academically as I enter my second year of college.

Thank you for believing in me and for your financial support. I am forever grateful.

Staying Strong for her Family

kelly-mason-izabella.jpgWhen a person is faced with challenges, it is often easier to collapse under the pressure than to rise above them. For Kelly of Huntington Station, despite the tragedies she’s faced, she knew she had to stay strong for the most important people in her life – her four children.

In 2012, Kelly was on a charter bus traveling upstate when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the bus. Following the accident, she had to undergo years of physical therapy – half of her face was paralyzed, she temporarily lost of the use of her right arm, and she developed a stutter.

“One of the hardest things I had to accept after my accident was how it affected my kids, and me as a mother,” said Kelly. “There were a lot of times that they had to make a bowl of cereal themselves because I couldn’t cook, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – basic things.”

As the years went by, Kelly’s physical limitations improved, and she felt that life was finally returning back to normal. “During the period after the accident, there was a lot of hard times,” she remembered. “But through the hard times you get closer as a family, and then eventually the hard times get better and better. I got stronger and the kids forgot about the bad times. Then…my dad died”.

In 2016, Kelly’s father suddenly passed away, and the positive progress that Kelly and her family had made was once again thrown into chaos. Closely following that, their family dog died, and Kelly realized the toll that all of this loss was having on her children. She reached out to United Way of Long Island partner agency Family Service League for help.

“When my dad died, I was the one who handled everything, I didn’t get to really feel what was going on, I was just on autopilot. In life, you stay strong as a defense mechanism to get through the tough times, but there comes a time when it comes and floods in. This was my moment. I’m very grateful to Family Service League, because they’ve mended us back from the confusion and not understanding how to handle and talk through things.”

Following those volatile months, Kelly’s financial situation became unstable and she found relief through United Way of Long Island’s Project Warmth, which provides one-time grants to utility companies on behalf of families struggling to pay their home heating bills. “I’m so grateful for Project Warmth because I know my children are going to be warm. The fact that the stress of that is gone, it means so much. It helps me be a better mother, to be able to focus on other important things.”

“The best person in the world is my mom,” adds Kelly’s 9-year-old son Mason. “She’s caring, she’s helpful, she’s generous, she helps people in need. I want to be kind and thoughtful like her, I want to help, it makes me happy when I get to help someone else”.

“To me, United Way is amazing because in life, a lot of bad things happen to good people. It’s refreshing that there is a person, and organization, who can help you through those rough times,” Kelly concluded. “Throughout the years, I have made it a point to donate, as well as give time to others. It’s a very humbling experience to be at a point of needing that help and receiving it, but the best thing of all is that my son has learned the importance of helping others, and now he wants to give back too!”

An Exercise in Team Work

YouthBuild student Jasmine was part of a class-wide exercise focusing on responsibility and accountability. She was elected as leader of the group, and was given the responsibility to give assignments and tasks to her team to complete the given goal. They were given 13 tasks to complete in just 90 minutes at Tanger Outlets in Deer Park. The group had to send each completed task to the group leader, who had to relay the accomplishment to YouthBuild staff. At the conclusion of the scavenger hunt, all of the students had to return to class together, as a cohesive team, and give a presentation with their findings.

Following the exercise, Jasmine wrote a short reflection on her experience, what she learned, and how it will help her grow:

“I was in charge of a scavenger hunt that tested my leadership skills in a group activity. We were asked to find several items throughout the Tanger Outlets; with those items, came certain instructions pertaining to them. We had a time limit to put forth the group effort to retrieve each item as instructed. As a group, we managed to complete the task in an unified fashion.

The lessons I learned from this activity were:

  • How to execute my time.
  • Work with others to reach a goal.
  • With teamwork, you can accomplish more.
  • With the support of others, you can reach higher goals than expected.
  • How to lead a group with many different personalities.
  • Set aside any differencesto achieve the goal at hand.

The skills and experience that I’ve expressed about this exercise will help me dearly in my everyday life including my career choice. I will have to learn how to function around others and always be mindful that everyone has different ways of completing task.

I learned that everyone together on the same page can most definitely make a task easier and will bring a group together full of ideas. I learned that MY WAY isn’t just the only way and that my way may not always be the only correct way.”

The Promise of a New Life

DSC_1396For John, a usual trip to the local library took a turn from the ordinary when he stumbled across a flier that would change his life. An advertisement for YouthBuild Long Island caught his eye as he made his way to an English group conversation – a staple in his routine since he had dedicated himself to becoming fluent in English.

At the time, John was determined to go to college, but first had to get his high school equivalency diploma. After taking the time to learn more about YouthBuild and its mission to assist young men and women with career preparation – including the attainment of their high school equivalency diplomas – he  recognized the program as the perfect opportunity to meet his goal. Though, even for all his determination, the path to success was still an uphill battle.

An Ecuadarian native, John spent much of the prior year familiarizing himself with a new land and language. He committed himself to making the most of his new start and pursuing higher learning by whatever means possible. However, when he started YouthBuild in February 2017, he couldn’t help but feel that his efforts weren’t paying off quick enough. “I was nervous. Some people had already taken their TASC test, and I felt like I had done awful just on the placement test, alone,” he admits. The challenge of keeping up with his subjects was made even more difficult by trying to keep up with his classmates. “People would raise their hands to answer questions, and I didn’t understand them. I felt like for every hour they spent studying, I spent two,” he recalls.

When the time came, he passed his TASC test – much to his own surprise. “I didn’t finish the Math section, and I didn’t think I passed. I was so anxious about getting my score,” he remembers. When he simply couldn’t wait any longer, he called for the results and got the good news. “I wanted to scream or cry,” he says. “I was so happy that everything paid off.”

In the past, he didn’t always feel that he earned his grades, as he often struggled to retain what he learned from one year to the next. “If you can’t recover what you learned, can you really say that you’re educated?” he asks. As he completed YouthBuild, however, there was no question that he was walking away with a new lease on learning. “What I didn’t learn in ten years, I was able to learn in one,” he says. “I’m really happy because I feel like I truly deserve this. I put everything into it.” According to John, his experience with YouthBuild was made even more valuable by the extensive effort it required.

Going forward, John has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. With his history of determination, his next move comes as no surprise: “Now, I plan on going to college.”