Ever since 2013, the YOLO Strong Foundation has been working to make a meaningful difference in the lives of children on Long Island with illnesses, and mental and physical disabilities. This is often done by raising money through activities like races, obstacle courses and other physical activities.
With the pandemic bearing a financial burden for many organizations and businesses, as well as making in-person fundraising efforts difficult, it seemed that the YOLO Strong Foundation would not be able to raise the thousands of dollars it does every year.
“While they generally raise enough through their races and their events and most of their events are athletic based events . . . they too face the challenge of this year in light of the pandemic,” Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said. “But nothing, not a pandemic, not a hurricane, not a storm, nothing can hold back the resolve of the members of YOLO.”
It was a phone call from Rustan Lundstrum, the owner of Coach Meeting House, that ensured that YOLO would still be able to make a difference as it has done for almost a decade.
Lundstrum said he was reaching out to fulfill a suggestion made during the week-long Oyster Festival, where businesses and participants were asked to fundraise for an organization of their choice.
“We were beyond, beyond, beyond grateful to him,” said Danielle Taylor, the co-founder of the YOLO Strong Foundation. “Helen Keller once said, ‘Alone we can do so little, but together we could do so much.’ And no truer words are said for YOLO throughout the years and especially during these times.”
Over the past eight years YOLO has raised over $750,000, accruing approximately $100,000 a year.
“As you can imagine, this pandemic has had a huge impact and of course we’re fearful that the children, the medically fragile and ill children we support, might be impacted by this,” Taylor said.
But because of a fundraiser using what Oyster Bay’s Coach Meeting House has become known for — slushies, alcoholic or non-alcoholic — children and their families will not be forced to go without.
The ‘YOLO’ slushy, a black raspberry lemonade slushy that with every purchase provided the YOLO Strong Foundation with $1 over Oyster Week between Oct. 16 and Oct. 25, made enough money — $3,250 — to help support a handful of local families. Two families will be receiving iPads for their non-verbal, autistic children, which will help them to communicate. The Coach Meeting House will also be making an additional donation to help families.
The organization Danny’s Wish was inspired by Danny, a Bayville resident. His aunt, Vera Gemnarelli, said Danny had his life turned around when he received an iPad because he could communicate, Danny’s Wish secures iPads for families of non-verbal, autistic children that are unable to afford it.
YOLO, with the help of Coach Meeting House’s fundraiser, was also able to financially adopt the family of a six-year-old Louies, a Town of Oyster Bay resident, for the holidays.
“He suffers from early onset conduct disorder and oppositional defiance disorder, as well as ADHD,” Taylor explained. “Due to this, mom has had to stay home and resign from her career to be with him. What we’ve done is collaborate with another local charity that is now going to evaluate him and his family and hopefully provide some financial support so his family can get some financial assistance for rent, car insurance and also car payments.”
Additionally, this fundraiser was able to provide music therapy sessions for a seven-year-old Lily, who was born at 26-weeks-old, weighing one pound 13 ounces. She has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder.“She has also had 10 brain tumors, a g-tube, two gastric surgeries and a spinal surgery this past year,” Taylor explained. “She uses diapers, a feeding tube and a bottle. Despite this, Lily is so incredibly happy.”
Elmo and Peppa Pig are her favorite characters and she enjoys watching “Frozen.” But perhaps her favorite past time, besides coloring with her family, is listening to music. In fact, music therapy has been incredibly helpful for this little girl.
“The YOLO Strong Foundation really wanted to step up and help this family,” Taylor said, “so what we decided to do is provide two music lessons per month for the entire year so that mom and dad won’t have to worry about these lessons for Lily.”
Because the family also shared that Lily often takes their phones to play music, the YOLO Strong Foundation has purchased an iPod with her name engraved on it so that she can play her favorite songs.
Lily and her parents, both essential workers, were not able to attend the Wednesday morning press conference because Lily had two seizures in the morning.
Lundstrum said that he choked up hearing these stories. “I admire what [YOLO] does.” Lundstrum said. “I have young children, so the fact that they help young kinds obviously strikes a nerve with me.”
These families are neighbors, Councilman Vicki Walsh said. “They live on our blocks. They live in our communities and they go to our schools. All the people affected by this are people we see every day.”
To learn more about the YOLO Strong Foundation and its work, visit www.yolostrong.com.