Honoring our Hometown Heroes

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 volunteering with United Way at the Islip Arts Council Concert in the Park.

DSC_1374Part of being an intern at United Way of Long Island is to be a part of a huge team of employees, managers, and volunteers that work together to help our community. Never did I think of how big my team really was until I volunteered at Islip Arts Council’s Concert in the Park last weekend.

On a sunny Saturday evening, after a near hour-long trip from my home to Heckscher State Park, I was met with crowds of concert-goers arriving to the event and already setting up to see the show. The same amount of excitement went for the organizations, including the Islip Arts Council and United Veterans Beacon House, that were setting up their booths all around the field, as I quickly saw hundreds of volunteers pitching up the tents and setting the tables before the main event, and the United Way/Mission United team were no exception. In fact, they were almost done.

Being among all the activity, I immediately went to work finding anything I could help with: setting up signs pointing to our booth, putting up tables and placing everything on them, including Mission United T-shirts, as well as donated giveaways such as small fans, energy efficient lightbulbs and camouflage drawstring bags.  I even built a Spin-to-Win wheel for the contest booths. I saw familiar faces from United Way, and met more than 70 volunteers hailing from companies all over Long Island including PSEG Long Island, Capital One, Enterprise, GEICO, Suffolk Transportation Service, Inc., Target, UPS, IRS and Petro/Star Gas/Meenan, all of whom were dedicated in helping out and working together with the set-up. It was inspiring to see so many people from so many different places coming together in support of an important cause.

IMG_5602About an hour before the show began, I was settled in a booth with Biena who I have been working with at United Way, where we were in charge of offering Mission United shirts to attendees for a small contribution, as well as managing one of the Spin-to-Win games and raffle for a military-style backpack. It was great seeing Long Islanders of all ages arriving to wear one of our shirts, as well as families and kids coming over to play the games where more than half of the players won a drawstring bag, which everyone enjoyed!

It was near dusk when the Long Island Concert Orchestra, led by David Stewart Wiley, kicked off their performance with a plethora of classical and contemporary scores. It was a sight to behold, seeing a stage full of bright lights occupied by what looked to be a 100-person orchestra, in front of thousands of people watching the show in near-darkness. For everyone and myself, the live music was a pleasant treat, with many of the songs displaying good old-fashioned Americana. Near the end of show, their performance was accompanied by a visual and booming spectacle of Grucci fireworks, which were so up-close that they almost lit up the sky with colorful sparkling lights.

DSC_1373The best part about Concert in the Park was not just the concert orchestra or even the fireworks, but the fact that I, along with everyone else there, was able to contribute to supporting Long Island’s veterans and their families. We were able to raise funds in support of the Mission United initiative, which helps veterans transition back to civilian life through a network of partner agencies offering critical programs and services. Not to mention because of our participation and the help of all of the volunteers, everyone that was there was able to learn about the initiative. In addition, it was the official public debut of our Healthy Homes Vehicle generously donated by National Grid, which will be utilized by veterans as they build and retrofit homes across Long Island into safe and healthy places for individuals and families to live. The entire night was a remarkable dedication to our Hometown Heroes.

It was remarkable to see the amount of effort that the Islip Arts Council put into putting on an incredible show and how I witnessed this great partnership. That night at Heckscher State Park reminded me of how big a team I was truly a part of as an intern at United Way of Long Island, as well as how great their efforts were as they worked together. I’m more than grateful to be a part of the United Way team.

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Everyone Deserves to Live in a Healthy Home

geselleJune is National Healthy Homes Month. 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 what a healthy home is, and why it is so important to ensure that your home is healthy for your family.

How much of your everyday life do you think you spend indoors? According to United Way of Long Island Senior Vice President of Housing & Green Initiatives, Rick Wertheim, the answer is a staggering average of 90%.

A large percentage of that time is spent inside your home, but for as much time as we spend inside our house, we rarely acknowledge the potential dangers that may reside right alongside us. These overlooked offenses often give rise to a slew of other problems that threaten the health of not only our homes, but the health of our family. To raise awareness for this prevalent problem, June is recognized as National Healthy Homes month – a time to learn the value of maintaining a healthy, environmentally friendly home.

Of course, the question is: what makes a home “healthy”?

Believe it or not, about half a million homes on Long Island have at least one indoor environmental hazard. These hazards include the likes of mold, lead and asbestos. Unfortunately, issues like this toxic trio can have a serious effect on the wellbeing of those living inside. Studies conducted by the University of Warwick and the University of Brighton revealed a direct link between housing quality and resident health. Respiratory illnesses, asthma, eczema, strokes and even cancer have been proven to be connected to the way a home is maintained. Additionally, physical damage such as water leaks and electrical deficiencies are known to put residents at risk of physical injuries like bone fractures and burns.

