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United Way of Long Island

Colleen Merlo, left, is presented with a check for $9,000 from United Way of Long Island. Photo courtesy of LIADV

L.I. Against Domestic Violence recently received a $9,000 Community Partner grant from United Way of Long Island.

The funding will support education and prevention programs for at-risk youth and community members of Suffolk County, as well as provide self-sufficiency and health resources for the survivors the agency serves.

“LIADV is very grateful to be a community partner with the United Way and to benefit from the generosity of donors. This funding allows us to reach youth, giving them tools to make healthy relationship choices. The program is vital to ending relationship violence,” said Colleen Merlo, executive director of L.I. Against Domestic Violence.

“We couldn’t do the work that we do without our community partner agencies and the contributions they make to the residents of Long Island,” said Theresa A. Regnante, president and CEO of United Way of Long Island. “By providing funding to these organizations, it shows that they meet the highest standards of excellence in the not-for-profit sector.”

To learn more about L.I. Against Domestic Violence, visit www.liadv.org.

A young girl picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

By Victoria Espinoza

For a few families struggling to make ends meet this Christmas, local organizations got together to ensure there would be presents under the tree.

United Way of Long Island, a nonprofit based in Deer Park, and Make it Count Foundation, a nonprofit based in West Islip, worked together to donate funds so that children and their families were able to search through Target in Commack and choose any gifts they wanted for Christmas this year. They were also given holiday treats as they shopped. Kids ran through the aisles of Target Dec. 14, browsing the Barbie dolls, Nerf guns, and other toys they could take home to make the holiday special.

“Helping children in need is priceless,” Jon Reese, president of the Make It Count Foundation said in an email. “I feel it is not only our responsibility, it is an honor. Especially this time of year, when we celebrate life and hope.”

Reese said Make It Count has worked with United Way of Long Island in the past on home renovations, health and community programs, and backpacks filled with school supplies.

A young boy picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

“We feel that when the Make It Count Foundation and the United Way of Long Island partner, we are able to leverage each other’s resources and make a greater impact,” he said.

According to Theresa Regnante, president and CEO of United Way of Long Island, this is the second year the two nonprofits have joined together to organize the event.

“We wanted these kids to be able to celebrate the holidays, and have the joy of opening gifts that they wanted,” she said in an email. “Jon Reese has been a fantastic partner in other areas of our mission, and coming together to help kids during the holiday season was a perfect fit. We have the connections to the partner agencies who work with families across Long Island, and they had the funds to donate to help them afford the gifts. It was an easy to decision to make to put this event together.”

Families had to be nominated to partake in the event, and Regnante said other local nonprofits helped in the selection process.

“We connected with Long Island Head Start, United Veterans Beacon House, and Family Service League, who are all partner agencies of ours, and asked them to nominate families who could use some extra holiday cheer to take part in the shopping spree, as well as families who are part of our VetsBuild and YouthBuild programs,” she said. “Target generously let us utilize their break room space and provided treats to the children before giving them a tour of the toy department. It was a fabulous effort all around.”

Regnante shared what makes the event special to her.

A young girl picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

“The best part of an event like this is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they pick up that toy they’ve been asking for for months, and knowing that they can take it home that night,” she said. “You have to remember, most of these children have only the basic necessities and rarely do they have the opportunity to get things that bring them true joy. Their families are working hard to give them the best life possible, and this event allows those parents and guardians to brighten the holiday season just a bit more. The holiday season is supposed to be filled with happiness, but it isn’t that way for those who are struggling.”

She said she watched a mother and her son go through the check-out line, and as they were walking out the door, he yelled out, “I feel like Christmas is here early!” as if he couldn’t believe he was actually allowed to leave the store with his new toys.

“Watching this little boy literally skip out the door warmed my heart,” she said.

Photos from United Way of Long Island Across, Steve Kostoff, Deena Menendez, Kathy Wagner and Erick Rosales will compete with five other members of Team Mission United, to raise money for veterans. Photos from United Way of Long Island

By Desirée Keegan

Four North Shore runners have joined Team Mission United, competing for the charity United Way of Long Island during the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon.

