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INSPIRATIONAL COMMUNITY LEADER AWARD

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

- John C. Maxwell

JUSTIN SORIANO 2023

Born and raised in the close-knit Smithtown community, Justin Soriano's journey as an inspirational leader is a testament to his unwavering dedication and commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of those around him.  Those of us from Branch Brook Elementary first had the pleasure of meeting Justin when he took on the role of Mowgli in the school play, "The Jungle Book." It was here that his natural charisma first shone through.  After college, Justin embarked on a successful real estate career as a member of the O'Neil team. Not surprising, Justin was recently recognized as one of the Top 20 Under 40 Rising Stars in Real Estate by the Long Island Board of Realtors.

Yet, Justin's commitment to making the world a better place goes beyond his professional success. In 2021, he approached the foundation with a vision for a heartfelt mission.  Justin soon founded the North Shore Young Professionals, a networking group for young professionals throughout Long Island, intending to raise awareness and funds for local charities and individuals needing support. His dedication to the foundation that once helped his own family in their time of crisis was genuinely heartwarming, and his first two events raised a remarkable $7,500 for the SCF. Since then, Justin's relentless drive and passion have generated over $60,000 for various charitable causes.

Justin's efforts, selflessness, and commitment to making a positive impact have left an indelible mark on our community, proving that one person's dedication can inspire countless others to create a better world for all. Justin's story is a testament to the power of kindness and the ripple effect of generosity, and we are honored to celebrate his remarkable achievements.

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MARK TORKELSEN, LEGENDS BAR & GRILL 2022

Mark grew up in Smithtown & graduated from Hauppauge High School.  Mark built an entrepreneur portfolio involving three industries; real estate, insurance, & hospitality. In 2016, Mark opened Legends Bar &Grill in Kings Park.  In December 2015, he hosted the first fundraiser at that venue - The Legends Toy Drive and Fundraiser.

Without knowing exactly how to get the toys & funds to those in need, local connections pointed Mark in the direction where aid was needed.  Andrea Elsky introduced Mark to the SCF who connected Mark with Angela’s House & the LI Hero Squad.  Over the last five years, thousands of toys have been delivered to children in need through those organizations collected at the Legends’ toy drive.  During the pandemic, Mark & the Legends staff cooked over 2,600 meals distributed throughout the local Community & eight local hospitals.  The year 2020 marked the birth of the Legends Turkey Drive. Legends distributed many  turkeys through organizations such as the SCF.  Some were even given to people who pulled up to the curb. In 2021, Legends prepared full Thanksgiving meals (turkey + sides) for families in distress.

We are very thankful to collaborate with Mark.  In addition to all of the above philanthropy, he helps us year round. Meals, gift card donations, & funds raised through the annual Legends fundraiser as needed.

When asked about his inspiration for all this giving, Mark replied, "I’m lucky to be fortunate. Helping brings me happiness.” 

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JOE ZANGRI, THE WATERMILL 2019

Customers may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made t hem feel.” - Unknown

For the past 11 years, the Watermill Caterers has been the venue for the Smithtown Children’s Foundation annual Dinner Dance. Their generosity and enthusiasm have always contributed to our success. From the beginning, they have supported our cause of helping residents in crisis, walked us through our initial days of fundraising, and helped get us through events seamlessly - even during snowstorms. Overall, they made our gatherings at the Watermill feel like a second home.

Behind every great staff is a leader motivating, guiding and driving a business to success. At Watermill Caterers, for the past 25 years, that leader has been Mr. Joseph Zangri, Owner/Managing Partner. Hospitality is part of Joe’s DNA.  From dishwashing for his dad’s  restaurant, La Grotta in Commack, to managing the Watermill, most days in Joe’s life are spent in part giving friendly and generous reception to guests, visitors, and strangers.

Altruism plays a significant role at the Watermill.  Under Mr. Zangri’s tenure, the Watermill has been a substantial contributor to the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at Stony Brook University.  They host the annual Christmas Magic event for 500 under-privileged children and their family members throughout Nassau and Suffolk have a day filled with holiday food and merriment.  The Watermill Caterers together with United Veterans Beacon House host and prepare a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for veterans.