DSC_7512Coupled with Long Island’s susceptibility to high coastal humidity, seasonal floods, hurricanes and winter storms, these misfortunes threaten to spell disaster for many residents. Healthy homes are those which not only keep their residents free from risk of illness and injury, but also provide a reliable shelter in the face of natural disasters.

Oftentimes, having a healthy home requires little more than routine maintenance and inspection. From clearing out unnecessary items with daily 3-minute clean sweeps to testing your smoke alarm, it takes only a handful of habits to maintain a home that is healthy, durable, and sustainable. Other methods include using borate treatments in place of pesticides for pest and vermin control, and using damage-resistant material like paperless gypsum drywall for flood resistance.

The most basic principles of keeping a healthy home are as follows:

  • Keep it Dry (prevents mold from growing)
  • Keep it Clean (reduces dust and exposure to contaminants)
  • Keep it Pest-Free (non-toxic, non-pesticide treatments are recommended)
  • Keep it Safe (prevents physical injury, usually by falls or home objects)
  • Keep it Contaminant-Free (reduces chances for chemical explosions and illnesses to occur)
  • Keep it Ventilated (studies show that fresh air supply improves respiratory health)
  • Keep it Maintained (poor maintenance increases likelihood of hazards such as lead poisoning)
  • And Keep it Temperature-Controlled (keeps residents from exposure to extreme heat or cold)

Many underestimate the importance of ensuring their home remains safe and sanitary. That’s why the United Way of Long Island’s Housing and Green Building department works to both promote and create high-performance, healthy homes for residents across Long Island. By collaborating with various agencies, and offering courses at our E3 SmartBuild Training Center, United Way provides healthy homes for countless individuals and families, including veterans and those with special needs.

For more information on how to retrofit your home into a healthy home, or if you want to learn more about United Way’s Housing and Green Building department, go to www.unitedwayli.org/HealthyHomes.

Finding his Full Potential

If you first met Gabe today, you would know him as a smart and successful man. He is a husband, a father, and currently part of the NorthEastern Apprenticeship & Training Program as an IBEW Local 1049 lineman. What you wouldn’t know was what he’s had to overcome to get to where he is now. Here is YouthBuild graduate Gabe’s story in his own words:

“I grew up in Brentwood, Long Island and lived there for most of my childhood life.  When I was 10 years old, my brother’s life was taken by a gang – He was only 19 years old when he died and today he would have been 38.  He was my closest brother and the closest thing I had to a role model.

I am the youngest of 6 children. My father only spoke Spanish and I never learned how to speak it. My mother was the only true positive support I had.  She took me to church three times a week and I would lay on her lap in the second row, tired and confused because I did not understand what the pastor was saying.

My oldest brother was in the military as a Marine. My second oldest sister used to bully me, my youngest sister was extremely shy and the oldest was the only one who took me out of the house from time to time.  We did not have a lot of money. We owned a wood-grain station wagon and we called ourselves “The Brady Bunch”.

When my brother died, I ended up feeling alone. As I got older, it was too easy for me to end up getting involved with the wrong crowds, and I would do anything just to gain respect and make friends. Those times later defined my future. I am not proud of anything I did back then. I was very vulnerable, but I would continue to prove myself.  With my brother’s death on my conscience, I swore to myself that I would never, ever join a gang because I knew that I would end up in one of two places – dead or in jail.

Eventually, it all caught up with me. I went to Juvenile hall at the age of 16 and consequently, dropped out of high school.  I took my GED in jail that year and got the highest grade within the facility.  I thought to myself, “what a waste of talent. Congratulations Gabe, you played yourself.”

I was in the system and no matter how much I tried to turn my life around, I was still looked at as a rebel. Even after I had a child, I was still doing things that would later ruin my life. Until I found YouthBuild Long Island.

The mother of a friend of mine saw me struggling and told me about the program. When I researched it,  the first thing that came up was a boot camp. Kids marching, sweating, chanting, and I immediately turned it off and I told myself that I would never, ever be one of those kids. She was extremely persistent and so she bribed me with lunch (at that time I had a large appetite so I was easy to manipulate).

I showed up to orientation and I met Elizabeth Morgan for the first time. Just witnessing her passion made me feel reassured. I also felt this strange positive vibe in the air that was very unfamiliar, but it felt good. I was surrounded by kids with dreams, kids who needed a change, and kids heading down that one way tunnel and knew it; kids like me.

During my stay at YouthBuild, I went to two boot camps, visited different boot camps and encouraged my peers. I even went to a staff boot camp. After graduating YouthBuild in late 2011, I was hired at United Way of Long Island in 2012. With the support of the United Way staff and YouthBuild staff, I was able to shine and make a career for myself in green construction.

