HOW AN ISLAND BASED CHARITY FOUND ITS CALLING TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO CHILDREN AND FAMILIES UNDERGOING A MEDICAL OR OTHER LIVING EMERGENCY
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Several years ago, when doctors told the family of a local little girl that she would lose all of her motor functions and possibly her life because of a rapidly growing tumor enveloping her brain, unless a complicated operation was performed, Sebastian Angelico and his team of philanthropists pooled their resources and decided to help.
“She had a particularly grim diagnosis,” Angelico said. “Going into the operation, the family had no idea what the outcome would be, but a few years later the mother brought this gorgeous little girl back to our office. She was running around and playing…laughing. When we see a case like that, it’s hard not to smile.”
This sort of happy outcome is just a part of what Angelico sees in his role as chair of the Veterans Road based Emergency Children’s Help Organization (ECHO), which he founded nine years ago with several colleagues.
Charity work has always been near and dear to my heart,” noted Angelico, who has been involved in nonprofit groups like Meals on Wheels for more than 20 years. “One day I was discussing an article I had read with some friends about children in need. We all wanted to do something to help. It was in that moment that ECHO was created.”
The organization started with Angelico and a few dozen of his friends; they began by researching families in need and planning fundraisers for their benefit. “Our very first was supposed to host about 150 people, and we wound up having 400 guests,” he noted. “We realized then how giving people can be, especially when it comes to helping children.”
Since starting the organization in 2008, Angelico said ECHO’s efforts have grown by leaps and bounds. Now featuring an extensive list of sponsors and a board of 39 individuals, the group is dedicated to a mission of providing financial assistance to children 18 years old or younger who are experiencing challenging medical or other living emergencies.
“Medical emergencies are, of course, defined by any type of illness,” noted Pasquale Loporcaro, ECHO’s executive director. “And a living emergency is defined as a family that needs help with everyday living essentials. We had one situation where two young children lost their parents tragically. They were being raised by their grandmother and were in need of assistance. Through a number of donations, ECHO helped pay for many of their living expenses.”
The group uses monetary donations to purchase medical equipment for families or to help pay doctor bills. Meal costs and travel expenses incurred while transporting children to and from the hospital are also taken care of.
“We never just hand dollars or a check to a family,” Loporcaro explained. “We pay the doctor directly. We pay for the piece of equipment or the wheelchair. We reimburse for gas and tolls. We provide gift cards for ShopRite, Target, and Hess.”
The group hosts a formal gala each fall and a golf outing in the spring; it also sponsors an annual car raffle which generates a significant amount for the cause. Each board member takes on an annual financial responsibility, too.
And celebrities like Joe Pesci, the late Darryl Dawkins, ABC meteorologist Bill Evans, and Johnny Reznik of Goo Goo Dolls fame have shown support for the mission as well.
According to Loporcaro, the charity has helped hundreds of families and has given out approximately $1.6 million since its inception.
“The generosity is amazing,” he said. “Our first year alone, we raised $10,000. The numbers have just grown since then.”
Both Loporcaro and Angelico agree that the best part of being involved is the ability to help families that would be otherwise helpless.
“We were able, for example, to help out one family whose baby was in a car accident,” said Loporcaro. “We provided equipment for the mother to bathe the child and were able to purchase a specialized seat. We’ve purchased wheelchairs for children, paid for hospital trips to Cincinnati…we try to think of every expense a family is going through and take care of it,” adding that a special division of the charity was formed immediately following Hurricane Sandy to help families dealing with storm related issues. When ECHO pledged to raise $50,000, a few companies quickly matched its donation and both individuals and businesses began sending additional money to further the cause. “We started receiving checks from as far away as London and Hong Kong,” Angelico said. “It’s rewarding to know that people place that kind of faith in us…that they know we will help direct their donations to people who really need them.”
The organization is currently helping to fund a first of its kind pediatric medical center at Staten Island University Hospital’s south site, which will feature a new pediatric ER with approximately 11 treatment rooms, a new nurses’ station, and a waiting room. A pediatric sleep apnea center is also slated for the same location, and both facilities are scheduled for completion this year.
“We are $38,000 away from reaching the goal of $500,000 for the pediatric unit,” Loporcaro said. “And anyone interested in donating to this cause should not hesitate to contact our office.”
Families seeking ECHO’s consideration can file applications through the organization’s website (see below) or by calling the office directly at 866-755-ECHO. Each case goes before the board and is vetted based on a range of criteria (if necessary, a field investigator is deployed to visit the family). Applicants must come from Staten Island or Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, or Union Counties in New Jersey.
“Sadly, there are so many problems in this world and so many families in need,” Angelico said. “If we are able to help some of them, then we’ve done our job. We might not be able to end their crisis or medical issue, but at least we can put a smile on their faces and ease some of the financial burden.”
Both Angelico and Loporcaro hope to keep the charity’s momentum going.
“Right now we’re growing by the day and aim to continue that trend, helping as many children as we possibly can,” Loporcaro concluded.
3041 Veterans Road West
866.755.ECHO / echoorganization.org