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.

–Eddie

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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.”

A Day of Learning and Service

Geselle, joining United Way for the summer as an intern through The Jaggar Community Fellows Program at Adelphi’s Center for Career and Professional Development, reflects on her experience at the Bank of America Professional Development and Community Service Day. 

DSC_1471As an intern with United Way, I recently had the opportunity to attend The Professional Development and Community Service Day at the Bank of America headquarters in Melville, part of their Summer Youth Employment program. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I could never have anticipated how much I would learn from everyone at the event -from the interns to the presenters to the event supervisors – in just one day.

I arrived to see the familiar faces of my United Way co-workers helping set up the event amidst dozens of fresh-faced interns from countless agencies across Long Island. As everyone was getting settled for breakfast, each intern was given an ice breaker activity, which was a bingo board that could only be completed with the help of asking others for a random fact about themselves. This allowed me to get to know a number of the interns there very quickly, learning about them and who they worked for, and while I only managed to fill up one row on the board, it was fun introducing myself to so many new people.

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Lorraine Aycock, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Business & Community Engagement at Bank of America, and United Way of Long Island Board Member, said that the program is part of a national effort by the Bank’s Charitable Foundation. “On Long Island, [Bank of America], with the help of the Nassau and Suffolk Youth Bureaus, was able to partner with United Way to connect with local nonprofits and key stakeholders, and offer the program to their interns working for the summer,” she explained. Regarding the importance of the event, Aycock said that “granting professional employment development to our youth will help encourage them to stay focused on getting a career, which will bring a positive impact for their future.”

After an introductory greeting by Bank of America Long Island President Robert Isaksen, the event began with a career planning and preparation presentation with the Senior Vice President of Bank of America’s Global Human Resources, Mary Ellen King. With a smile and plenty of handshakes to all the interns, King spoke about first impressions in interviews, as well as how to decide on which career is the best fit, and how to network with potential agencies and individuals via personal connections and social media.

After a short break, Bank of America’s Senior Vice President Cathy Duque and Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor James Lubin gave a detailed presentation on financial literacy, showing us how to set up a simple monthly budget plan and practice healthy financial habits, as well as explaining how retirement plans and savings accounts really work. Interns also got to share some of their experiences regarding how they handle their money, with a few offering good advice on how to save with limited net payments.

After lunch, the interns were treated to a presentation by Angelina Darrisaw, founder of professional development consulting company C-Suite Coach, during which she talked about the ins-and-outs of creating, establishing, and defining a personal brand. Darrisaw discussed with the group how they saw brands and how they could begin developing or improving their own, and stressed how a strong and consistent brand, especially on social media, can potentially help them secure a job.

Madelyn Santana, an intern at Hispanic Brotherhood, said she had learned quite a lot from the professional development presentations, especially from the financial literacy segment. “I [got] to learn more about saving money for any emergency that I [could] have,” Santana remarked. Another intern from Hispanic Brotherhood, Nelson Checo, felt the same way, and stated that he overall thought the professional development was “a good experience on how to meet other people and work on projects as a group.”

Professional development wasn’t the only thing the interns got from the event. At the end of the day, we had the opportunity to help Maureen Mantesta and her team from Birthday Wishes of Long Island prepare birthday boxes for more than 100 homeless children. Each intern wrapped up a cardboard box, which they then filled with birthday goodies such as party hats and noisemakers. Many of the interns, including myself, had a bit of trouble trying to wrap up the boxes, but we nonetheless had a lot of fun completing each one.

IMG_6010At the end of the day, the interns brought each and every birthday box to a van, and lined up to take a group picture for a job well done. Everyone, especially the supervisors, were grateful to be involved in the event.

Thomas Ciravolo, a current intern at the Town of Huntington’s Summer Youth Connection, remarked that the community service project was his favorite part of the event. “Through the project we were all able to help kids that would’ve otherwise not been able to celebrate because of their situation,” said Ciravolo. “It was great that we all came together to contribute to the greater good.” Santana and Checo also spoke highly of the Birthday Wishes community project, with Checo commenting on how the interns “were helping [one another]” and how they “were giving to people that needed [their help].”

“To me, the event was a great success, as many interns did not only come out with knowledge that they hadn’t previously known, but also left feeling good knowing that they also got to help those in need,” said Trish Rivers, United Way’s Community Impact Program Associate. As one of the main organizers of this event, Rivers explained that the process all depended on United Way working with the Nassau and Suffolk Youth Bureaus to see which agencies were able to be involved and which interns were able to go. And after all the effort, Rivers commented that she was more than happy that they got to take something important from the event.

“So far, [the program] has proven to be a valuable investment for us,” stated Aycock. “This event has really helped in reinforcing the Bank’s commitment to developing productive citizens for the future, both personally and professionally.”

As for me, the Professional Development and Community Service Day did prove to be more than just a day of seminars: I got to learn new budgeting techniques, acquire a whole new perspective on how to make a brand and network for myself, and had the chance to help the community at the end of the day. Coupled with getting the opportunity to work and learn with so many new people with vastly different backgrounds, the event at Bank of America was a day to remember.

 

 

On the Road to Independence

DSC_1383_0United Way of Long Island through its ‘Switching Gears’ program, has provided a recent YouthBuild Long Island graduate Christopher with his own transportation.

The program, funded by the generosity of the Island Outreach Foundation, enables students the opportunity to own an affordable and reliable pre-owned vehicle, at no cost.  Eligible students who meet specific criteria must write a one-page essay describing why they deserve to receive the vehicle, and their long-term plan to maintain and care for it physically and financially.

The program came at the perfect time for Christopher, who works as a Process Operator at Estee Lauder and has to travel the extensive distance from his home in Wyandanch to his job in Melville. Christopher has held this position after earning his high school equivalency diploma and graduating from YouthBuild with the Directors Award in 2016. Christopher’s experiences with YouthBuild allowed him to secure a career path with the potential for growth and the possibility to climb the corporate ladder toward financial stability. The commute to work, however, presented problems for Christopher, as it was not only time consuming, but he was also at the mercy of unreliable public transportation.

“Relying on public transportation or taxis made it difficult to get to work on time, and my job has been at risk before because I had been late,” said Christopher. “I am incredibly appreciative of this car. It’s such a relief to have a dependable means to get to work every day.”

“There is no reason that a young person with the drive to succeed should fail simply because they cannot get to and from work,” said Theresa A. Regnante, President and CEO of United Way of Long Island. “We are proud to provide Christopher with this car – he deserves to have the peace of mind knowing he can earn a living and support himself without the added stress of inconsistent or costly transportation.”

Participants in the program receive a warranty that includes yearly maintenance on the car and membership to United Way’s ‘Car Club’, which helps to educate the recipients on how to care for and maintain their vehicle and provides access to supportive services and referrals.

To learn more about YouthBuild Long Island visit http://www.unitedwayli.org/youthbuildli.