I’ve now have the honor of training the YouthBuild and VetsBuild students for a living.  Best of all, I’ve been able to pay it forward by working with contractors in rebuilding neighborhoods out in Brentwood and Central Islip. I was the first on Long Island and the first YouthBuild student ever to be awarded the Building Performance Institute’s Home Energy Professional Retrofit Installer certification.

During the construction of two homes in Central Islip, I was given the opportunity to rent a three-bedroom house at a low rate for two and a half years. At this house, I met my wife who recently gave birth to our daughter, and with this position I’ve been able to become financially independent and give my child experiences I never had and become a better father figure and husband in the process.”

A New Life in the Sun

freddie (1)My name is Freddie and I am a proud 2013 graduate from United Way of Long Island’s YouthBuild program.  I was born and raised in Washington Heights, my parents are from the Dominican Republic and my home life was always chaotic – especially with three older siblings.

I had the privilege of attending Brandeis High School on the Upper West Side but did not recognize the advantage this would have given me in life. After only five months, I was kicked out and told that someone who wanted the opportunity to learn would better fill my spot.  At the time I did not mind. I was lazy, never wanted to go to school and only cared to be around people who were like me.

Since I wasn’t in school anymore, I resorted to making money on the streets and was arrested. I served a year and a half in prison. I was miserable. The sun rarely came out. The days were dark, the lights were dim and the jail was cold.

I spent each day there knowing that I had to do better than this life. I hurt so many people coming to prison, including my girlfriend Erica. After my release, I was paroled to my father’s house in Wyandanch. My parole officer told me about YouthBuild, and Erica encouraged me to join. She had aspirations to make something of herself and I knew if I wanted to be with her I had to stay away from the streets and start doing something with my life.

After visiting YouthBuild I was excited to hear about how I could earn my TASC diploma, but unfortunately the rigor of the program proved to be too much for me to handle. I quit.

Again, I was presented with an opportunity and let it slip away.  I came to my senses and enrolled in the summer TASC program. I came to class every day, and was able to see all the great things that United Way and YouthBuild were involved in. After the summer, I took the TASC test and passed. This was only the first step – I wanted a long-term career not a short-term fix so I enrolled in the full ten-month program.

During this time, I learned and did more than I ever thought I could. I volunteered with several agencies, learned leadership skills, attended events, received hands-on training while building a house, and received my OSHA 10 certification and the National Home Builders Institute Pre-Apprenticeship Certification.

I was determined to make the most of this opportunity, so after I graduated I asked to learn more about the Electrical Training Center who I saw working at the E3 Training Center. I went on a tour of the facility, and knew that I wanted to be an electrician. All I had to do was attend and pass the class. The price for this class was out of the range of possibility for me, until I received a scholarship from United Way.

I was so grateful and promised to make United Way proud of me. I passed the course and immediately started my career at Statewide Electric and Communications. I later left to work with Premier Solar Solutions and I am now happily employed by SunPower by Empower Solar, where I have worked as a solar installer for over two years.

At 27 years old I am finally truly happy. Erica and I are now married; we live in Great Neck and are expecting our first son. Now, the sun is always shining and I will forever be grateful to United Way and YouthBuild for supporting and guiding me over the past four years. The amount of support I have received is priceless and I will forever be appreciative.

Making the World a Brighter Place

dsc_0557At only 36 years old, it seems that Englebert has already lived many different lifetimes. His favorite is the one he is living now – holding a steady, and exciting job as a Solar Installation Professional at EmPower Solar.

Englebert’s parents came to Long Island from Haiti, working 12-hour shift days leaving him to be the man of the house, responsible for his own wellbeing as well as his younger sister. It was difficult for the siblings to have a normal childhood as they were typically left with household responsibilities and no money for clothes or equipment for after school activities. Upon graduating high school, Englebert’s future was unclear due to his family’s financial insecurities. After driving past a military recruiting station he decided to take the practice test for entrance into the military, but did not pass. Undeterred from bettering his life, he enrolled in Nassau Community college but had to withdraw after only a semester because he lacked the funds to continue. After studying for the military entry exam for four months, he retook the test, received a 95 and joined the Army.

In 2000, after basic training in Jackson, S.C., he was deployed to Germany for his first tour. As part of the Military Police unit, his training regimen included very physical activities including repelling from high distances while managing heavy loads of equipment which prepared him for any possible case of emergency of catastrophe. After his discharge, he worked as a direct care aid for 10 years, and fulfilled his dream of attending college, taking classes in criminal justice for two years thanks to funds from the GI Bill. In 2014, Englebert came in contact with a case manager from United Veterans Beacon House, who informed him of the VetsBuild program.

