Hearts to Homes News

Talented and Treasured

Our thanks for the treasure, time, and talents of these three original Hearts to Homes board members who have finished their term. All three joined Hearts to Homes from the start, and their efforts on behalf of foster youth helped us expand to support youth at eleven agencies.  Our mission would not have had this growth without their amazing leadership!

From top, left: Laurie Wilson has written our quarterly newsletters for the past few years. Without her help, we would not have been able to share with you all of our good news! Her vision for how to communicate our mission has helped grow our team of donors in the past three years.

Jeanne Marconi was instrumental in helping us to provide the signature red, H2H cozy blankets that so frequently are featured in our social media photos. If you scroll our social media, you’ll see this beautiful gift provided to every recipient. Our young adults love them! Her work in pediatrics helped guide many board decisions.

Paul McLaughlin helped create the wildly popular Open Hearts event at Oceana Restaurant to benefit Hearts to Homes. The concept for our largest fundraiser ever was Paul’s idea and accomplished with Paul efforts. In addition, specialty drinks in December and May helped spread the word of our mission and raised critical funds.  Supporting youth in the transition to independence was something Paul took to heart.

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Meet Our New Board Members!

new board members
 Clockwise from top left: Nicole Grogan, Debbra Stolarik, Cookie Humphrey, Ameena Makhdoomi and Todd Wood

Hearts to Homes is pleased to welcome, and introduce to our donors, four new members and one returning member to our Board of Directors. Each of these individuals brings a commitment to philanthropy and to our mission to help foster youth make a smoother transition from care to independence. We look forward to working with them as we plan for future growth, enabling Hearts to Homes to provide services to more foster youth in New York City and Westchester County.

Nicole Grogan is Managing Director and Head of National Accounts at DWS, a global asset management organization. Nicole has over twenty-five years of experience in financial services, received her Bachelor of Science at Villanova University and her MBA at Fordham University. Her interest in supporting Hearts to Homes is rooted in a firm belief that all children and young adults deserve an opportunity to build an independent life for themselves, where they can achieve their personal goals, and lead a happy and fulfilling life.

Cookie Humphrey is the owner and publisher of Compulsive magazine, a celebrity publicist and worked as a HR consultant in the Middle East and Asia. Cookie has served on the boards of Women In Motion, Rising Star Music Awards and The Bronx Hip Hop Museum. She holds a B.S. in human services from Springfield College a M.S. in HRD from the University of Bridgeport and is completing her PhD in psychology. As a former foster child, and youth advocate, Cookie knows the importance of young people aging out of the system.

Ameena Makhdoomi is an alumna of Hobart and William Smith Colleges the Ethel Walker School and has three years of marketing experience in the wine industry. Since 2019, Ameena has served on our Junior Committee, helping to share our mission with a younger demographic. Her election to the Board was a direct result of the enthusiasm that she has shown for developing creative marketing strategies. She has taken on the responsibility of helping Hearts to Homes with social media strategy.⁠

Debbra Stolarik is Counsel for Deloitte LLP and has served in a similar role for child-focused organizations including Sesame Workshop and Scholastic Inc. She was a founding member and previously served a one-year term on our Board. Prior to her work with Hearts to Homes, Debbra served for nearly a decade on the Board of Advisors for Mercy Center, the BAFTA scholarship committee, and the Boards of the American Constitution Society’s New York Chapter and Friends of the Nyacks. She resides in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Todd Wood is a partner with Sustainability Partners. He is a senior member of the investor relations and business development group. Prior to Sustainability Partners, Todd worked at J.P. Morgan, Hambrecht & Quist, Cramer Rosenthal McGlynn and Tudor Pickering and Holt where he held various roles in sales, trading and business development. His volunteer activities include coaching youth football for the Riverside (Greenwich) Gators, on point squash (Charleston, SC). He is a graduate of Boston College where he captained the football team under head coach Tom Coughlin.

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Hearts to Homes Responds to COVID-19 Pandemic
with Critical Support

Housing Statistics Show Why Such Support is Needed

  • 77% of Hearts to Homes alumni live in NYCHA buildings throughout New York City.
  • 30 of our alumni live within the 10 New York City COVID-19 “hot spot” zip codes.
  • Layoffs were likely to impact our youth at higher rates than the general population. 60% of our youth have a high school diploma or GED as their highest level of education.

Recognizing the impact that the virus and its economic fallout would have on the youth we have previously assisted, Hearts to Homes developed a program to address anticipated needs. Your support of our May Challenge helped ease financial burdens for these youth. Their needs were critical, and what they told us was not surprising.

Since May 1, we have provided over $17,700 of COVID relief stipends to 149 of our alumni and recent referrals. Thanks to your generosity and care, our COVID-19 Assistance Program has helped young people pay rent, cover transportation costs, and purchase life-sustaining items like groceries and cleaning supplies. Your kindness has softened the impact of these past few months.

71% of youth who responded to our offer said that they were out of work or furloughed. Just 25% still had a part-time or full-time job. Showing perseverance, fifteen of our young adults were continuing their college studies as part-time (6) or full-time (9) students.

