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Rhonda Klch

Local nonprofits gathered in East Northport to share ideas and network. Photo by Kevin Redding

A community bank and a financial education group recently partnered up in an effort to help local nonprofits thrive.

On March 25, the Equity First Foundation, an organization that primarily works with small businesses in financial distress, hosted a community breakfast for nonprofit organizers and supporters at Investors Bank in East Northport.

The networking event gave the crowd of good-hearted people who advocate for important causes across Suffolk County a rare opportunity to exchange business cards and ideas with one another.

Equity First Foundation Founder and President Rhonda Klch, a Rocky Point resident, speaks to local nonprofits during a community breakfast. Photo by Kevin Redding

Representatives from a wide range of volunteer organizations — that help everybody from families to children to veterans — bonded over their shared interest in providing a service to those who need it most.

Priscilla Arena, executive director of Suffolk Asperger-Autism Sport and Information, a Mount Sinai nonprofit that serves the needs of the autism community throughout Long Island, said the event benefitted nonprofits far better than social media ever could.

“There’s nothing better than a face-to-face meeting with anyone, with any decision makers,” Arena said. “And here you have a room of decision makers and people that make things happen. You have the right people in the room, it’s communities helping other communities and it’s fantastic.”

Communities helping other communities is exactly what pushed Investment Bank Branch Manager and Miller Place resident Amanda Seppi to pursue the idea of the gathering with her frequent collaborator Rhonda Klch, a Mount Sinai resident and executive director of the Equity First Foundation.

Seppi, whose bank is geared toward community grassroots organizations and overall community giving, said she wanted to bring nonprofits from the local area together to network with one another and potentially help strengthen their individual causes.

“I was finding that nonprofits don’t necessarily interact with one another to develop strategies to grow, and I figured it was a win-win for everybody to be able to learn about one another,” Seppi said. “[Ultimately], I want them to be able to reach a wider audience, to be able to raise funds in order to escalate and continue to do the good they’re trying to do for the community.”

The nonprofits don’t have the exposure they deserve, she added.

“I’d like to bring as much attention to the people who are doing good for nothing, it’s important to me to have them grow and do well,” Seppi said.

Klch agreed, feeling as though the nonprofits could use all the help they could get in terms of funding, which all nonprofits rely on to survive.

Through Investors Foundation at the bank, nonprofits can receive grants and scholarships.

Members of local nonprofits share ideas and network. Photo by Kevin Redding

“With a lot of changes happening in the economy, a lot of grants are no longer available, qualifying for funding is much more difficult and even your local business community that would normally support different fundraising initiatives, because of their own setbacks, aren’t able to provide as much,” Klch said. “What we’re looking to do is have nonprofits partner and work uniformly. If I have money or resources coming into my organization, I can offer it to somebody else.”

Klch presented “The Haven,” a beachside retreat that nonprofits can offer to clients who may be facing economic hardships caused by illness, death and addiction. The retreat would serve as a mental reprieve for individuals and families, as well as a sponsorship opportunity.

Among some of the organizations at the gathering were Youth Directions & Alternatives, a community agency that serves youth and families in the Northport-East Northport-Elwood-Harborfields school districts; Maria’Z Hope Foundation, a group made up of women dedicated to providing support for those seeking an alternative approach to medical healing; and East Northport-based General Needs, which helps homeless Long Island veterans and their families through charitable donations and support.

Lonnie Sherman, founder of General Needs, started the group 10 years ago when he realized there were 5,000 homeless veterans on Long Island without basic necessities like socks, underwear and boots. Today, the group takes care of about 3,000 of them, cooking food, helping to treat those suffering from PTSD and delivering hundreds of pairs of boots so they can get jobs.

A recent grant from Investors Bank allowed the group to help veterans get apartments.

“When I go to an event like this, I want to walk out having had a conversation with one person that’s going to listen, so we get the word out … ultimately that’s going to make a difference,” he said. “We [nonprofits] are the ones who can make a difference.”

Coram resident Vincent James, right, poses for a photo with his family members at the Holiday Dream event in Coram. Photo by Giselle Barkley

For the past eight years, Rhonda Klch and her company Equity First have made many dreams come true.

This year is no different with Klch’s annual Holiday Dream event, which provides Christmas gifts for Long Island families in need. On Sunday, residents who registered for the event picked up their Christmas presents at the Coram Fire Department headquarters from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Klch, a Miller Place resident, and event volunteers upped the ante this year by getting gifts for around 250 families from Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station, Selden, Medford and other towns across the Island.

A little girl plays with a balloon during Rhonda Klch’s Holiday Dream event. Photo by Giselle Barkley
A little girl plays with a balloon during Rhonda Klch’s Holiday Dream event. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“These kids feel like they’re walking on a cloud,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), as several children ran around with balloons in the background after receiving their presents and meeting Santa.