“I was looking to do something exciting with my life, something that I could be proud of and truly enjoy,” Englebert explained. “I never knew a program like VetsBuild existed, a program that could help me support my family, work with my hands, and help the environment.”

In April of 2015 Englebert enrolled in the program and successfully completed the five-week program. Recognizing his potential and knowing about his Army training, VetsBuild training director Stephen arranged for a career connection with SunPower by EmPower Solar. In less than a month, Englebert completed an interview and embarked on the first step of a new career.

DSC_0549.JPG“SunPower by EmPower Solar is honored to partner with the United Way Long Island on building zero energy homes, and on its transformation workforce training programs,” explained David Schieren, CEO of SunPower by EmPower Solar. “Hiring from VetsBuild is not only the right thing to do, it’s also smart business.  Englebert is a great example of an individual who excelled in the training program, and has demonstrated his talents, dedication and drive in in the workplace installing solar power. “Bert” is a highly valued member of the team.”

This means the world to Englebert and his family – he lives in Deer Park with this two sons, Micah who is 14 and Isaiah who is 10, and mother.

When asked about how this job changed his life, he reflected “It feels great – I get to spend more time with my family, go to my son’s football games on the weekend, an opportunity I didn’t have when I was their age. The fact that my sons don’t have to struggle like I did makes me so proud.”

The fact that his work helps people live better lives is not lost on Englebert. “I was very close to my aunt growing up, and she passed away when I was young,” he said. “She always told me to be somebody important, to change lives and make people happy so I made a vow to myself that I would fulfill her dream for me. I wake up every morning proud that I am going to change someone’s life and make them feel better because they are saving money and going green.”

“For those thinking about joining VetsBuild, I would tell them to enroll. We fought for our country, we need to help others here like we did when we were in the military.”

10 Reasons to #Give

Today is #NYGivesDay – a day dedicated to giving back to nonprofits throughout New York State by way of a 24-hour fundraising challenge that works to raise awareness, build support, and increase shared philanthropy throughout communities. There are more than 300 organizations participating, why should you chose to support United Way of Long Island?

Here are the top 10 reasons, as spoken by our most important advocates:

dsc_0688“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.” — Anthony, YouthBuild graduate

“Although I have moved out of Walkabout, the staff and I have maintained our connection. Here is a little secret: I really needed their support after I moved out. They continue to offer it and it has been invaluable. These people are like extended family and I really appreciate all they have done and continue to do in my life.” — Nia, partner agency Family & Children’s Association client

“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. 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.” — David, VetsBuild graduate

image2_0“The scholarship I received from United Way added value to my acceptance letter to Towson, as it officially allowed me to attend the college I knew would be the perfect fit for not only myself, but my future. I have decided to devote my life to a career where I will be helping others.” — Gianna, DREAMS for Youth Scholarship recipient

“As a senior citizen on a fixed-income, I need help and I’m no longer embarrassed to ask for it. I worked my whole life, but living on Long Island, I’m not making the income needed to support life. I’m making payments each month, but I just can’t keep up.I am so grateful the support I am receiving through Project Warmth.  I feel so much more secure knowing that my family will be warm during the coldest time of the year.” — Joan, Project Warmth grant recipient

“Through United Way of Long Island’s YouthBuild program, I was able to receive hands-on training and learn about weatherization,energy-efficiency and green-building. I am more confident today and look forward to a great career in construction and a positive future for myself and my family. Without YouthBuild, I don’t know where I would be.” — Ivan, YouthBuild graduate

emily“I am proud of myself. I love the Ranch and my people here and don’t know where I’d be if I wasn’t here right now. Thank you for being there for me.” — Emily, partner agency Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch client

“United Way has given me an internship opportunity with “Mission United“,  an initiative that focuses specifically on veterans.  Through this program, I have not only learned so much about the career path I have chosen, but I have met truly inspirational people who are guided by the goodness inside of them.  I look forward to what each day brings me now and am open to all opportunities and life lessons.” — Matt, U.S. Army veteran assisted through Mission United

“I hope to bring my educational, musical and personal experiences together by finding cures and treatments through devices and medicine in biomedical engineering and by playing music professionally with the ability to teach people that music is a language of emotion through music performance/education at the University of Arizona Honors College, a dream made possible thanks to my DREAMS for Youth scholarship.” — Michael, DREAMS for Youth Scholarship recipient

“Even though I have a job and a place to live, travel has continued to be an ongoing struggle. As the weather gets colder and the roads more hazardous, having a car of my own allows me to feel safe again.” — Mark, U.S. Navy veteran Wheels for Warriors recipient

On this recognized day of giving, we are grateful for our supporters that allow us to tell stories like these year after year.

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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.