Entrepreneur and author Donna Cariello isn’t exactly an optimist, despite the frequent use of upbeat language and the title of her 2019 book, “Ambassadors of HOPE.” She is a practical businesswoman with nearly 40 years’ hands-on experience. But she is also a believer in the power of change, as she has seen in the past 12 years, as the founder and chief executive officer of the Long Island Way Academy.
Before starting her own company, Cariello, 59, of Levittown, was a senior manager at FedEx, with broad responsibilities in human resources and logistics. A combination of changes there and the downturn in the U.S. economy gave her the impetus she needed to go out on her own.
“I saw so many people — women, especially — out of work and struggling during the recession,” Cariello said. And many nonprofits were going through the same thing.
“I’d always had a passion for community outreach,” she said. “I did a lot of volunteer work in my spare time — the March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, the Family and Children’s Association. I wanted to find a way to turn that passion into a business.”
In 2003, Cariello accepted FedEx’s offer of a buyout. She joined the Long Island Center for Business and Professional Women, where she met some of the women whose profiles appear in her book.
After she took part in motivational speaker and trainer Andrew Morrison’s Small Business Boot Camp in 2004, an idea for a business began to form in Cariello’s mind. “Every business needs to be promoted, and every nonprofit needs great exposure and a large audience,” she wrote in her book. “Both need support through clients and donors.”
In the first four months after founding Long Island Way in 2006, Cariello brought 15 nonprofits together with 36 for-profit businesses to form a network to benefit both worlds.
Nonprofit fundraising — especially for smaller ones — is difficult even in the best of times, Cariello explained. And fundraising for core operations is perhaps most difficult of all. At the same time, businesses might not have specific plans for giving. She helps each side clarify its goals, and then helps organizations find partners that fit their respective needs.
After that, “I help with the campaigns, develop the marketing materials — whatever they need.”
Ultimately, the organizations learn from Cariello how to do much of the work on their own. “That’s the academy,” she said. “Teaching them how to do it themselves.”
At Mother and Child, the Seaford ministry aimed primarily at helping single parents, Cariello worked with then-St. Jude rector the Very Rev. Christopher Hofer to plan a gala fundraiser. The event, held at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Seaford, brought together 70 donors who had indicated an interest in supporting the charity.
Cariello can’t say how much the gala raised, only that it was a success, benefiting both Mother and Child and St. Jude.
Along the way, Cariello, a mother of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, joined a group of aspiring writers. “I met so many people through this work with inspirational stories, and I wanted to share them,” she said.
The result was “Ambassadors of HOPE,” published last year. The slim volume contains 27 stories of men and women living engaged lives.
Lhea Scotto was a young single mother with three children ages 5 and younger. “I had so many people telling me what I couldn’t do,” she said. “I’d never be able to afford my own home. I’d never have enough credit to open my own business.” And with the children, the young divorcee was told she would never find a man willing to be a life partner.
“I surrounded myself with positive people and positive messages,” Scotto said. “And I achieved every one of my goals.” She now runs her own successful recruiting agency.
When Valentina Janek lost her executive job at age 50, she remembered a piece of advice from the Depression-era radio star Will Rogers: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Janek gathered a group of 50-plus unemployed men and women and formed the Long Island Breakfast Club. For 14 years, “the club has been providing career counseling, support and advocacy for experienced in-transition professionals,” according to Janek’s story.
The number of stories in Cariello’s book — 27 — wasn’t a coincidence, she said. “In numerology, 27 is all about a purpose-driven life,” she explained. Even the title of the book has a subhead. Hope, in Cariello’s world, means “Help One Person Every day.”
The coronavirus pandemic has limited much of Cariello’s face-to-face work for the time being, but the work she does, as well as the work done by the 27 inspiring people in her book, is more important than ever. “We don’t have a social safety net,” she said. “We’re it. We’re going to have to rely on each other to get through this.”