Cartright was one of many people Klch called this year when searching for families in need of some holiday cheer. Local schools and churches were also contacted to find these families. While the families don’t need to be homeless to participate in the program, many of these families are financially unable to afford presents around the holidays.

People like Gordon Leonard of Selden said with the recession it’s harder to live on Long Island, making special seasons like the holidays more stressful.

“We came here because some Long Islanders understand the plight of many other Long Islanders, and they’re giving because they know people are struggling just to be New Yorkers,” he said. “We don’t want to leave. What choice do we have.”

While his son Devon received several gifts from the program this year, he said his favorite part about Sunday’s program was spending time with his family.

According to volunteer Priscilla Arena, of Mount Sinai, the event was a success this year.

“The outpour from the community has been tremendous and I’m hoping that it’ll only increase next year,” she said.

Last year, the event helped around 167 families. Arena got involved with the program around a month ago after Klch, a business associate and friend of hers, told her about the event. For Arena, helping the program and the families who benefit seemed natural.

For residents like Tiana Wyche, who lives in a shelter, Holiday Dream was important to bring joy to her children. Wyche is originally from Riverhead but currently resides in Port Jefferson Station.

Rhonda Klch, on right, poses for a photo with volunteer Priscilla Arena at the Holiday Dream event in Coram. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Rhonda Klch, on right, poses for a photo with volunteer Priscilla Arena at the Holiday Dream event in Coram. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“Unfortunately, financial restrictions impact everybody and it becomes difficult over holidays,” Klch said. “I think people have this perception that just because you live somewhere, you’re doing very well. But unfortunately, people get so blind.”

Klch added that people don’t always realize how many families struggle to live on the Island, much less celebrate the holidays. She started spreading the word about the event among people in the business district. While Holiday Dream is the main event where children pick up their toys and have breakfast with Santa, there are toy drive events prior to Holiday Dream that Klch and her company host to raise more donations.

For Carmen Nunez and her family, who moved from the Dominican Republic to Port Jefferson Station, the program was extra special. Her family wasn’t used to getting presents around this time of year.

“I feel so happy,” she said. “Thank you to [Comsewogue ESL teacher Denise Saul] and everybody who tried to make [the children happy by giving them presents], especially this time for Christmas. It’s beautiful.”

While the family is trying to do the best they can here on Long Island, Saul said they are continuing the event’s mission of giving to others and spreading joy.

“Even though we gave them presents, they’re talking about who they can share [the presents with],” Saul said. “They are selfless themselves.”

According to Cartright, remembering the spirit of giving is important this time of year, and she hopes to keep giving in the future through the Holiday Dream program.

“A lot of community organizations and individuals come together to remind the kids that this is a season of giving,” Cartright said. “The holiday season is not only about receiving. They’re reaching hundreds of kids now, and I can only imagine as the years go by, how many kids we’re going to be changing their lives by letting them know they’re loved and supported by the community.”

Rhonda Klch stepping into the ring again to raise money for charity

Mike Murphy, a boxing trainer, poses for a photo with Rhonda Klch. Photo from Klch

Don’t let her 4-foot, 11-inch stature fool you — Rhonda Klch is a force to be reckoned with.

This Long Island native, who was born in Smithtown and lives in Miller Place, opened her first business, American Investors and Collectors, at the age of 19, and saved up enough money from that business to purchase three houses when she was only 23 years old. Now, nearly two decades later, this mother of five runs her own business in the mortgage industry, caters to her family and finds the time to give back to her community through the five charities she is involved in.

As part of giving back, Klch joined Long Island Fight for Charity, and is putting on some boxing gloves and plans to step into the ring, again — a notion that was out of Klch’s comfort zone.

“[I] knew it would grab the attention in the business community,” Klch said when asked why she joined the charity, which provides money to organizations like Long Island Community Foundation, a nonprofit that connects donors with charitable organizations within their community, and PinkTie.org., a network of real estate professionals that raise funds for breast cancer research. “[It] became a buzz, which allowed me to express and to advocate for what the charities were doing.”

Klch trained and fought for the organization last year, raising $3,800. Although she is currently nursing a minor injury, she is accepting donations while she hopes to compete in her next match for Long Island Fight for Charity scheduled for Nov. 23.

Rhonda Klch left the ring with a victory last year. Photo from Corbett PR
Rhonda Klch left the ring with a victory last year. Photo from Corbett PR

Klch is now the president and CEO of her company, Equity First, which assists business residents who are experiencing financial difficulties. She established her current business in October 2003, but her goal wasn’t simply to make money and grow her demanding business, it was also to give back to her community — starting with those experiencing financial hiccups.

“There’s a bunch of people who have amazing resources,” Klch said. “If you’re not utilizing your resources for good, it goes to waste.”