When asked what their most pressing needs were, over 70% of responding youth identified groceries as their primary need. “I mainly need food as there is not much in my refrigerator, and I was wondering how I would eat,” said one of our young adults. Other needs included making payments for medicine, license renewal fees, paying a phone bill so that they could “stay in touch with family members” during the stay-at-home order, and clothing. Over half of our youth identified cleaning supplies as a need. The college students and those who were still working most frequently identified transportation costs as their most pressing need.

In additional to being able to offer a bit of financial help, Hearts to Homes was able to share information about additional resources, from other organizations, that our alumni might be able to apply for. Every little bit of help, guidance and reassurance can be meaningful to someone who is trying to navigate an experience like this pandemic on their own. For many of us, this crisis has caused us to reach out to our family for help, advice or even for company. When a young adult might not have family to rely on, Hearts to Homes donors were there to help with groceries, cleaning supplies and other important needs!

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Jeremiah’s Speech

Speech by Jeremiah Perez-Torres,
a Hearts to Homes recipient, at the
Open Hearts at Oceana Event January 16, 2020

Jemiah Perez-Torres headshot

It is an honor and privilege to be speaking with you all tonight.

This honor reminds me that I’ve come a long way. I left home at a young age because I didn’t have any other choice.

By the time I was 15 years old I was entirely on my own and over the next two years I moved at least 10 times. I stayed with friends, friends of friends, and even complete strangers. By this time, I was already in the foster care system, and while I connected with great people who wanted to help me, I still did not have any sense of true stability in my life.

I never expected to live past my 18th birthday. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. Many of my friends didn’t make it. I was trying to survive on my own with no support.

I ended up going to four different high schools. I never considered college because I couldn’t really focus on studying, and my grades suffered. During my senior year of high school, I met a guidance counselor named Anna. She looked past my rough edges and D-minus grades and told me it wasn’t too late to get an education and carve out a better future.

We talked about college, and she encouraged me to get more involved in activities and internships to make up for my grades and improve my chances of admission. Anna gave me the push to believe in myself – to better myself, and I took it from there.

I set out to change my whole life. I got my act together and finished high school. I distanced myself from the negative people around me. Although I knew it might get lonely, it was more important to reinvent myself.

I enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where I sat in the front row of all my classes and soon became an honors student. In my spare time, I got involved on campus, including mentoring incoming freshman as a Student Success Leader. BMCC opened its doors for me and helped prepare me for my transfer to SUNY Buffalo State College.

At Buffalo State College I continued thriving and became very involved on campus. I enjoyed working with New York State Police in several capacities such as a student mediator and an overnight patrol officer. Through all of my effort, I was fortunate enough to receive a state-wide award from SUNY, the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. Reinventing myself finally paid off, and I graduated from Buffalo State College with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Intelligence Analysis.

After graduating, I knew what I wanted to do and had figured out several pathways to achieve my career goals. I was accepted into the Criminology Doctoral Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I am now in my third year and am a doctoral candidate. The work I am doing for my PhD centers around counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and war. This coupled with my work for different law enforcement agencies is helping cement my future in the global security field.

When I was 16 years old, I completed all of the paperwork and was put on a New York City housing list with a foster care priority level. I was finally going to get a home. I mean, I knew I had to wait, it was a wait list after all, nevertheless, it almost 7 years later that I was finally told they had an apartment for me.

I had no family or support that I could rely on during this process, and while I finally got the home that was promised to me so long ago, I needed to make it my home and furnish it. This is when I was introduced to Hearts to Homes. I worked with a few people to fill out a registry and set up a delivery date. This was such an exciting process, but I was hesitant to celebrate. With so many failed promises from my foster care experience and the 7 year apartment waiting list, I feared that this process would amount to nothing.

Hearts to Homes was the first time that I was promised something and it was delivered. The process was easy, straightforward, exciting, and it happened exactly as it was promised to me. The mission of Hearts to Homes is simple yet so powerful. I encourage you all to look at the mission statement online but I think the most accurate part of that statement for me, in terms of the impact it had on me, was that it alleviated stress associated with this process and it gave me someone to depend on. I was provided with a fulfilled promise, a comfortable living environment and a furnished home. Even with my struggle and success throughout the years, I finally had a home to call my own that I did not have to directly associate with homelessness, struggle, my school or job.

It really helps to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you like a foster parent. Or a teacher. Or an organization like Hearts to Homes that offers an invaluable opportunity to a city’s forgotten children.

I’ll never forget receiving all of the items on my registry from Hearts to Homes. It had everything a home needs.  Unpacking all those boxes was such as exciting time. It relieved a lot of stress and worry and has allowed me to be successful and not worry about having living essentials and a place to call home. Till this day I have everything that was given to me from that registry and still use it all! One of my favorite things is the swivel chair where I sit to give myself a brain break and twist in circles!

I want all of you to know how much I appreciate you being here, your kindness, and the ways in which you have helped foster youth who have aged out of care a place to call home. I encourage you to support Hearts to Homes so that more young adults can be helped and Hearts to Homes can expand to more agencies! Having a home in and of itself can help individuals who have aged out of foster care turn their lives around and succeed despite any negative circumstances they have encountered.

Thanks to you and Hearts to Homes, we can make our dreams of a better future a reality. Because of you, we can leap forward a few more steps. We can set ambitious goals. We can lift ourselves up to a better place. We can have a place to call home, mend our hearts and succeed. Because of you, we can do this.

Thank you.

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