Mr. Zangri is also responsible for what many Smithtown residentse consider a “landmark” location. Originally the home to Joe’s Snack Bar, the Smithtown Diner, and then the Watermill Drive Inn, he is now entrusted with the Watermill Caterers’ facility and the property’s Smithtown history.  

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HELENA YANKE

SMITHTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT 2018

Helena is Mamma Bear to five children & a sixth son after her dear friend who passed away ten year’s ago, boy scout leader, girl scout leader, Sunday School teacher, active PTA member, and football mom. 

As if that were not enough to keep her buys, she is also a volunteer EMT at the Smithtown Fire Department & she runs their first aid & CPR training classes.  The SCF cannot begin to describe all that Helena does in this short paragraph, but she is an integral cog in the SCF wheel & just recently, she became a member of our Advisory Board representing the SFD as her predecessor had to step down. 

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CARA VERCELLONE 2017

The 2017 Inspirational Community Leader, leads by doing! 
I met Cara Vercellone a few years back. We wanted to find a way to work together for the betterment of our community.  As President of the Rotary Club of Smithtown Sunrise, she spearheaded the Rotary’s efforts and coordinated with the SCF to provide holiday gifts for our social workers most needy families! 

This is no small undertaking. It requires initiative, motivation and lots of legwork which did not deter Cara.

 

This past holiday season was the third year in a row that she, along with the Rotary Club, assisted us in providing holiday gifts for over 60 children in the community.  The social workers are so appreciative of our efforts. They want to acknowledge that Cara, the Sunrise Rotary and our efforts have brought many smiles to many faces in the Smithtown community.  They remind us that everyone deserves to open up a present during the holidays.  What Cara Vercellone & the Rotary Club of Smithtown Sunrise are doing is the epitomy of the SCF’s mission, COMING TOGETHER to help others.

NANCY VALLARELLA

CHEF NOKO 2016

This year’s recipient is a resident of Nissequogue, wife, soccer

& volleyball mom of three girls & a grandmother to little

Christopher.  She is an invaluable asset to all of our local food

related businesses.  She is a freelance writer who has put

together two of her passions, her love of food & writing.  

She has written restaurant reviews & promotional pieces that

can be found on social media & in many local publications

including Smithtown Matters & Nissequogue Village Living.  

Her style of writing & witty anecdotes encourage you to support a local business, try a new restaurant, or sample a new food!  Her moniker, Chef Noko is known to everyone on Facebook on her “What’s Cookin’ Smithtown” page & throughout Long Island’s restaurant community.  As if this was not enough to satisfy her food cravings, she also manages the Nesconset LI Farmers Market.  She continues to be a supporter of the Foundation so, when we asked for her help make the Taste of Smithtown the best it can be, she did not hesitate & jumped in to help us & to promote local food businesses so they too could thrive here in Smithtown. 
Nancy has since joined the SCF Advisory Board, imparting her knowledge & insight about all things food worthy!  Our friends at Elegant Eating have renamed their Spiralized Vegetables in Nancy's honor, forever to be known as "Nancy V’s Spiralized Veggies."  

KRISSY LONETTO & AMARIEKE MYGLAND

ACCOMPSET ELEMENTARY TEACHER 2015

Mike Denaro was a 2nd grade teacher at Accompsett Elementary when he passed suddenly while hiking on the Greenbelt Trail over spring break in 2011.  Two of his coworkers, Krissy & Amarieke came up with the idea to honor his memory by putting together a run on the West campus to raise funds for a science scholarship in his name & any additional proceeds to benefit the SCF.  Their idea not only helped students with college funding, but it gave Mike's fellow teachers something constructive & positive to focus on in the wake of the sadness of his passing & they accomplished this run with our help in only 6 weeks!  Most importantly, this event made wonderful memories for his students to reflect on as they look back upon as their time at Accompsett.  This past year marked the 5th anniversary of Mike's passing & our 5th Mike's Hike. It is a testament to Krissy & Amarieke's perserverance that after all this time, they are still the driving force behind this event & they continue to honor Mike Denaro's family by hosting this wonderful community event.  They are excellent examples of leaders to their students & community.  