Steve Kostoff, Erick Rosales, Kathy Wagner and Deena Menendez will team up with five other athletes for the 26.2-mile race, which will take place on Nov. 6 and benefit 135,000 veterans and military families on Long Island.

Kostoff, who lives in Mount Sinai, said as soon as he found out Mission United was the program he would be running for, he went to the organization’s website to learn about its works, which focus on employment services, education, financial services, health and housing support.

“Many of these men and women went overseas to fight for us, now they have to come back and in many cases fight for themselves to receive care,” he said. “Any way I can help to raise funds or get the word out is important.”

“It’s a great opportunity to give back and do my part for veterans — they have sacrificed so much to give us our freedom.”

— Erick Rosales

Kostoff works for Suffolk Bus Corp. as an ADA bus driver. Through his job he’s supported United Way of Long Island over the years, and has come to hear many stories of veterans and their special needs, as he often transports disabled veterans to Northport VA Medical Center for appointments.

John Corrado, president of Suffolk Transportation Service and past president of United Way of Long Island’s board of directors, is pleased to support Kostoff in his efforts as he runs his first full marathon.

“To have the chance to see an exemplary employee like Steve compete is truly inspiring,” he said. “Not only will be have our organization’s support, but I am certain that his colleagues will rally around him on his journey to the finish line.”

Rosales, of Coram, a UPS driver, is also eager to compete. He said he’s been training for the marathon for a long time and has previously competed in 10 others, including the NYC Marathon which he’s raced in three times.

“It’s a great opportunity to give back and do my part for veterans — they have sacrificed so much to give us our freedom,” he said. “We should honor all veterans whenever we have the chance. Compared to what they have done for us the effort by me is just a drop in the bucket. I’m in 100 percent.”

Rosales will be joined in the race by his good friend, fellow colleague and training partner, Bill Ude.

Wagner, of Huntington, is meeting the challenge with great enthusiasm.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” she said of choosing to be a part of the race. “I never thought I’d run in the NYC Marathon because it’s really difficult to get in to, but when the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t say no.”

Wagner, generalist manager for the Long Island Region of Enterprise Holdings, is the leader of the Enterprise United Way of Long Island campaign which she’s been running since 2008, so she’s a big cheerleader and supporter for the cause. She said she feels Mission United is a vital program to assist veterans.

“Training is a part-time job and it’s nothing compared to what these men and women have done for our country. This will help with the needs of our veterans returning home.”

—Deena Menendez

“This is a huge race supporting a huge cause … I’m really excited for it,” she said, adding that she has a lot of family members who are veterans, including her grandfather, three uncles and a couple of cousins whom she’s close with. “I know the struggles they’ve had returning after they’ve served, and I think that any organization that’s there to help that process and help them acclimate back into society is totally worthwhile and totally worth raising money for.”

Wagner has competed in both 5K and 10K events, half marathons, mud runs and warrior dashes. Her boss, Eric Schonhoff, Enterprise’s regional vice president who has also been supportive of United Way of Long Island and serves on the board of directors, is inspired by Wagner’s efforts.

“Not only is it great to back a seasoned runner like Kathy, but she also deserves accolades for putting her heart and soul behind Mission United and the entire campaign,” he said.

Menendez, of Hauppauge, who is a claims adjuster for Geico in Woodbury, is running for Team Mission United as a labor for love, as she too is surrounded by family members in the military. Her husband is an Air Force veteran; her eldest son Sean is in the Coast Guard serving in Astoria, Oregon; her middle son Scott served in the Army; and her youngest son, Shane, is a Marine in San Diego, California.

She began intense training for the marathon and was approached by a past supervisor about volunteering to become a participant for the team, and was delighted to accept.

“It’s an honor for me just to be in the run,” Menendez said. “I keep my family in my thoughts to motivate me. Training is a part-time job and it’s nothing compared to what these men and women have done for our country. This will help with the needs of our veterans returning home. They face so many challenges acclimating to civilian life after military life, so Team Mission United helps them get homes and jobs, and raising money will help benefit so many more veterans.”

Participants have set a goal of raising $20,000 for United Way of Long Island’s veterans programs, and are looking for support. To learn more about the team and its efforts, visit www.unitedwayli.org/team-mission-united-supports-long-island-veterans.