Around seven years ago, Klch became more involved in community service. She worked alongside Building Hope, a charity that renovates the homes of families facing a crisis — families who may need wheelchair ramps in their homes upon a devastating injury were accommodated. But renovating the homes wasn’t an issue for these families, sustaining the home was the issue. According to Klch, no one checked the financial status of these families — some families risked losing the home following the renovations. Now Klch’s company conducts financial reviews for these families to ensure they don’t lose the house.

“Her commitment to giving back to her community is second to none,” Mark Legaspi said about Klch. “She really thinks of other people before she thinks of herself.”

Legaspi is the president of Legaspi Associates Inc, which aims to provide quality service regarding life insurance. Legaspi is also a board member, alongside Klch, for a veteran-minded charity called Easter Seals.

When Klch first decided to become involved with Long Island Fight for Charity, her family thought she was crazy.

“You don’t want to watch somebody get hurt,” said Klch’s husband Stephen. “But at the same time, because it was for charity … it’s not to bash somebody, but the concern was there because it’s a real fight.”

Klch and her husband got married 16 years ago. For several years, Klch was the main breadwinner, while her husband catered to the kids. According to Stephen Klch, he left his job and didn’t have to worry about hiring a babysitter to help look after their children. Now he works for his wife’s company, handling the budget and fixing up the homes.

While giving back to the community was important to Klch’s wife, helping others became a family affair as the children got older.

“We kind of live in a bubble,” Klch said. “We want them to have a reality check on what is in their neighborhood and what other families are struggling through.”

According to Stephen Klch, his children partake in events like Equity First’s project called Holiday Dreams. The company established the initiative last year and aims to provide holiday cheer to homeless children or those in transition. This year will be the second time the company is holding the event. Last year, they helped 200 children. This year, the company is committed to helping 250 children and 50 veterans, according to Rhonda Klch.

From her business to her family life and participation in several charities, Klch credits time management and delegation skills for her ability to balance her busy life. Her nonstop attitude when taking on and executing projects is one reason Maria Frey, president and founder of Executive Consultants of New York, clicked with Klch.

Frey said people like Klch show that there are still people who care about those around them.

“[Rhonda] solidifies to me that there are other people in the community who want to make a change and want to help, and she is definitely one of them,” Frey said. “I feel honored to know her.”

One of 20 Long Island business professionals gearing up for annual Long Island Fight for Charity in November

Rhonda Klch gloves up for last year’s Long Island Fight for Charity. This year, Klch will head back into the ring for the charity match, which raises money for the Long Island Community Chest. Photo from Corbett PR

By Rachel Siford

Mount Sinai’s Rhonda “Master of Financial Disaster” Klch is heading back into the ring on Nov. 23, 2015, for her second Long Island Fight for Charity match.

Klch is the founder and CEO of Equity First, LLC, a financial advising firm based in Coram. She started the company in 2004.

The charity boxing match raises money for the Long Island Community Chest, a nonprofit organization that provides short-term financial support to needy families and individuals who have suffered a crisis. Last year, Klch left her match victorious.

Klch was inspired to participate in the fight when she heard the money was going to the Community Chest. More than $850,000 has been donated to Long Island charities since its inception 12 years ago.

“Due to the fact that my firm works heavily in budget planning and helping clients that are in financial distress, I felt it was very close to what we do,” Klch said.

Rhonda Klch left the ring with a victory last year. Photo from Corbett PR
Rhonda Klch left the ring with a victory last year. Photo from Corbett PR

Preparing for the match takes time. Fight for Charity requires all participants get a physical exam. Fighters also have to check in at certified gyms to track how much they are training. Boxers typically need to complete three to four days of cardio a week, with two or more days of sparring.

Klch will have to wait until September to find out who she will be fighting on the night of the event.

“Right now, I have to train like I’m going to get my butt kicked,” Klch said smiling. “I have no idea who it is going to be yet.”

Klch and her company try to get involved with many organizations.

Equity First is also involved with The Starkey Hearing Foundation, which supplies hearing aides to those who can’t afford them, and Pink Tie, a cancer research fundraiser. Last year, the company sponsored 160 children from the Longwood community who were either homeless or in transient housing and provided them with their holiday gifts. Klch is also on the Friends of Karen, which supports critically ill children and their families, Long Island advisory board.

“We have a pretty good corporate culture here,” Klch said. “Everyone wants to chip in and help out; it’s almost a prerequisite for their employment.”

Prior to founding Equity First, Klch was a branch manager for First West Mortgage Bankers. She actually started Equity First as a side business while still working at the bank.

“I’m just very entrepreneurial by nature,” Klch said. “I feel like I am a good leader and I like having my own concepts and being able to see them through from start to finish.”

Klch said staying involved with charities helps people learn about their communities and issues they may not have realized existed.

“You just never know enough about yourself until you put yourself into an uncomfortable position,” Klch said. “You’ll never grow if you never go out of your comfort zone.”

For more information on the event go to www.lifightforcharity.org.