KIDZ CHARITY PRODUCTIONS 2014

Founded in 2005, by teenager Emily Kass, this amazing group of young people who include Jaime Bell, Caitlin Gioia, Nicole Masi, & Jillian Mirabelle were awarded our 2014 Inspirational Community Leader Award.  Just proving that you don't have to be an adult to be inspirational!  Kidz Charity Productions began in the Kass backyard where each summer, Emily & the neighboring kids would host a carnival complete with entertainment, raffles, refreshments, capping the night off with a production they produce themselves.  KCP has raised money for many of their peers including Kaylee Rivers, Tom Erler, Sean Cook & Cassandra Steinle.  With the help of corporate donations, KCP has raised $40K since it's inception by a teen with a passion for helping others.  As Emily heads off to college, she passes the torch of responsibility to these lovely capable young ladies along with another 45 members of KCP!!  

THE RINX OWNERS / MANAGERS 2013

Tom Palamara (not pictured), Peter Trupia & Matt Pagliari of The Rinx were presented the SCF's highest honor, the 2013 Inspirational Community Leader Award in recognition of their dedication to our mission.  Since our partnership, The Rinx has assisted us in so many ways, from hosting an ice skating fundraiser to being the drop off point for a week long districtwide food/clothing drive. The Rinx provides us with scholarships & entrusts us to use our discretion to place children in their camp program each summer.  Through the generosity & compassion of The Rinx, these children who either cannot afford to attend such a camp or are experiencing the loss of a beloved parent, or are themselves battling an illness in their own young lives, were given something fun to look for forward to & memories to make! 

ED EHMANN 2012

RETIRED SUPERINTENDENT OF SMITHTOWN SCHOOLS

When we introduced ourselves to Ed in support of our mission, he asked if we were ready for the 11,000 students that made up the Smithtown school district.  We confirmed our commitment to helping families in our community get through tough times.  Ed saw the benefits of having a ready resource for the community & as a result of his endorsement, we have been able to accomplish many things.  As word spread of our mission, others took Ed’s lead & supported us as well, groups such as the Smithtown Teachers Association & the Smithtown Schools Administrators Association.  Ed understood that we could be a resource for the school district, for instance, when we purchased software for the Ipads that the SPED department had for their students & when we were asked to assist Accompsett El host a 5K in honor of one of their teachers who passed away suddenly.  We work hand in hand with the district social workers, supplying backpacks/school supplies, Thanksgiving baskets, & Holiday gift cards to almost 70 families each year.  We have initiated numerous scholarships totalling over $10,000 to graduating seniors at both SHS East & West.  We also honor those who have assisted us in our mission & when we approached Ed, he wouldn’t hear of it, he thought there must be others more deserving.  Little did he know how integral he has been in the success of this foundation.  Without his support & that of the school district, our foundation would not have been privileged to help so many families directly within our district.  His insight has gifted the foundation with the ability to truly make a difference & with the continued support of the school district, allows us to be a community support system.  We wish Ed the best of luck in his retirement & on behalf of a grateful community, we presented Ed with our 2012 Inspirational Community Leader Award.

IREEN WESTRACK 2011

PRINCIPLE, BRANCH BROOK ELEMENTARY

Kaylee Rivers was first diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma in June 2008, at the end of her kindergarten year at Branch Brook Elementary where Ireen Westrack was the principal.  It was a long hard road as Kaylee was in/out of the school for the next year visiting her classmates & twin sister in school but Ireen presided over this with poise, and a sensitivity and compassion that cannot be taught in any teaching college.  In the many months of Kaylee’s illness, people went to Ireen asking how best to help the family and Ireen was a great sounding board.  She is also a staunch supporter of the foundation and she saw early on that we were going to become a valuable resource to the community.  She has since assisted us in so many ways, spreading the word about our events, attending & volunteering at our events, even wearing costumes to entertain our guests at our holiday breakfast!  She has since joined our Advisory Board imparting her knowledge and insight.  Ireen is an invaluable asset to the SCF and we were honored to award her our 2011 Inspirational Community Leader Award.        

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